Academic journal article American Studies

American Body: Fitness and the Commodification of Exercise

Academic journal article American Studies

American Body: Fitness and the Commodification of Exercise

Article excerpt

American Body: Fitness and the Commodification of Exercise

GETTING PHYSICAL: The Rise of Fitness Culture in America. By Shelly McKenzie. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. 2013.

MAKING THE AMERICAN BODY: The Remarkable Saga of the Men and Women Whose Feats, Feuds, and Passions Shaped Fitness History. By Jonathan Black. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. 2013.

There are few, if any, places in the United States today where fitness is not a major pursuit. Whether Americans are actually engaged in arduous regimens for rapid weight loss or training for taxing contests of human endurance is almost beside the point. Fitness has become part of our built environment as gyms, martial arts, yoga, Pilates, and cross-training facilities, and their brightly-lit signs, are now cornerstones of strip malls, gentrified downtowns, and the "lifestyle centers" that mix commercial and residential use. The reflective tape of running shoes glinting in one's headlights is a familiar feature of night driving. Television, whether traditional network channels or new streaming services like Hulu, relentlessly advertises weight-loss products, fitness training programs, and celebrity exercise DVDs. Smartphones carry apps that allow us to track our fitness progress while national political discourse is periodically marked by support for, or outrage against, organic vegetables in public school lunch programs, calorie listings on franchise menus, and restricting the size of the Big Gulp. Meanwhile an "obesity epidemic" is the tagline on many a news story and a source of concern among feminist critics who worry that such increased surveillance and medicalization of the body is a sanctioned way to "fat" shame and reify sexist, racist, and class hierarchies.1 American attitudes toward the regulation of food and diet are complicated and political but they generally boil down to whether or not fitness is a private or a public concern. While the books under review here point out that today's obsessive interest in fitness is nothing new, I would suggest that its intensifying significance on the national cultural and political stage is closely related to contemporary debates over healthcare and whether or not access to modern medicine is a privilege of status or a right of citizenry. As such, the American body plays a bigger role in the body politic than ever before.

Meanwhile, there is surprisingly little medical consensus on what fitness actually means. Is it having a body mass index (BMI) that falls within accepted norms? Is it living a long life? Is it being free of major disease? Does it mean being able to run one mile or twenty? Is fitness the same as having visible muscle tone? Does it simply mean being happy? What is the difference between fitness and health? What is "wellness"? Debates rage throughout the medical community and even a cursory search through the major academic American medical journals will show little agreement between kinesiology, nutritional science, neuroscience, clinical psychology, biology, gastrointestinal science, internal medicine, or any of the myriad subfields contained within, as to what a general definition of fitness is or what our dietary goals should be. Should we be eating fat or not? Will gluten melt our brains? Should our raw vegetable intake be 40 percent or 90 percent of our diet? Is twenty minutes of cardiovascular exercise every day enough? Or is ninety minutes three times a week adequate? It quickly becomes clear how a charismatic personality with a spectacular six-pack and a media-friendly face-who offers a step-by-step, pay-as-you-go training program to the better body that equates a better life-can attract millions of Americans with access to credit. It is much easier to buy the promise of fitness and happiness than to figure it out on your own and is preferable to not doing anything at all. There are obvious reasons why fitness is consistently a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.