Time.com published a bizarre Q&A recently, exploring an author’s unorthodox attacks on the origins of physical fitness and exercise.
The article, titled “The White Supremacist Origins of Exercise, and 6 Other Surprising Facts About the History of U.S. Physical Fitness,” provides an uncited attempt to describe sinister origins behind everything from President Kennedy’s fitness campaign to simple running.
Author Natalia Mehlman Petrzela wrote “Fit Nation,” a book that states in its synopsis that “fitness is a social justice issue.”
Petrzela reminds readers that until 1920, being fat was attractive. “What would be considered today fat or bigger, was actually desirable and actually signified affluence—which is like the polar opposite of today,” she explained.
At the turn of the 20th century however, women were supposedly encouraged to exercise and gain strength because the powers that be decided they “need more white babies” to counter immigration. “This is totally part of a white supremacy project,” she points out.
Running, which Petrzela says was popularized by environmentalists, was not only never fair, but it was also unsafe and discriminatory. “Access was never totally equal, if you lived in a neighborhood that didn’t have safe streets or streets that were not well lit,” the author explains. “Women were catcalled. People of color were thought to be committing a crime,” she continued.
The idea that everyone can run forgets “that depending on where you live and the body that you live in, it can be a very different kind of experience,” Petrzela tells Time.
Pre- and post-WWII, the author says, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the government dishonestly encouraged Americans to exercise in order to keep them in fighting shape. “Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy went on a mission to make exercise look wholesome and patriotic and focus on shifting the purpose of exercise to being a good citizen and defending your country,” Petrzela remarked.
The author makes a confusing argument about post-9/11 fitness culture as well, calling it “militarized fitness and girding yourself and your body for a fight,” but not like the 1950s or 1960s, she clarifies.
A fitness boom in the 1980s was in part due to the shaming of gay people who stayed fit in order to appear healthy, so as to not be accused of having HIV or AIDS, asserts the author, who said she spoke to gay men who “exercised to display that they had a healthy body at a moment when there was so much homophobia.”
While she believes lockdowns “accelerated fitness inequality,” remarking that “not everyone” can “go home and be on [their] Peloton,” the author did approve of one purveyor of exercise: Richard Simmons.
“We should not presume that because you are fat, that you are not fit or that you want to lose weight. And I think that we probably couldn’t have had that without Richard Simmons.”