Physical culturists, masculine ideals, and social hygiene in interwar France

Joan Tumblety

in Remaking the Male Body

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199695577
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191745072 | DOI:
Physical culturists, masculine ideals, and social hygiene in interwar France

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This chapter analyses the medical market place represented by the proliferation of get-fit manuals, home gymnasium equipment, and body culture generally. This was a field marked by faith in natural remedies and an holist commitment to the ‘whole man’ as well as a desire to manage fatigue. The chapter stresses how physical culturists perceived a crisis of European civilization in which the comforts of modern living had eroded the physical basis of masculine supremacy, and how they urged ‘rational’ exercise to recover traditional systems of sex-difference. It explores how a dynamic of class difference paradoxically served to homogenize a muscular manly ideal; and how both classical and primitivist aesthetic norms functioned in reinforcing racial hierarchies. The chapter also explains how a neo-Lamarckian understanding of the heredity of acquired characteristics underpinned the widespread eugenicist convictions among physical culturists that exercise could regenerate the ‘race’.

Keywords: physical culture; crisis of civilization; rational; classical; primitivism; aesthetic; eugenics; regeneration; neo-Lamarckism; holism

Chapter.  19862 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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