Let's Get Physical
How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World
by Danielle Friedman
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Pub Date 04 Jan 2022 | Archive Date Not set
PENGUIN GROUP Putnam, G.P. Putnam's Sons
For American women today, working out is as accepted as it is expected, fueling a multibillion-dollar fitness industrial complex. But it wasn’t always this way. For much of the twentieth century, sweating was considered unladylike and girls grew up believing physical exertion would cause their uterus to literally fall out. It was only in the sixties that, thanks to a few forward-thinking fitness pioneers, women began to move en masse.
In Let's Get Physical, journalist Danielle Friedman reveals the fascinating hidden history of contemporary women’s fitness culture, chronicling in vivid, cinematic prose how exercise evolved from a beauty tool pitched almost exclusively as a way to “reduce” into one millions have harnessed as a path to mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
Let’s Get Physical reclaims these forgotten origin stories—and shines a spotlight on the trailblazers who led the way. Each chapter uncovers the birth of a fitness movement that laid the foundation for working out today: the radical post-war pitch for women to break a sweat in their living rooms, the invention of barre in the “Swinging Sixties,” the promise of jogging as liberation in the seventies, the meteoric rise of aerobics and weight-training in the eighties, the explosion of yoga in the nineties, and the ongoing push for a more socially inclusive fitness culture—one that celebrates every body.
Ultimately, it tells the story of how women discovered the joy of physical strength and competence—and how, by moving together to transform fitness from a privilege into a right, we can create a more powerful sisterhood.
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This is a riveting look at the history of the women's fitness industry. Friedman not only gives great background but she also personalizes the narrative in an entertaining way (the Zumba description is priceless!). I loved reading about female pioneers who pushed back on the sexism in exercise and how working out tied into women's liberation. This book is so much more than it might appear and is well worth your time!
Let's Get Physical is a fascinating look into the history of women's fitness and the extraordinary female pioneers who made the industry what it is today. It wasn't a surprise to me to learn of the sexism in exercise (doctors actually told women not to run or exert too much energy for fear of their uterus falling out. Umm... what?!), but I had no idea just how many women (and years) it would take for fitness to truly become a staple in so many of our lives.
Danielle Friedman is a journalist—this book is actually a deep dive into an article she wrote for The Cut that went viral a couple years ago—and Let's Get Physical reads like some of the best long-form journalism I've read. It's well researched and all-encompassing in its look back at the last 70-plus years of fitness innovation. Each chapter features the most impactful movements by decade and a close look at how they came to be, as well as the women behind them.
Bonnie Prudden, Lotte Berk Judi Sheppard Missett—these are just a few of the women who changed the world of fitness in their time, and I was astounded to read about so many of them for the first time in this book. These women introduced fitness as we know it today, beginning in a time when women weren't even allowed to play sports in school and eventually earning them a place in the Olympics. How are these not all household names?
I took pages of notes while reading Let's Get Physical, and I haven't been able to stop thinking or talking about it since I picked it up. I've been interested in fitness since I was a teenager so I thought learning a little about its history would be fun. I had no idea how impactful it would be and just how much I would learn from it. I can't recommend it enough.
Thoroughly engaging recap of the 20th Century history of women’s personal exercise options, once middle American lives became decidedly ‘unphysical.’ After WWII, with the a growing middle class, American lives became more sedentary, just as women were encouraged to leave the workplace and make room for returning soldiers. A combination of frustration, vanity and encouragement caused a succession of enterprising women to break norms and introduce new forms of personal exercise. These pathbreaking stories are fascinating and well-worth knowing. I enjoyed this book very much. I received my copy from the publisher through NetGalley.
Read if you: Want a hugely entertaining, revealing, and inspiring look at how women created/influenced the workout revolution, from the 1950s to today. Some names will be familiar (like Jane Fonda), while others will likely be new to the reader. Everything from how exercise became an important aspect of the Cold War, to the development of the barre routine, the enduring popularity of Jazzercise, the origin story of Jane Fonda's workout, athleisure wear for women, the rise of yoga as an antidote to the pressure produced by high-energy regular workouts, Cross Fit, and much more. The "whitewashing"/cultural appropriation of yoga, the exclusion experienced by women of color in gyms and the fitness industry, and the growing acceptance of varioius body shapes in fitness and magazine covers is also sensitively detailed. This is fun and entertaining nonfiction at its best, with depth to boot.
Librarians/booksellers: This is a fantastic example of accessible and entertaining narrative nonfiction. Fitness-especially women and fitness--is an important subject for many. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are lightly discussed (understandably, since we are still in the middle of it!).
Many thanks to Penguin Group Putnam and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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