Beach Bodies: A History of the American Physique


Strongman Eugene Sandow, 1893 (Library of Congress)


With the 2012 Summer Olympics underway in London, Americans are being bombarded by images of physical perfection. If that triggers any envy on the part of viewers, it might offer some comfort to know that the ideal of the perfect body has not always been what it is today.

In this episode, the History Guys look at how body ideals have changed through the centuries, and explore some of the ways Americans have attempted to perfect their physiques. They take on the 19th century science of “nasology” – which held that the shape of a person’s nose was the key to understanding their character – and ask why this theory emerged when it did. They also examine the reasons why skinniness became desireable for middle-class men long before it was valued by women. And they consider the Cold War roots of that bane of schoolchildren everywhere: the Presidential Physical Fitness Test.

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