March 26

Making the American Body

Black_ARCWith the recent passing of Joe Weider, the creator of a bodybuilding empire, it sheds light on the fitness craze through American history. His iconic past is represented in Making the American Body: The Remarkable Saga of the Men and Women Whose Feats, Feuds, and Passions Shaped Fitness History by Jonathan Black that publishes with UNP this fall.

Black points out that there is more to the fitness craze than being healthy. Joe Weider, Charles Atlas, Jack LaLanne, Jim Fixx, Jane Fonda, Richard Simmons, and Jillian Michaels may have shaped a way to a better body, but they were most successful through the profits their brands created.

No one in the modern era did more to promote that pursuit than two brothers: Joe Weider and Ben Weider. Both were big fans of bodybuilding and developed impressive physiques, especially Joe, though neither competed in contests. Together, they founded the International Federation of Bodybuilders (ifbb) as well as the Mr. Olympia and Ms. Olympia contests. What made them famous and rich, first and foremost, was their magazine publishing empire, which came to include Muscle and Fitness, Flex, Men’s Fitness, and Shape, spawning a hugely profitable line of supplements, equipment, books, and training manuals. Their growing prominence ignited the sport’s infamous bitch-slapping circus — the decades-long feud with arch rival and York Barbell patriarch Bob Hoffman. Joe would also lay claim to transforming a blubbery bodybuilder from Austria into the greatest muscled specimen since Charles Atlas.

With insights drawn from more than fifty interviews and attention to key developments in bodybuilding, aerobics, equipment, health clubs, running, sports medicine, group exercise, Pilates, and yoga, Making the American Body reveals how a focus on fitness has shaped not only our physiques but also, and more profoundly, American ideas of what “fitness” is.