Building husky men: Strenuous masculinity in post-depression America

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Examining American fitness entrepreneurs from the 1930s, this article examines efforts to reform young, and white, masculine identities through new bodybuilding systems. Centred on Mark Berry, Bob Hoffman and Charles Atlas, three of the decade’s most successful entrepreneurs, the article examines the communities, methods and discourses used to attract customers and create a highly specified form of self-fashioning. In doing so, the article highlights the masculine communities and multiplicities of masculinities operating during this decade for American weight trainers. Importantly all three entrepreneurs focused on a very specific kind of American body, and stemming from this, American masculinity. For Berry, ‘husky’ men came to represent men of physical, moral and mental standing. The ability to withstand pain in exercise, to engage in strenuous activity and gain bodyweight was presented as a metric of one’s success in the world. Likewise, Bob Hoffman focused on the ‘weight lifter’, said to be an ambitious young man capable of succeeding in multiple terrains. Finally, there was Charles Atlas, who made ‘he men’ using his system of dynamic tension. In highlighting the lengths young, white, often affluent, American men went to in order to achieve these identities, the article contributes to the growing interest in American masculinities and the fitness systems they used during times of considerable upheaval.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-120
Number of pages16
JournalEuropean Journal of American Culture
Volume40
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021

Keywords

  • Masculinity
  • History
  • Cultural Studies
  • American History
  • Physical Culture

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