Friday, January 26, 2018

Fun Friday Facts #131: The History of Working Out on Purpose, Part 4

Alright guys, last week we discussed the beginning of the gymnastics movement, in which people began to realize that exercising on purpose might be good for you. We learned that the nascent fitness movement was born of the nationalism that sprang up in many European countries in the 19th century, as budding patriots believed that exercise would help produce strong citizens who would be good at fighting Napoleon. The current nationalist movements sweeping the U.S. and Europe could probably use a little bit more of that attitude – fitness, I mean, not fighting Napoleon – but we probably don’t need to be making white supremacists healthier.

But, anyway, I digress. It’s time to wrap this series up with some funny photos of old-timey exercises.

Like this torture device that is exactly the sort of thing my mother would have forced me to use if we'd lived in the 1920s.
As the 20th century dawned, doctors began to suspect that daily exercise was necessary in order to prevent degenerative disease. In 1915, a doctor with the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, Dr. F.C. Smith, reported that individuals not engaged in manual labor jobs were more vulnerable to disease. In 1918, with the close of the First World War, a report was released regarding the condition of soldiers drafted for combat. It was found that one in three drafted men had been unfit for combat due to poor fitness levels. It was time for compulsory physical fitness programs in public schools.

The nation needed more of whatever this was. Source: The New York State Archives
But wait! Individual state governments had already started legislating mandatory physical education programs in public schools after the Civil War, beginning with California in 1866. In the decades that followed, a handful of other states legislated physical education in public schools, including Ohio in 1892; Wisconsin in 1897; North Dakota in 1899; Pennsylvania in 1901; Michigan in 1911; and Idaho in 1913. Meanwhile, new sports were being invented: lawn tennis in 1874; softball in 1887; basketball in 1891; and volleyball in 1895. Around the nation, professional sports teams were forming, and leagues and associations dedicated to the playing of sports like bowling, baseball, lawn tennis (is lawn tennis just tennis? I think it is? Why not just call it tennis?), and gymnastics. The Boy Scouts were founded in 1907 to promote the sharing of heteronormative physical recreation between young boys and grown men. And, when in the aftermath of the War to End All Wars, it became clear that Americans were woefully unfit, more states passed legislation requiring mandatory physical education in public schools: eight in 1915 through 1918, and 21 between 1919 and 1925. That was probably all the states there were back then, but I’m not sure because counting is not my forte. I’m a writer, you do the math.

You can also do this, I guess, because I can't.
By the mid-20th century, doctors were discovering the link between exercise, fitness, and good health. Pioneers in this research included Jerry Morris, a Scottish epidemiologist whose research established the link between sedentary lifestyles and cardiovascular disease. By studying the cardiovascular health of double-decker bus drivers, conductors, postmen, clerks, and telephonists, Morris established that regular, vigorous physical activity could prevent heart disease, publishing his seminal paper on the topic in 1958. Dr. Ken H. Cooper, regarded along with Morris as the founder of the modern fitness movement, also advocated for the prevention of disease via exercise, a healthy diet, and stress management. Both men apparently practiced what they preached; Morris died in 2009 at the age of 99. Dr. Cooper is 86 years old as of the time of this writing.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Film Review: "Sex Education Films" on Amazon Prime

A few weeks ago, Jim and I were sitting on the couch, looking for something to watch on one of our multiple streaming services, when we came across a video on Amazon Prime entitled Sex Education Films. The description read, “A collection of sex education films from the 1950s and 1960s.”

Jim and I enjoy ridiculing the hard work of others, so we thought we’d have fun watching the old sex ed films and making fun of the weird, old-fashioned advice we believed they’d contain. I don’t know what we expected, but the videos were surprisingly comprehensive. We learned all about the development of primary and secondary sex characteristics, how babies are made, what menstruation is, and what’s the deal with those racy dreams about naked ladies.

The videos weren’t all about puberty, however. Some of them were about growing and maturing into your role as a well-adjusted, heterosexual adult, preferably by the age of eighteen so you can get married and move out of your parents’ damn house, already. More than one of the videos concerned itself with the young protagonists’ baffling urges, and the roles they would one day be expected to play in society.

Here are some of the things we learned:
  • It’s normal for a red-blooded, maturing young woman to have [dramatic pause] desires. But you mustn’t act on those desires, or else you’ll end up like poor Elise – ostracized from polite society, whispered about by her former peers on the school paper, and raising a baby in a cramped, untidy apartment with the grudging help of a young husband who shows his unhappiness with his body language, and good thing, too, because he never actually speaks. That said, just because you get a little hot-and-heavy with a boy in the back seat of his car on Saturday night, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a bad guy who doesn’t care about you. It might also mean you’re a bad girl who doesn’t know when to put on the brakes. You’d better hope your best friend Betty wasn’t lying about that Coca-Cola douche.
  • When a boy asks you out for a swimming date at the reservoir, and you accept and respond with, “I’ll bring some food, what would you like?” be prepared for him to respond, “A whole chocolate cake.” This is an appropriate and acceptable item to include in a picnic meal, and, for that matter, to request that your date, whom you are taking out for the very first time, spend all evening making from scratch because you know her uptight mother refuses to buy box mix.
  • It’s perfectly safe and even encouraged to take a bath every day during your menstrual cycle. Daily hair shampooing is also extremely important.
  • Adolescence is an exciting time in the life of a young girl, when she learns about herself and the world, gets to know many fine young men in an entirely chaste and appropriate fashion, brushes her extremely clean hair, listens to records, and wears a sanitary belt.
  • You could catch cold if you go swimming during the first few days of your period. How you’re supposed to swim while wearing a sanitary belt was not discussed. 
  • A menstruating girl or woman should wear her prettiest dress, spend extra time on her hair, and generally try to look her best while the Communists are in the fun house. But don’t worry, girls, no one will know that you’re on your period. When someone asks, “What’s the occasion?” just tell them you’ve got a cake-eating date with Fat Ben.

All in all, Jim and I (and Mark, who showed up about half-way through the video collection) enjoyed watching Sex Education Films. We’re still not sure why they’re available on Amazon Prime, but maybe it has something to do with the appalling lack of any sex education in many schools nationwide. So, if you live in one of those districts that teaches “abstinence-only” sex education or no sex education at all, and you want to give your pimply, clumsy, self-centered, and emotional teenage children the same uncomfortable, vaguely misogynistic sex education that your parents received, Sex Education Films is for you. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

I Kind of Want to Eat Tide Pods

When I first heard people were eating Tide pods, I thought it was a joke. I had seen the eating Tide pods meme on Reddit, and I thought I understood the joke, which is that they look delicious.

A few weeks later, when one of my Facebook friends posted a status lamenting the younger generation’s eating of Tide pods, I assumed it was one of those things like rainbow parties or poisoned Halloween candy – i.e., not something that ever actually happens, but that people freak out about anyway.

But no, it turns out kids are actually eating Tide pods. It’s called the Tide pod challenge, and knowing about it adds a whole new layer of humor to the meme.

The thing is, I can kind of understand why someone would want to eat a Tide pod. They tell you to keep them away from kids for a reason. Tide pods are small, round, plump, squishy, shiny, brightly colored, and slightly sticky; everything about them calls to my scavenger instincts and harkens back to the colorful sweets of my childhood, and that, according to neuroanthropologist John S. Allen, is exactly why they look so scrumptious. I mean, just look at this little guy and tell me you’re not at least a little bit tempted to eat him:

Image by Soulbust from Wikimedia Commons.

Apparently, the Tide pod challenge involves filming yourself biting into a Tide pod. I thought, it’s only soap, it can’t be THAT bad for you, can it?

It can. The super-concentrated ingredients in Tide pods will burn your stomach lining if you swallow the pod or its contents. There’s probably not enough poison in one Tide pod to kill an adult, and you’ll probably only need to spend one night in the hospital if you eat one, unless you aspirate some of the detergent into your lungs, in which case you’re probably going to die.

Plus, there’s the taste. I’ve never tasted laundry detergent, but I can’t imagine it tastes nice. Actually, I can. That’s the problem.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Fun Friday Facts #130: The History of Working Out on Purpose, Part 3

Last week, we discussed the role of fitness in the medieval world. This week, it’s time to move on to the modern era.

As machines began laying the groundwork for the robot uprising by taking over more and more of our duties, exercise became something that people had to make time to do on purpose. This transition began as early as the beginning of the 19th century, when German nationalist Friedrich Ludwig Jahn opened the first children’s gymnastic school in Germany in 1811. Jahn believed that a strong society depended on the literal health, strength, and physical prowess of its members, and was a member of the Turnverein movement, which espoused the cultivation of good health through the use of gymnastics equipment. The movement also purported to develop a spirit of patriotism among German youth, and to prepare young Germans to defend their country against the armies of Napoleon, who were also probably doing gymnastics.

Imagining Napoleon vaulting into his saddle from a standing position only increases my respect for him.

I say that because, at around the same time, Swedish teacher Pehr Henrik Ling was in France, learning to fence and noticing that the physical exercise the sport required was improving the gout he struggled with. Upon his return to Sweden, Ling continued to exercise daily, teaching fencing at Lund University, and developing a gymnastics-based exercise routine that he hoped others could use to restore his own health, as he had restored his. He studied anatomy, physiology, and medicine, and eventually became gymnastics instructor at the Military Academy of Carlsberg.

Gymnastics, you see, were sweeping Europe at the time. By the end of the 19th century, men’s gymnastics would be popular enough to be included in the first Olympic Games in 1896. Ling was instrumental in this development, inventing several early versions of modern gymnastics apparatuses, including the box horse, beams, and wall bars. 

A group of women doing Swedish gymnastics in 1900.

Although Ling had studied medicine, the orthodox medical establishment in Sweden at the time resisted his claims that exercise could be used to promote and restore health. But in 1831, Ling was elected to the Swedish General Medical Association, and his theories began to be taken seriously, and though Ling died of tuberculosis in 1839, his ideas would form the foundation of what would later be known as medical gymnastics. For a period in the 19th and early 20th centuries, doctors would prescribe medical gymnastics as doctors today prescribe exercise and lifestyle modifications to treat disease. Some believed that medical gymnastics were a useful complement to other, more orthodox treatments, and some believed that medical gymnastics alone could be used to treat disease. I guess it was probably better than doping patients up on opium and cocaine, although if I were a patient in 1830, I’d probably want all the opium and cocaine I could get, to distract me from being a woman in 1830. I’d definitely have some kind of hysterical disease, is what I’m saying.

Thank god I have my gymnastics prescription.


As time marched on, private gyms began to proliferate across Europe and North America, with the first private, indoor gym opening in Hesse, Germany in 1852. The Turnverein movement reached American in 1848, when the first Turners group formed in Cincinnati in 1848. The movement continues to this day.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Fun Friday Facts #129: The History of Working Out on Purpose, Part 2



Last week, we looked at the importance of physical fitness in the ancient world, namely in the ancient Persian Empire, ancient Athens, and ancient Sparta. I could continue talking about fitness in the ancient world – the Romans, for example, encouraged a high level among the general populace, or at least that part of the populace that was eligible for the military draft, i.e. citizens aged 17 to 60, but instead, I wanted to skip ahead in time to the Middle Ages. We’re still in Europe, because as everyone knows, that’s the whole world.

In the Middle Ages, as during Neolithic times, many people didn’t need to work out on purpose. In the chaos that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire, the average person spent his or her time tending to livestock, farming, and fearing God, all of which activities are great for the physique. They also walked a lot more than we do today, and had to engage in strenuous physical activity to do almost anything – cooking, shopping, repairing their hovels, you name it.

As we can see in this Pieter Bruegel painting.

While the peasantry didn’t need to work out, that doesn’t mean that other members of society didn’t understand the importance of a physical fitness regimen. Aristocrats, knights, and those training to be knights undertook physical fitness regimens such as those outlined in contemporary fencing manuals,  like Hans Talhoffer’s

A page on grappling from one of Talhoffer's manuals.


In the earlier middle ages, the warrior class relied on strength training by lifting large stones, wrestling, jousting, and riding to get in shape. A popular exercise was voltige, which helped knights develop control over their horses by practicing jumping in and out of the saddle, or onto and off of a table. By the 1200s, wooden horses replaced real ones in this exercise, and as time went by, the practice of voltige became more and more of an art form in and of itself, until, over the centuries, it evolved into what you might now recognize as the gymnastics pommel horse.

Here, gymnast Alberto Baglia demonstrates more physical prowess than I will ever possess.

Jean Le Meingre, (aka Boucicaut), who was the marshal of France during the reign of Charles VI (aka Charles the Mad), formed a martial society for the defense of the wives and daughters of absent knights, called L’Emprise de l’Escu vert a la Dame Blanche, the Order of the Green Shield of the White Lady. Members of this order followed a fitness regimen that included walking and running long distances to build endurance, “leaping onto the back of a horse,” jumping over horses from the side, “striking numerous and forcible blows with a battle-axe or mallet,” and, while dressed in a full suit of armor, “turn somersaults” or “dance vigorously.” Boucicaut also asked his soldiers to “climb up between two perpendicular walls that stood four or five feet asunder by the mere pressure of his arms and legs, and…reach the top…without resting either in the ascent or the descent.” That was probably harder than jumping over a horse while wearing a full suit of armor, although I think I can see why they switched to using wooden horses. Would you stand still while a fully-armored knight jumped over you? What if he landed on you? How many horses did they go through, do you think?

Knights and warriors weren’t the only ones who valued fitness in the middle ages. A fifteenth-century letter from a physician to his sons, university students in Toulouse, gave the men instructions for daily exercise. On rainy or otherwise inclement days, the doctor advised his sons to exercise indoors by climbing “the stairs rapidly three or four times,” practicing swordplay with a heavy stick until winded, and jumping. On nice days, the doctor advised walking each morning and evening; in cold weather, they should “run on [an] empty stomach, or at least walk rapidly.” This activity would balance the humors; running in the winter would restore the body’s “natural heat,” while exercising until winded served to expel noxious fumes from the lungs.


Friday, January 5, 2018

Fun Friday Facts #128: The History of Working Out on Purpose, Part I

I swim laps at a gym on the grounds of a local resort, and last week, I just couldn’t swim in peace because every single Christmas guest at that resort brought their three kids to play in the pool for the exact forty minutes I was trying to swim. Even though it’s New Year’s Resolution Week, the pool has been quieter this week, except for that time when a bro jumped out of the hot tub to set off the safety alarm because he thought it would be funny. If looks could drown a grown man in a hot tub, well, you get the idea.

Jim and I watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation over Christmas weekend, and the depiction of Todd and Margot harkened back to a time when only douchebags exercised on purpose. So when did people start exercising on purpose, aka working out?



According to Lance C. Dalleck, M.S. and Len Kravitz, PhD, one of our greatest accomplishments as a species has been “the continuous pursuit of fitness since the beginning of man’s existence.” I would’ve said it was inventing chocolate, but I’m fat so of course I would.

I think saying that man has always been interested in fitness is a bit of a stretch. I mean, obviously prehistoric man got plenty of exercise. He spent literally all of his time hunting, gathering, making clothes out of animal skins, preparing food from scratch so that he could make more food from scratch, building fires without matches, and so on. There was no Netflix, so prehistoric humans were forced to talk to each other for entertainment, and probably spent their free time trying to invent KitchenAid mixers, or, as the case may be, the actual wheel. But they weren’t worrying about how many calories they’d just burned killing that mammoth, or if they were it was because it meant they’d have to eat again right away and they still had a whole mammoth carcass to butcher.

But, the promotion of intentional exercise goes back to the earliest days of civilization. As long ago as 4000 BCE, in the Fertile Crescent, military and political leaders recognized that physical exercise was an important component of military discipline (well, duh) and leaders in Babylonia, Assyria, Persia, Palestine, Egypt, and Syria advocated regular exercise for all members of society. In Persia (present-day Iran), boys began fitness training at age six, when they were required to start marching, hunting, riding, and javelin throwing. However, Dalleck and Kravitz note that the Persian Empire fell “at a time when society could largely be characterized by an overall lack of fitness,” and while they don’t come right out and say that being fat and lazy did the Persian Empire in, I think it’s implied, America.

I typed "ancient Persian exercise" into Google Images and this is what came up. Says it all, really.
~ Image by user Dake on Wikimedia Commons

Of course, the ancient civilization you probably think of when you think of exercising on purpose is the ancient Greeks, who (probably) exercised on purpose more than any other civilization in the world at the time. The ancient Greeks appreciated some sweet gains, and believed that physical well-being and mental well-being were linked, an idea that, as it turns out, was not so far off.

The Greeks, too, forced young boys to exercise, educating them in jumping, running, wrestling, and gymnastics. Boys trained in a palaestra, while adult men (those aged 14 to 16 and older) trained in the gymnasium (hey, I know that word). Music was played during exercise sessions, just as it is today.

Two ancient Greek societies liked exercising the most: the Athenians and the Spartans. The Athenians emphasized the importance of physical fitness and beauty because they were perfect, enlightened democrats, while the Spartans emphasized fitness for military reasons, which may or may not have involved beating the sh&t out of the Athenians (I’m picturing regiments of well-oiled, muscular men coming together to, um, wage war on one another, wink wink). Famously, Spartan men entered military training at age seven (which sounds appalling to us, but I’m beginning to think it wasn’t that unusual for the era – you can’t go getting attached to your kids when half of them are going to die of diphtheria anyway, right?). Spartan women were also required to adhere to strict fitness programs, which involved dance, gymnastics, wrestling, throwing the javelin and discus, “trails of strength,” running, and horseback riding. This emphasis on female physical fitness followed a broader trend of relative equality between the sexes in Sparta, but let’s emphasize the word relative, because, ultimately, it was all about helping women fulfill their highest purpose in life – plopping out healthy babies.

And dancing with one boob out.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year's Resolutions I Considered, Then Rejected

Finish My Memoir

I resolved to write this book on January 1, 2014, and I still haven’t finished it yet. At last count, I had 61,132 words, which is nothing to sneeze at, but sneeze at it I must. 61,132 words really, really ought to be, if nothing else, a complete, coherent draft. It is not. It is disorganized and incomplete, and try as I might to correct this situation, it just keeps getting longer, more disorganized, and more incomplete.

This makes the second time I have tried, and failed, to write a book, if you count my undergraduate honors thesis, for which I was inexplicably given academic credit in spite of the fact that it was a steaming piece of sh*t. Lately, I’ve been thinking that maybe I should start a whole new memoir. The third time is, after all, the charm.

Write in My Diary Every Day

One of the biggest problems I have as a memoirist and essayist is remembering the things that happened to me. I’m working on this memoir, see above, and I’ll be wondering about some important plot point, like when did my grandmother die, for example, but I won’t be able to remember the exact date. So, after tearing the house apart looking for a copy of the obituary that I know I have somewhere, I’ll resort to digging up my old Facebook posts from six years ago, trying to reconstruct the events of my own life.

I used to keep a diary. Beginning at some point in grade school and continuing throughout middle and high school and into the first year of college, I wrote in my diary every single day, even if it was just one word. I had to do it. Then I had therapy and realized that I didn’t have to do it, so I stopped. I took it back up again for a few years, when I was with my psycho ex, but then I stopped again – the obvious pattern here is that I only keep a diary if I’m miserable, or backpacking across Europe.

If I’d been more consistent in my diary-keeping, I’d have so much more material, plus I’d be able to remember vital details about things, like the day I ate a panini for the first time and thought it was the best sandwich I’d ever tasted, so I spent the next nine months chasing that virgin panini high until I finally accepted that there was only one good panini in the world, and I’d already eaten it.

The thing is that I’m not in the habit of writing in my diary every day anymore, so I keep forgetting, and then after I’ve forgotten a few times, my default habit of not writing sets in and I end up not doing it for the next six months, until the diary itself turns up again. Plus, I resent feeling like I have one more thing I have to do every day – first it’s eat; then it’s eat and take a bath; then it’s eat, take a bath, and brush your teeth; then it’s eat, take a bath, brush your teeth, and make the bed; before you know it you’re 35 years old, your back hurts, and you’re busy from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep. But I still need to keep a diary so I’m gonna try doing it every second or third day instead.

Finish My Peacock Feather Afghan

Some time ago now – I’m not sure when because I didn’t write it down in my diary that I don’t keep – I decided I wanted to crochet a peacock feather afghan. But I didn’t want to pay for the pattern, so I found a peacock feather pattern on a random person’s blog and just decided I’d make a bunch of these little peacock feathers, and then sew them together.

Problem is, the peacock feathers I wound up with are tiny. They’re like five inches high. I’ve got about eighty of them and I’m going to need to make approximately seven billion more to have enough to make an afghan. Knowing my luck, they probably won’t even fit together well.



I thought I’d resolve to finish the peacock feather afghan this year, but I’d probably have to make like five peacock feathers a day just to have a shot at it. Realistically, I’m going to finish this peacock feather afghan when I’m eighty-two years old. I’ll have them bury me in it.

Lose Fifty Pounds


Oh sure, I’d really like to lose fifty pounds, but who am I kidding? At this rate, Jim’ll be lucky if I don’t just up and eat him someday. I’m not trying to sound defeatist, but I’m not trying to set myself up for failure, either. I think I’ll aim for something more attainable, like “stop eating expired food.” That’s probably a good idea, at least until we get that universal health care we’ve had our eye on.