Academia

The Eternal #FitMyth

 

Wake up fitfam, we've never been just about fitness.

 

Another day, another social media fitness celebrity exposed as being nothing more than a photo-shopped fraud. With every unmasking of a new fiternet’s detox tea-toting ‘30 days to a new you’ program pusher, it seems like people become more vocal about the lack of morals present in today’s booming fitness industry. But the reality is, we're just another new chapter in the never ending story of fitness quackery.

Truth be told, the selling of overpriced gimmicks by muscular profiteers is nothing new. Well-marketed quick fixes sold by charlatans and pseudo-scientific methods of muscle building are merely a persistent continuum of deception and delusion.

Don’t believe me?

Turn to the pages of history, and you’ll find countless examples of fit myths from the past being resold in contemporary culture. In fact, I was overwhelmed with what choices to pull as evidence to demonstrate the reselling of stupidity that exists in contemporary fitness culture.

Without further ado, welcome to the never ending story of fitness quackery. It’s just like in the 80’s classic film - except for here people continue to voluntarily leap into an abyss of lies and gimmicks thanks to the irresistible pull of the destructive fitness phenomenon.

 

Exhibit A: Centuries of Corseting Controversy.

Spanning over 400 years, the history of ‘waist training’ is long and tumultuous. Just open up Instagram and you’ll find anyone from fitness pros and D-list celebrities ‘praising’ the tummy-toning abilities of corset. From instruments of torture to a device used to control women and exploit their sexuality, wearers have been warned of corseting’s potential harm from the beginning.

Throughout the mid-1700s and 1800s, women wore corsets as a way to protect themselves from the potential harm of everyday life. During this period women were assumed to be the ‘weaker sex’ and that their bodies needed the additional support. Regardless of medical authorities associating corset use with women becoming physically harmed or disfigured, women continued to wear them. Talk about vanity insanity.

 Herrick Corset Ad, 1915.

Herrick Corset Ad, 1915.

 

By the turn of the 1900s an emphasis on female health was in vogue, and fitness helped to perpetuate the idea that without exercise a woman could not be beautiful… oh ‘strong is the new skinny’ discourse you are the bane of me! As a result, women were urged by tighten up their corsets, go on diets, and weight train in order for them to achieve the popular “hourglass” body ideal. To help women participate in exercise and sports… you know without passing out from a lack of oxygen due to overly tight corset, a new ‘healthier’ more comfortable flexible elastic sport corset was introduced in the 1920s.

 

During the next decade other fantastical products were paired with the corset for ‘optimum results’. For example, a 1930’s fitness publication titled ‘Stay Slim’ promoted women using herbal and iodine compresses to spot-reduce while wearing “very tight corsets in the daytime and an elastic belt around the stomach at night.” Even with mountains of evidence in support of exercise and diet as far better and healthier alternatives to achieving a ‘tight and tiny’ midsection, to this day women continue to squeeze into corsets in pursuit of quick-fixes and an unrealistic beauty ideal.

 Warner Bro's Health Corset, 1878.

Warner Bro's Health Corset, 1878.

Over the last five years or so, there has been a resurgence in corset use within the fitness industry – which, unfortunately was swallowed by popular culture without hesitation. From #fitchicks to pro bodybuilders, the Kardashians to middle-aged housewives, ‘waist training’ by way of corsets and other torture-devices are back with vengeance.

Keep in mind, it’s not all bad when it comes garments that tighten the torso. There are specific medical purposes where corsets are believed by some practitioners to have a profound effect on an individual’s quality of life, or as a clinical recovery tool. Not included in the therapeutic uses of a corset: (i) aide in creating big booty:waist ratio, (ii) become an illusionist.

corset5.gif

 

Exhibit B: Pills, Potions and Profits.

Flip open a magazine or scroll through your social media newsfeed, and you’ll probably find a wide arrange of products that can miraculously help you to achieve just about anything in weeks, with little effort, and with a hefty cost for both your bank account and body.

To say that dietary supplements have an extensive history is a bit of an understatement. Indeed, ergogenic aid use goes all the way back to the 6th century. Although athletes are often associated with the use of performance enhancing substances, at the turn of the 20th century everyday people were starting to use a wide array of crockery to cure just any body concern.

From monkey glands to bags of sugary sweets, oxygen elixirs to cocaine-brandy tablets, and even rat poison – for every ailment, there were brilliantly marketed quick fix ‘products’, that were backed by pseudo-science and supported by an “expert.”

One of my favorites from this era was a thyroid-based mail-order treatment for obesity sold by Frank J. Kellogg.

kellog.jpg

Like many obesity exploiters of this era, his weight reduction “anti-fat” tablets helped him to become a millionaire by claiming to cure ‘fat’ without diet or exercise. What set Kellogg apart was the admiration he earned for his business and self-promoting skills.

The “King of Anti-Fat” turned product into profit by taking advantage of his well-known last name (although not related to the famed family) and escaping investigation by the American Medical Association for years by labeling his obesity-remedy as a food product and not medication… sneaky, sneaky! As a result, Kellogg’s fame and fortune didn’t last long at all. In 1921 he was ordered to cease marketing and destroy his inventory after it was found that his anti-fat ingredients were dangerous and highly toxic.

MUS-FAPC1114_850.jpg

 

Unfortunately, there are still countless supplement companies who are following in Kellogg’s footsteps. Except for, their reach, tactics, and destruction are far greater than those used by former King of Anti-Fat. Today the industry is like the Wild West, with more bank robbers than sheriffs. To survive the heist, spend less money on delusional and dangerous products, and more time looking into specific ingredients from legitimate research resources.

 

Money vs. Morals?

Hidden amongst wooden weights, classic physiques and zubaz pants, inside the former days of fitness there are curious cures and expensive devices that are no different than those sold by today’s social media charlatans and swole-bodied swindlers. Fitness quackery isn’t anything new. It’s a bunch of old recycled remedies and repackaged gimmicks that have been paired with the right buzz word, praised by a pro or ‘expert’ and used to prey upon a very body-conscious and gullible #fitfam.

 

Will morals ever come before money?

Doubtful.

 

Just like those fantastical “before and after” pictures that bombard us every Tuesday, the industry will never actually transform. It will simply keep presenting an illusion of healthy bodies and a fit living façade, as it keeps yo-yoing along a continuum of deception and delusion. The never ending story of fitness quackery continues as it "is another story and shall be told another time."


What do you think. Can the #fitmyth ever be stopped? Or are we going to simply keep turning pages in the never ending story of fitness quackery.

 

                          

VF Vault: Kettlebell Interview

From the VF Vault

“The kettlebell has a long and complex history that ultimately parallels the embodied practices of weightlifting itself. You have multiple origins, names, figures, and ways to lift the object itself,” she says. “War, global politics, globalization, the multicultural climate of North America. There are so many factors that have influenced the rise of not only physical culture, but weightlifting, all the way down to the kettlebell itself.”

 

Back in 2016, a really awesome Auzzy writer for barbend.com named Nick English reached out to me to help him with a piece on the history of the kettlebell. 

A phone call and few hours later, an ongoing research project that I had been working on since 2013 transformed into a really great interview. As Nick said within the article, "the problem with kettlebell history is that surprisingly few people care" - however I do and apparently numerous others do as well. This article gained huge traction and the feedback was great.

See for yourself, you may be surprised with how interesting the history of the kettlebell actually is.

 

Kettlebell History Goes Back Much Further Than Russia
https://barbend.com/kettlebell-history/

 

 

The 'Secondary' Side Effects of Steroids.

The Secondary Side Effects of Steroids: Sex, Gender and the ‘Unnatural’ Female Sporting Body

IN PROCESS

For over half a century controversy has swirled around the use of anabolic androgen steroids (AAS) by athletes and bodybuilders. They have received significant media and political attention though both the academic and clinical literature are sparse. Robert Goldman’s Death in the Locker Room (1984) helped to create and perpetuate hysteria and panic surrounding steroids, especially their use by women. Focusing on what he calls, “The New Unisex – Female Athletes Turning Male,” Goldman describes anabolic steroids as exclusively “masculine hormones,” and suggests that women who take them are ‘unnatural’, resulting in a ‘bastardization of the female form.’ Goldman is not alone in his concern for the female use of anabolic steroids. The little research that surrounds women and steroids tends to endorse powerful cultural norms about a ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ female sporting body. Often, discussions of female athlete steroid use echo long standing beliefs about the appropriate appearance, health and abilities of the female sporting body.

This project will examine why there has been so little attention to female steroid use and discuss the underlying assumptions on which biological determinism, sex, gender, and the ‘natural’ body have been built into the steroid discourse. As Nelly Oudshroon pointed out, ideas regarding the function of hormones, and the terminology surrounding these chemical messengers have embodied rigid cultural ideas about sex, gender, and the body. Although hormones, including synthetic hormones, do not possess an inherent sex or gender, the debate over anabolic-androgen steroids use in sports continues to distinguish anatomical and physiological differences in the ‘male’ and ‘female’ sporting body.

Despite recent scholarship on gender verification, sex testing and the female athletic body that challenge dominant ideas about ‘normal’ levels of ‘natural’ endogenous androgen levels in female athletes, little research has addressed exogenous androgens, women and AAS use in sport, or the gendering of synthetic sex hormones. Furthermore, although there is a growing body of critical literature on anabolic steroids, the gendering of synthetic sex hormones has not gained the same level of critical inquiry as other aspects of the topic, such as the reframing the philosophical debates of ‘fairness’, debating doping-control measures, or the unsubstantiated physiological and/or psychological ‘risks’ associated with male athlete use.

Drawing upon historical and contemporary medical and popular literature, this project will explore the interplay around the construction of biological sex, gender and hormones, with misrepresentations and myths about the use of steroids by female athletes. It aims to address the current ‘science’ of steroids as it relates to the sporting female body, and show how presumptions about what a ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ female should look like underscores much of the discourse around women’s use of AAS.

 

Want to learn more? Contact me for details. 

The Iron Bar

 

Winner of the International Society for the History of Physical Education and Sport Essay & Junior Scholar Award; Published in STADION – International Journal of the History of Sport; Master Thesis.


The Iron Bar: The Modern History of Prison Physical Culture and the Ban on Correctional Weightlifting.
 

From representations of prison physical culture in movies and televisions shows, mainstream workout regimes, exercise programs, even exercise names such as the “prisoner squat” – muscles and strength building exercises have become associated with the prisoner’s body in various, and often negative ways. Rarely mentioned are discussions about appropriate or health promoting sport and daily recreation programs for prisoners or inmate involvement in prison organized and self-guided bodyweight exercise programs or calisthenics routines. Popular culture tends to show prisoner’s bodybuilding with heavy barbells and dumbbells though in fact there has been a federal weightlifting ban on such activities in the United States since the early 1990’s.

Utilizing a Foucauldian perspective, the aim of this research study was to explore the modern history of prison physical culture to better understand how popular perceptions of the muscular inmate body - embedded within the disciplines of criminology and penology - influence opportunities for physical activity in correctional facilities. I focused on the recent correctional weightlifting ban enacted in the United States to gain insight into the potential influence of body typing theories, specifically somatotyping (suggesting a link between criminality and muscular physiques), on the construction of contemporary prison physical culture. Working from a critical socio-historical perspective, I worked to add to the limited knowledge of prison physical culture, research on types of physical activity available in correctional facilities and the corporeal experience of those confined to prison.

Overall very little information exists to illuminate general attitudes toward prison physical culture and measure opportunities for physical activity in correctional facilities. The following research questions will guide my study: (1) How have historical perceptions of the muscular criminal body influenced penal policy? (2) In particular, what have been the influences of body profiling and somatotyping on the role of weightlifting in prisons? Insights into these questions will allow me to better understand the reasoning behind the enactment of the 1994 weightlifting ban placed on prison physical culture within the United States. In particular, I will use one particular case study, San Quentin Correctional Facility to estimate the effects of this weightlifting ban on contemporary prison physical culture.

Although it is not known exactly when the practice of weightlifting was tolerated in American corrections, other forms of physical practice can be traced to the beginning of the modern penal movement of the 18th century. An example of a physical technique in this period of “penal enlightenment” was the “tread-wheel” developed by Sir William Cubitt in 1818 and was used to rehabilitate inmates through hard physical labor and solitary confinement (Shayt, 1989).

During the mid 1800’s American prisons underwent many shifts in correctional practice, including the introduction of recreational sports into some prisons (McKelvey, 1968). Described as fundamental in the new era of corrections, Elmira Reformatory in New York opened in 1876 as one of the first adult “reformatories” for offenders, and for years lead the American reformatory system in the application of modern theories of criminology (Smith, 1988), and use of innovative physical practices as “methods of reform” (Pisciotta, 1983).

While “prison athletics … presaged a new era in prison discipline” (McKelvey, 1968, p.229), organized sports programs did not become a feature in the adult penitentiary system until the early 20th century. During this time there have been significant changes in penal ideology in the United States, however far too little is known about the history, development and present day prison physical culture. As a result of high rates of incarceration and recidivism, beginning in the mid 1980’s and early 1990’s a shift in correctional philosophy and ideas of improvement resulted in a new penal focus for American corrections. Higher value was placed on punishment, denouncement and incapacitation as opposed to the more traditional correctional goals of rehabilitation. Coupled with the enormous growth in the prison population at the time, and the public fervor for the “get tough on crime” rhetoric (Tepperman, 2011), many states began to limit inmate privileges and activities – in particular, prison weightlifting (Hanser, 2012).

To date, very few researchers have discussed prison weightlifting, or addressed those influences which lead to the weightlifting ban. It has been regarded by some scholars as a result of a societal “moral panic” and a product of harsh punitive penal reform (Pawelko & Anderson, 2011); while other research speculates that the ban can be attributed to the popular media’s construction and representation of weightlifting and prisons (Tepperman, 2011). Tepperman (2011) asserts that central to the ban was an “ethos of panic” regarding weightlifting’s ability to construct physically larger, more powerful and aggressive inmates (Wagner, McBride & Crouse, 1997). The impact of this language and the encompassing ideologies regarding the “super breed” of muscular criminals (Foster, 1995) can thus be seen to be integral to the prison weightlifting ban (Tepperman, 2011). 

It is important to note that ideas regarding the muscular inmate body are not simply a creation of the “No Frills movement” and the prison weightlifting ban – they can be found deep within the field of criminology, and in many respects, these perceptions echo ideas of body typing and biocriminality. Since the 18th century there has been inquiry into the relationship between body type and criminality, specifically addressing the idea that criminals typically embody a mesomorphic or muscular physique. Scholars note the importance of examining the historical origins of the various viewpoints within constitutional theory and body typing “to understand the origins, acceptance, and maintenance of criminological ideas” (Rafter, 2007, p. 805), however little research has investigated the influence of criminological ideas on penal policy, prison physical culture and inmates’ opportunities for physical activity.

Without a better understanding of prison physical culture and the identification of important influencing ideologies there remains an absence of context regarding the socio-historical and institutional conditions that govern particular forms of physical activity in correctional facilities. As a result the proposed research will add a socio-historical perspective of physical practices in prison to enhance our limited knowledge of prison physical culture and highlight those factors which have impacted opportunities for physical activity including the weightlifting ban within the United States.

 

Excerpt From: Felkar, V. (2016). “The Iron Bar. The Modern History of Prison Physical Culture and the Correctional Weightlifting Ban”. Stadion 40 (2014): 19-37.

 

 

 

See my Thesis:
https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/24/items/1.0135657

 

Want to learn more? Contact me for details. 

 

Built Both Ways – The Paradox of Muscularity

How can a muscular body be both feared and revered within popular culture at the same time?

Project Overview:

The issue of the relationships among muscularity, body type and criminal behaviour has long intrigued scholars. Criminologists, psychologists, physical educators and the health profession more broadly have enquired into the relationship between body type and criminality, specifically addressing the links between criminal behaviour and a “mesomorphic” or muscular physique (Rafter, 2007; Vertinsky, 2007; Walby & Carrier, 2010; Wright & Miller, 1998). Although early biological theories of crime, such as body profiling, in particular William Sheldon’s somatotyping categories (Sheldon, 1954), have undergone extensive scientific scrutiny and subsequent critique, they continue to persist within contemporary culture. Why has criminology and body typology constructed the muscular body as deviant? What are the implications for linking criminal behaviour to muscularity? What other fields propagate somatotyping’s mesomorphic-delinquency correlation?  

From growing fears about the dangers of muscular prisoners to the enduring stigmatization encountered by female bodybuilders (Shilling & Bunsell, 2009), there remains an open “disdain for the culture of muscle” (Darkes, 2000). At the same time, there is a growing admiration for a muscular appearance and accompanied athletic excellence. This “muscular ideal” and the drive for muscularity in men is well-documented in Western culture (Thompson & Cafri, 2007). In addition to the traditional norms of masculinity that associate the male gender role with a muscular physique (Helgeson, 1994; Mussap, 2008), male and female athletes operate within a context that requires heightened levels of muscularity to achieve sporting excellence and for functional performance-based purposes, such as increased athletic performance and decreased risk of injury (Steinfeldt, Carter, Benton, & Steinfeldt, 2011). How did the dominant and largely negative narratives around the muscular body in contemporary culture develop and what ramifications do they have for those who pursue muscle? Why are there conflicting messages around the pursuit of muscularity in contemporary culture? How are these messages understood and addressed in competitive sport, the recreation and fitness industry, and physical culture?  

Through the perpetuation of somatotyping and the mesomorphic-delinquency correlation, criminology has continued to construct, promote and re-produce knowledge of what a “delinquent” body is. Rafter (2007) argues that in order to “understand the origins, acceptance and maintenance of criminological [theories]” (p. 825) an analytical framework that includes social histories is fundamental. As a result, the proposed research intends to add a historical perspective to enhance our limited knowledge of muscular profiling and highlight the development, impact and influences of criminology’s construction of the muscular body as deviant. The aim of this study is to explore the ways in which criminology and body typology have constructed and reinforced knowledge of the muscular body, and the impact of these beliefs in contemporary thought and practice.

Want to learn more? Contact me for details. 

 

References

Darkes, J. (2009). Muscular Profiling – Is Muscularity Evidence of a Crime? Retrieved from http://thinksteroids.com/articles/muscle-profiling-steroids/

Helgeson, V. S. (1994). Prototypes and dimensions of masculinity and femininity. Sex Roles, 31, 653– 682.

Mussap, A. J. (2008). Masculine gender role stress and the pursuit of muscularity. International Journal of Men’s Health, 7(1), 72-89.

Rafter, N. H. (2008). The criminal brain: Understanding biological theories of crime. New York: New York University Press

Rafter, N. H. (2007). Somatotyping, antimodernism, and the production of criminological knowledge. Criminology, 45(4), 805-833.

Sheldon, W. H. (1954). Atlas of men: A guide for somatotyping the adult male at all ages. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Shilling, C., & Bunsell, T. (2009). The female bodybuilder as a gender outlaw. Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise, 1(2), 141-59.

Steinfeldt, J. A., Carter, H., Benton, E., & Steinfeldt, M. C. (2011). Muscularity beliefs of female college student-athletes. Sex Roles, 64, 543–554.

Thompson, K. J., Cafri, G. (Eds.). (2007). The muscular ideal: Psychosocial, social, and medical perspectives. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

Vertinsky, P. (1990). The eternally wounded women. Women, doctors, and exercise in the late nineteenth century. New York: Manchester University Press.

Vertinsky, P. (2007). Physique as destiny: William H. Sheldon, Barbara Honeyman Heath and the struggle for hegemony in the science of somatotyping. Canadian Bulletin of Medical History = Bulletin Canadien d'Histoire De La Médecine, 24(2), 291-316.

Walby, K., & Carrier, N. (2010). The rise of biocriminology: Capturing observable bodily economies of ‘criminal man’. Criminology & Criminal Justice, 10(3), 261-285.

Wright, R. A., & Miller, J. M. (1998). Taboo until today? The coverage of biological arguments in criminology textbooks, 1961 to 1970 and 1987 to 1996. Journal of Criminal Justice, 26(1), 1-19.