Live at Brookline Booksmith! Natalia Petrzela with Megan Kate Nelson
In person at Brookline Booksmith! Celebrate the release of Fit Nation with author Natalia Petrzela, in conversation with Megan Kate Nelson.
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Fit Nation: The Gains and Pains of America's Exercise Obsession
How is it that Americans are more obsessed with exercise than ever, and yet also unhealthier? Fit Nation explains how we got here and imagines how we might create a more inclusive, stronger future.
If a shared American creed still exists, it’s a belief that exercise is integral to a life well lived. A century ago, working out was the activity of a strange subculture, but today, it’s almost impossible to avoid exhortations to exercise: Walk 5K to cure cancer! Awaken your inner sex kitten at pole-dancing class! Sweat like (or even with) a celebrity in spin class! Exercise is everywhere.
Yet the United States is hardly a “fit nation.” Only 20 percent of Americans work out consistently, over half of gym members don’t even use the facilities they pay for, and fewer than 30 percent of high school students get an hour of exercise a day. So how did fitness become both inescapable and inaccessible?
Spanning more than a century of American history, Fit Nation answers these questions and more through original interviews, archival research, and a rich cultural narrative. As a leading political and intellectual historian and a certified fitness instructor, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela is uniquely qualified to confront the complex and far-reaching implications of how our contemporary exercise culture took shape. She explores the work of working out not just as consumers have experienced it, but as it was created by performers, physical educators, trainers, instructors, and many others.
For Petrzela, fitness is a social justice issue. She argues that the fight for a more equitable exercise culture will be won only by revolutionizing fitness culture at its core, making it truly inclusive for all bodies in a way it has never been. Examining venues from the stage of the World’s Fair and Muscle Beach to fat farms, feminist health clinics, radical and evangelical college campuses, yoga retreats, gleaming health clubs, school gymnasiums, and many more, Fit Nation is a revealing history that shows fitness to be not just a matter of physical health but of what it means to be an American.
Natalia Mehlman Petrzela is a historian of American politics and culture. She is the author of two books, Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture and Fit Nation: The Gains and Pains of America's Exercise Obsession, host and co-producer of the Welcome to Your Fantasy and Past Present podcasts, and a frequent contributor to media outlets including the New York Times, the Atlantic, and The Washington Post.
Megan Kate Nelson is a writer and historian who grew up in Colorado and now lives outside Boston. She is the author of four books, including (most recently), Saving Yellowstone (Scribner 2022) and The Three-Cornered War (Scribner 2020, finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in History).