Caption: Strongman Eugene Sandow, 1893, Credit: Library of Congress
Image by: Library of Congress 
Strongman Eugene Sandow, 1893 

005: Beach Bodies: A History of the American Physique [rebroadcast], 7/27/2013

From: BackStory with the American History Guys
Series: BackStory with the American History Guys Weekly Episodes
Length: 54:00

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It’s summer, the beach is calling, and so is the dreaded swimsuit! Americans are constantly bombarded by images of physical perfection – especially at this time of year. If it’s enough to make you want to run for cover, then BackStory is here to offer comfort – exploring the ideal of the perfect American body, and how it hasn’t always been what it is today.

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In this episode of BackStory, the American History Guys explore how ideals of the body have changed over the centuries, and consider some of the ways Americans have attempted to perfect their physiques. From the initial emergence of skinniness as a desirable trait for middle-class men, to the 19th century science of “nasology”—which held that the shape of a person’s nose was the key to understanding their character—Brian, Peter, and Ed get to grips with a range of body history. Plus, they steel themselves for a look at the Cold War roots of that bane of schoolchildren everywhere—the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. 

Guests include:

  • Eddy Portnoy, Rutgers University, on the pseudo-science of discerning character based on the shape of a person’s nose.
  • Katharina Vester, American University, on dieting in the 19th century and the preference for plump-bodied women.
  • Rachel Moran, Pennsylvania State University, on how the federal government developed a stake in our physical wellbeing
  • Megan Kate Nelson, Harvard University, on the rise of “Empty Sleeve” literature that glorified amputee veterans returning home from the Civil War.

Piece Description

In this episode of BackStory, the American History Guys explore how ideals of the body have changed over the centuries, and consider some of the ways Americans have attempted to perfect their physiques. From the initial emergence of skinniness as a desirable trait for middle-class men, to the 19th century science of “nasology”—which held that the shape of a person’s nose was the key to understanding their character—Brian, Peter, and Ed get to grips with a range of body history. Plus, they steel themselves for a look at the Cold War roots of that bane of schoolchildren everywhere—the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. 

Guests include:

  • Eddy Portnoy, Rutgers University, on the pseudo-science of discerning character based on the shape of a person’s nose.
  • Katharina Vester, American University, on dieting in the 19th century and the preference for plump-bodied women.
  • Rachel Moran, Pennsylvania State University, on how the federal government developed a stake in our physical wellbeing
  • Megan Kate Nelson, Harvard University, on the rise of “Empty Sleeve” literature that glorified amputee veterans returning home from the Civil War.

Timing and Cues

SHOW RUNDOWN

06:00 – 19:00 SEG A

IC: Major funding for Backstory is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities…
OC: We’ll be back in a minute.

6:00 - 19:00 Nose Knows Best

Brian chats with Eddy Portnoy about the 19th century pseudo-science of nasology, which claimed to explain personality traits based on the shape of a person’s nose, and the History Guys riff about why we began wanting to change our appearance in the 19th century.

19:00 – 20:00 STATION BREAK 1 (MUSIC BED)

20:00 – 39:00 SEG B
IC: This is BackStory…
OC: We’ll be back in a minute.

20:00 – 29:36 More to Love

Peter talks with Katherina Vester about the rise of dieting in the 19th century and about how it was preferable for men to be slim and women to have a few extra pounds of padding on their bones.

29:37 – 39:00 Run DNC, Run RNC

Rachel Moran and Brian discuss how the federal government began to claim a stake in the public’s physical fitness, and Moran explains the origins of that annual bane of schoolchildren everywhere: the Presidential Physical Fitness Test.

39:00 – 40:00 STATION BREAK 2 (MUSIC BED)

40:00 – 59:00 SEG C
IC: Welcome back to BackStory…
OC: …at the University of Richmond.

40:00 – 51:08 Listener Calls

Peter, Ed, and Brian take calls from listeners.

51:09 – 57:29 The Sleeve Makes the Man

Ed interviews Megan Kate Nelson about the proliferation of so-called “empty sleeve” narratives in poems, stories, songs, and artworks that glorified amputee veterans returning home after the Civil War.

57:29 – 59:00 PRODUCTION/FUNDING CREDITS

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Contact: Producer, Tony Field (434) 924-8922, tfield@virginia.edu

Related Website

http://backstoryradio.org/shows/beach-bodies/