Daniel Kunitz has written a witty, informative cultural history of fitness that considers everything from Ancient Greek statues to skinny jeans physiques. In our body-conscious world, Kunitz gives us a valuable map of where we’ve been (people have been working out for at least 2500 years) and where we should be headed. 2paragraphs caught up with the author between barbells and asked him one question.
2paragraphs: LIFT: Fitness Culture, From Naked Greeks and Acrobats to Jazzercise and Ninja Warriors is winning rave reviews and having a major impact on how people consider fitness. Why do you think the book is connecting so well with people?
Daniel Kunitz: Fitness seems to have taken hold of our imaginations—by which I mean that more people than ever before are thinking about their bodies and how to improve their functioning. But what do we even mean by the word fitness? It’s a complicated topic, one often distorted by cultural prejudices (such as against muscle and strength, especially for women). I’ve tried to bring some clarity and historical perspective to the subject.
The fact is we’re constantly being told to exercise; and every day, it seems, new studies are published confirming its health benefits. Still, very little information exists about why people have always worked out, even before the science made it a necessity. And there is very little commentary on why people hit the gym: what goals we have, what our physical ideals say about us. These are some of the issues I’ve attempted to address—through stories and with humor.