About Natalia Mehlman Petrzela
Natalia Mehlman Petrzela
Natalia is a scholar speaker podcaster writer teacher consultant
Natalia Mehlman Petrzela is a historian of contemporary American politics and culture. She is the author of CLASSROOM WARS: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture (Oxford University Press, 2015), and FIT NATION: The Gains and Pains of America’s Exercise Obsession (University of Chicago Press, 2023). She is co-producer and host of the acclaimed podcast WELCOME TO YOUR FANTASY, from Pineapple Street Studios/Gimlet and the co-host of PAST PRESENT podcast. She is a columnist for MSNBC Opinion, a frequent media guest expert, public speaker, and contributor to outlets including the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and the Atlantic.
Natalia is Associate Professor of History at The New School, co-founder of the wellness education program Healthclass 2.0, and a Premiere Leader of the mind-body practice intenSati. Her work has been supported by the Spencer, Whiting, Rockefeller, and Mellon Foundations. She holds a B.A. from Columbia and a Ph.D. from Stanford and lives with her husband and two children in New York City.
Fit Nation: The Gains and Pains of America’s Exercise Obsession
“A whirlwind journey…” — The New York Times
“Ms. Petrzela’s account moves at a quick-lap pace: She scans the market from top to bottom, from the Equinox gym to the Zumba class in a local church hall… [her] hybrid career gives her insider access to the fitness industry” — Wall Street Journal
“Petrzela rips back the plush carpet of elite institutions to reveal the rotting foundation beneath.” — Washington Post
How is it that Americans are more obsessed with exercise than ever, and yet also less healthy? What does “fitness” even mean, and what is it for? How, over the past century, has working out evolved from a strange subculture to a social imperative?
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 regularly was considered a weird ritual, but today, it’s almost impossible to avoid exhortations to exercise: Walk 5K to cure cancer! Ignite your inner sex kitten at pole-dancing class! Sweat like (or even with) a celebrity in spin class! Exercise is everywhere, and can at the same time be a force for empowerment and exclusion. Fit Nation explains how we got here and imagines how we might create a more inclusive, stronger future.
Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture, 2015, Oxford University Press.
Why are the battles over schoolhouse issues so intense? How are today’s fights over teaching about race, sex, and values rooted in the past and how might we resolve them in the future?
Public schools are the spaces, for better or worse, where Americans figure out the sort of society they want to live in. Delving deep into 1960s and 70s California, one of the most tumultuous moments in recent American history, Classroom Wars charts the rise of innovative new curricula that teach about culture, race, and sexuality, and the intense opposition – and national attention – they inspired.
Washington, DC: Wednesday, March 14, 4:30 p.m.
Join me for a public lecture at Georgetown University, titled “Fit Nation? The Pressures and Privileges of American Exercise Culture”
Scarsdale, NY: Monday, March 18, 7:00 pm
Join me and Mimi Rocah for a discussion of the the global reaction to the atrocities of 10/7 and how we, as feminists, can effectively advocate for victims and survivors.