Fit Nation: The Gains and Pains Of America’s Exercise Obsession
In 2021, it’s almost impossible to open our inboxes or walk a few blocks without experiencing some exhortation to exercise: Walk 5K to cure cancer! Ignite your inner sex kitten at pole-dancing class! Sweat like (or even with) a celebrity at SoulCycle! Even resisting these fitness trends involves embracing others: “hardening the f*ck up” at a stripped-down Crossfit “anti-gym,” joining the defiantly size-inclusive “Fat Kid Dance Party,” or breathing deeply into the blissful escape of downward dog. Far removed from any sweaty locker room, fitness has become a figurative backdrop for much of contemporary life: an intrepid reporter breaks a news story by flying across the country to take Pilates alongside an otherwise inscrutable source; a CEO confides that her hiring secret is observing applicants in a spin class; an outdoor Harlem yoga class furnishes proof positive to community organizers of gentrification run amok; FitBit data solves a murder. The list goes on. Exercise iseverywhere.
Yet given 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 for which they pay so handsomely, and less than 3 of 10 high school students get 60 minutes of exercise a day – the question is how did this happen? How did “the gym” become so ubiquitous it’s inescapable, but also troublingly inaccessible?
FIT NATION, forthcoming from University of Chicago Press, answers these questions.