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Fitness: The Early (Dutch) Roots of a Modern Industry

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While sports and physical education originated in the nineteenth century, fitness on the other hand is generally seen as a typically late-twentieth-century phenomenon. In order to understand how the modern fitness culture has become what it is today, it is important to recognize how some of its roots had already evolved more than a century before. This article uses early developments of the 'fitness industry' in the Netherlands between 1850 and 1900 as an illustrative example. Against the background of the European struggle between Continental and Anglo-Saxon systems of physical education and sport, this article focuses on the connections that were made between industries, ideas, buildings, fitness equipment, manuals, magazines and the early body artists and entrepreneurs. The convergence between the early fitness industry and the 'self-help industry' contributed to a crucial shift from the 'acrobatic, distant body', to the commercialized, fit and good-looking bodies which were displayed and 'sold' as inspiring examples. This article questions some of the crucial preconditions of these processes of globalization of the early fitness industry.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2008-09-01

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