Total fitness  

  Total Fitness

       Spa ads for women tend to use words like "pamper," "indulge," and "relax." Male fitness tends to stress discipline, training, and getting in shape. Numerous women work out and are at home in the gym. But where do these two seemingly disparate worlds come together for men? The health Club. Health clubs for men have been many and varied; the one thing they had in common was the appellation: "men's." In that regard, most have nothing in common with health clubs of today. A gym was never just a place to work out; it was a space for men. The YMCA --Young Men's Christian Association -- was created as a place to train the whole man. The "C" was never meant to be limiting by religion, but rather to underscore the founder's vision of "a fit mind in a fit body" as a goal for boys growing into men. As such, it provided boys in every community a safe haven and healthy altrernative to both crushing poverty and the rough and tumble of the streets. Building on this successful model, the YWCA was created as a sister organization to provide a similar environment for girls. Today, the four letters YMCA are heard only in a Village People song. The "M," "C," and "A" are gone, leaving only the "Family Y."

       The model of a democratic, welcoming place for boys stood in direct contrast to other masculine haunts of the time built on brawns and brain, fame and fortune. It fell between the city boxing gyms, which were often dens of graft and corruption, and country clubs, which proved victims of their own elitism. Scouting was the only thing like it. The Y model was revived by Father Flanagan for Boys' Town, and the two successful models of Scouting and the Y were widely copied and widely supported. Churches and synagogues hosted their own Scout dens or based youth programs on Scouting. Civic leaders were unanimous in their support of the "Y."

      All that changed in the turbulent upturn of the 'sixties. Next to the ads for Short Cut hair groom, Boys Life would run "The Battle of the Bangs,"  detailing the ongoing struggle of dads to muscle sons into barber shops and school dress codes to outlaw long hair. Feminists attacked Men's clubs as bastions of male privelege, and the YMCA quietly dropped three letters from its name. The upshot was that while today you can find health clubs "for women," you won't find many equally dedicated "for men." Whatever the psychic cost, men have been cut loose from their moorings. Out of place, on one hand, in indulgent Day Spas, while on the other, dedicated to endless hours at the gym and an increasingly narrow definition of fitness that ignores the "whole man." Ironically, there has never been more talk about how to reunite the soul and body which, for most of man's millenia, no one would have thought to separate.

This matchbook from the '40s for a Philadelphia health club extolled the benefits of "baths, massages, and exercise", topped off with a relaxing session in the Solarium, where members could bask in the sun.

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