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By Tarik Azzouni February 8, 2013

Perfect Body Culture

The modern day idea of attaining the perfect male body is not a new concept. Physical culture gained popularity during the interwar years in Britain around the late 1800s. Many reasons contributed to its growth.  One of these reasons was to put the nation’s men in better physical shape in order to participate in the war effort. (Zweininger- Bargielowska 601). Another reason why physical culture gained popularity in Britain was due to the promotion of manliness within war. The male body had to be fit and above all had to look fit (597). Physical culture gained its popularity through the promotion of various physical culturists of that time. One of these important figures was Eugen Sandow.

Nicknamed “Sandow the magnificent”, he was viewed as having the ideal body, making him the perfect man. His body was a “sculpture come to life” whose muscles displayed absolute beauty. Originally from Prussia, Sandow travelled as an athlete in the circus and wowed British audiences when showed off his body in London in 1889. Sandow was one of the main figures who headed physical culture in Britain with the launch of his monthly physical culture magazine Sandow’s Magazine, which provided the average person with physical development manuals (599).

Sandow’s inspiration derived from ancient Greece’s bodily aesthetics. Male sculptures were created with what was thought of to be the ideal body, the body in its “highest possible state and power”. This is what Sandow strived to achieve with British men. Civilization was responsible for the degradation of the human body and Sandow sought to undo that evil. To attain this pure bodily state in the eyes of Sandow, one must master the concepts of ‘self-control’, ‘personal cleanliness’ and ‘temperance’. Sandow made it his mission to provide this opportunity for all British males (599).

The idea of physical culture has not changed much from the late 19th century. Males then and now seek to gain muscular fitness, but above all to look muscularly fit. Physical culturists of the interwar years can be equated to modern day body builders and both strive to achieve bodily perfect, in their own unique ways. Arnold Schwarzenegger, being a native of Austria, also surprised foreign and worldwide audiences with his first appearance in his participation in the Mr. Universe Competition of 1966 in London, coming second behind Chest Yorton and winning his first in 1967 (“Mr. Everything- Arnold Schwarzenegger”). 

This illustrates good that notions regarding the human male body have not changed. Males still strive, or desire, to achieve this bodily perfection. To further this argument, Sandow gained his inspiration from ancient Greek bodily aesthetics in which we can see Plato’s theory of “Idealism” come into play. Sandow often posed naked in order to bring out his true bodily nature (Zweiniger-Bargielowska 599). This is reminiscent of the ancient Greek Olympic Games. These Greek aesthetics served, in ancient Greece and Sandow’s time, and serve to this day as the template for what the ideal male body should represent.

About the author

Tarik Azzouni graduated from Dawson. He enjoys the ancient world. 


The photograph “Eugene Sandow” is posted by Popwerks, under CC BY 2.0


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