Fit Bodies, Strong Selves

Part of the Consumption and Public Life book series (CUCO)


The notion of “fitness” implies what Michel Foucault (1983) has called “a claim to truth”. Such a claim concerns not only physical activity and the body, but also, and more fundamentally, the subject. For all their emphasis on instrumentality, the cultural legitimacy of fitness gyms rests on strong and specific notions indeed: views about the correct way of transforming the body and views about the (valuable) self as the transforming agent. Fitness culture works on a particular articulation of the body/self dualism. Fitness fans are adamant that the gym allows them “to do something just for the body”. Yet, what is at stake is not just the body. If actual bodywork demands emotional and cognitive involvement, fitness becomes visible at the discursive level as a tale of subjectivity. A “well-disciplined body” is paramount in contemporary rationalised Western cultures, not only because, as maintained by Foucault (1991, p. 135ff.), its ceremonial functions are downplayed in favour of its docility-utility, but also because discipline acquires symbolic value: fitness culture shows the centrality of exercise as discipline and display, as well as that a body which has visibly incorporated exercise may yet again have important ceremonial properties. Although body language is not the direct object of bodywork in the gym, a fit body speaks of the subject in certain ways. In their classic The English YMCA Exercise to Music, Rodney Cullum and Lesley Mowbray (2005, p. 10) consider fitness or better “total fitness” as “the ability to meet the demands of the environment, plus a little in reserve for emergencies… you will have to develop an independence of attitude that makes you self-reliant”.


Plastic Surgery Body Care Urban Life Urban Living Personal Trainer 
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Copyright information

© Roberta Sassatelli 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MilanItaly

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