From Zumba to half-marathons to Instagram fitness accounts, fitness is nearly ubiquitous in today’s world. But what about way back when, long before the advent of Jane Fonda and aerobics? To find out, we decided to travel back in time, to the era of black-and-white photographs. What we found was, well, pretty darn awesome. For some 20th century nostalgia, take a gander at these fitness photos of yesteryear, which will make you laugh, inspire you and—above all—make you grateful for proper workout clothes and tennis shoes.
1. They worked out on treadmills!
Several observations here. First off, these women look way too well-dressed and happy for a treadmill (which is alarmingly short, by the way). And those shoes! Talk about blisters, right?
Seriously, though, why are you guys smiling?!!
“I love running on the treadmill in my heels!” —Said no one ever.
2. They used body shaping procedures!
In this LIFE magazine photo, model Pat Ogden, below, tests out the latest craze of the 1940s—the so-called “Slenderizing Salon,” a frightening-looking contraption that promised to blast away fat and remove one’s problem areas. Judging from Pat’s unamused expression, we’re guessing that it wasn’t the most enjoyable experience of all time. And you thought lipo was disturbing.
And here’s another body shaping machine. Again, she doesn’t look terribly amused.
“Get me out of here!”
3. They did yoga!
Was yoga the secret to Marilyn Monroe’s sex appeal? Perhaps. The bombshell Hollywood star reportedly trained under the iconic yoga teacher Indra Devi, who is widely considered the “First Lady of Yoga” for her pivotal role in disseminating the practice on a global scale.
4. They augmented their breasts!
Before there were shake weights and boob jobs, there was the handy-dandy all-in-one “Figure Control” band. For a mere $1.98, you could stretch your way to a “newly-alluring” bosom while slimming your waist and shaping your legs. Talk about a bargain!
5. They lifted weights!
Now here’s a total kick-butt lady: Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton, pictured below, is considered the pioneer of female bodybuilding. During the 1940s, the professional bodybuilder wrote a column for the magazine Strength & Health, in which she encouraged women to get over their fear that weight-lifting would make them bulky and manly (sound familiar?). Abbye was also instrumental in organizing the first female weightlifting competition in Los Angeles in 1947, earning her the nickname “The First Lady of Iron.”
6. They went on fad diets!
It’s hard to imagine that being skinny would ever not be in vogue. But as these ads from the forties and fifties show, being thin wasn’t necessarily desirable in the postwar era—a curvier, more buxom look was idealized. Gain ten pounds and all of the men will be drooling over you, the ad promises. Personally, we think all women, whether they’re curvy, thin, or somewhere in between, are beautiful.
7. They did body-weight exercises.
Calisthenics—an equipment-free exercise involving various stretching and body weight movements–gained popularity in the earlier part of the 19th century and was deemed an acceptable activity for ladies. This picture, taken in 1923, shows post office clerks in Washington, D.C., doing calisthenic exercises. Call it the advent of the lunch-break workout.
Silk pajamas=the old-school version of yoga pants?
Exercising in your jammies…we see you, girl.