Video: Okay, This 1940s Women’s Gym Is Straight-Up Bananas
You can thank both the British Pathé Film archives and Reddit for digging this one up and leaving it right there for you. What you can see above is, most likely, an innovative women’s gym in England, circa late World War II. Named after the then-recent German offensive in the Ardennes Forest that claimed just short of 200,000 lives, it’s wittily called “The Battle of The Bulges.” Does one get it?
Now, in addition to being terribly amusing and spawning a highly readable Reddit thread, the video reveals something about attitudes towards women’s bodies and what was considered appropriate behavior for them at the time. Notice that most, but not all, of the bizarre exercise machines here allow the user to be passive. Rollers pummel legs and torsos, but the women here don’t sweat and strain. Essentially, they’re not really exercising at all.
Granted, it's unlikely any of these devices caught on and there have been similar machines made for men in the past. At the end of the day, this “slice of life” snapshot of the 1940s reveals an attitude many in our culture still harbor—that women should not exert themselves, not develop muscles, and not become active masters of their own bodies. Maybe we’re reading too much into this, but maybe not.
But—hey—also, look at those silly machines! Just lookitem!