There is probably no place on Earth where staying fit as a fiddle is as essential a part of life as it is in California. The sun is always shining and people aren’t bundled up beneath layers of clothing as they are elsewhere so there’s a lot of skin exposed. If you want to follow the hard body doctrine, sports is the only way to go. And for many who turn to sports, they recall the legendary German gymnastics pioneer Friedrich Jahn — which translates into a life of hard work, lots of muscles and little fun. That might be a reason why the new American-inspired fitness movement featuring well-tempered and even better looking people that started sweeping the planet not long after World War II was so well received in most places.
Ever since statisticians discovered that more rotund people tend to die at earlier ages than fitter people, “love handles” — as “spare tires” are sometimes called these days — are considered unattractive or even lethal. Statuesque women might have made men swoon back in the Baroque days of Dutch painter Peter Paul Rubens, but lean is the only way to go nowadays, it seems: Weight loss and being fit is the name of the game. Today’s celebrities, idols, role models and assorted heroes are invariably lean and fit and there doesn’t seem to be any room left for anyone who is unfit or overweight — a six-pack even seems to be de rigeur at times.
The never-ending fitness boom is also supported by a long line of new icons for each decade, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jane Fonda, Bay Watch, Madonna and Ryan Gosling.
The Mecca for fitness enthusiasts would appear to be Venice Beach, or to be more precise a little patch of the southern California town called Muscle Beach on the southwest outskirts of Los Angeles, right on the Pacific Ocean. Many consider Venice Beach to be the birthplace of the modern physical fitness boom. It started in the 1930s in nearby Santa Monica and moved in the 50s a few miles south to Venice Beach with the world’s first giant outdoor weightlifting platform right smack in the middle of the beach’s boardwalk. The proximity to the growing movie industry helped to make these barbells on the beach famous around the world.
Even Arnold Schwarzenegger spent countless hours lifting the weights in Venice Beach. And his fairytale ascent from Austrian immigrant to a Hollywood star with blockbuster films helped make Venice Beach a synonym for extremely muscular men.
It was only when big biceps began to fall out of fashion in the movie industry did the buzz about Venice Beach began to abate.
But despite the great demise of muscular men on the big screen, I discovered on a recent tour of my old stomping grounds in Southern California that boys with big biceps can still draw big crowds. As I was amazed to discover on a recent sunny Sunday afternoon. Venice Beach is, to be sure, still the most body-licious place in the world.