Amazing Pix and Health Advice From 1915’s Hunkiest, Clothes-Hatin’-est He-Man


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Vitality Supreme

Author: Bernarr Macfadden
Date: 1915
Publisher: Physical Culture Publishing, which was in the Flatiron building
Discovered at: A junk shop in downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming

The Cover Promises: Sean Penn has access to a time machine.

Representative Quote:

“In the case of tropical animals, Nature provides a light-colored or tawny growth of hair, with an underlying black or heavily pigmented skin. The white man when in the tropics would do well to follow Nature’s example, wearing light clothing outside with black- or orange-colored or other opaque underwear.”

Meet Bernarr Macfadden, the celebrated father of what used to be called “physical culture” and a man whose passion for health and laughter almost rivaled his passion for boisterous shirtlessness. In 1915, the time of the publication of his how-to-be-like-him masterwork Vitality Supreme, MacFadden was 47 years old. Adjusted for 1915 years, that pretty much made him the world’s oldest living man.

But consider these photos — straight from the book — of his impressive middle-age:

That’s purportedly an exercise, but it looks to me like he’s playacting he has just been shot by Cupid.

Seemingly chisled from the world’s hunkiest granite, Macfadden made a life of sharing his get-in-shape secrets with the world. In Vitality Supreme — which is to regular Vitality what nachos supreme are to their more workaday iteration — he advises drinking hot water ( “as hot as can be drunk”) while exercising, “cleansing and stimulating the alimentary canal,” purifying the blood with “wet sheet packs,” taking baths at the precise temperature of your body, the steps to take to ensure “a complete and satisfactory evacuation,” and forcing yourself to have a good, long laugh at least once a day.

He doesn’t advocate regular laughter. Instead, he’s after the full-on super-villain variety:

Despite appearances, he was not the model for jack-in-the-boxes.

His argument in favor of laughter:

“Many a man, placed in a trying situation, would have been saved from tragical circumstances if he could have found some means of arousing the emotions expressed in a good hearty laugh.”

To that end, he suggests that theatergoers avoid tragedies and dramas:

“There are enough serious experiences in life without searching for recreation in the sorrows of others, which are, after all, only the expression of the imagination of some brooding dramatist. Some abnormal characters find pleasure in misery.”

That sound advice might have changed American history, if only it had reached the ears of President Lincoln.

Instead, the health conscious should smile away!

Paging through the book offers a good rule of thumb: How healthy you’re being is exactly equal to just how much you’re terrifying passersby.

Even Macfadden understood that some elements of his regimen might draw the exerciser unwanted attention. That’s true for his rule of mandantory daily singing, which he insists prepares the bowels for smooth digestion. He writes,

“You should make it a point to sing at every opportunity. Break forth into song whenever the slightest excuse appears. . . . When you are on a train, or in a busy centre of the city in which there is a combination of noises which will drown your own voice, you can then sing or hum to your heart’s content without annoying others.”

Hold a cup as you work out, and maybe you’ll make a couple quarters.

Macfadden was an early advocate of toothbrushing . . .

. . . as well as some dental techniques that have been lost to time:

NEXT: Relish the energy this hard-singing hero invested in combating the great tyranny facing modern man: clothes.

Oh, how Macfadden hates pants, shirts, and underthings. “Primitive man, living in a state of Nature, was not burdened with clothing,” he carps. Elsewhere, he adds, “We have to recognize that clothing is a necessary evil at this period human progress, so-called” and suggests that his readers relieve the misery of being yoked by clothing with nightly “air baths” while “studying or writing letters.”

Air baths can even be enjoyed in bed, provided you happen to have handy a Klansman’s tools:

Macfadden’s other thoughts on how clothes compromise our health:

  • “The artificial heel, especially on the very high heel won by women, is an insult to Nature, to the Creator. Some day, when we are really civilized, high heels will be unknown.”
  • “Many bald headed men owe their loss of hair to tight hats.”
  • “If I were to select an ideal costume for men, I am inclined to think that I would go back to the Roman toga, to the flowing drapery of the Greeks, or to the Scottish kilt.”

Given his godly physique, his distaste for trousers, and the then-recent rise of the reproducible image cheaply, it’s little surprise that the Macfadden of 1915’s greatest passion seems to have been taking photos of himself working out:

Maybe “working out” isn’t the phrase for it. Nobly posing?

How is this next exercise — seemingly titled “I Just Got Socked in the Eye-hole” — supposed to give its practitioners a Macfadden physique?

I wish I could burn some calories by acting like I just lost my keys:

And, finally, here at last is the difference between that regular old vitality and the Macfadden Supremacy: Red-hot exercise collages!



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