Bygone Bodies | Newberry

Bygone Bodies

Well, this is by far one of the most entertaining health books we’ve had come into the Book Fair in many years. Opening it at random here and there, I find the author advising you to ignore advertised health products–he even seems to suggest that some advertisers would actually claim to do more than is possible!—and stating boldly that there is no chart which can actually tell you what you ought to weigh for your height and age. It was another era, of course. His suggestion that you just try to be healthy and ignore what everyone else seems to be doing would never get him on the bookshelves today. No, we’d force him to have a talk show. (He even goes on to say that if you’re not very healthy, you won’t feel like a lot of exercise, so that gym membership isn’t going to do any good. Warped.)

His name was Alfred C. Boand, and he was, at least in 1934, a “radio physical director”. His book was Body Beautiful, published in Chicago by Albert Whitman, a publisher best known for children’s books. “Body Beautiful” is aimed at everyone, but it is kind of written at about a middle school level. His theory on beautiful bodies is that a healthy body is beautiful even if it doesn’t fit whatever the latest fashion may be. A Great Dane, he says, cannot become a greyhound, no matter how she diets and exercises. (1934 was just the sort of year for this, as fashion was shifting from the long, thin lines of the twenties to more well-fed silhouettes.) I have been unable to trace Dr. Boand beyond this book, though an Alfred C. Boand was responsible for a genealogical book nearly forty years later.

The book does have other interesting features, and has applications in local history. Young people enrolled in the physical education programs at the Chicago YMCA volunteered to pose for the illustrations in the book. Five women and eleven men have provided their own bodies to illustrate the body beautiful. They certainly are of varying shapes and sizes, though they are all white and almost entirely brunet. The women do not feature in as many pictures as the men, perhaps because the men could legitimately show off more of their bodies in 1934. One young lady has actually put on a sweater for her picture, whereas one of the young men has posed in the buff (with his back to us; there were still limits in 1934.)

But what makes the book especially interesting is Cancy.

Cancy is a strange first name, but it does exist. I suspect it was a nickname. Anyway, Cancy was one of the young men who came over from the YMCA to demonstrate the degree of physical perfection he had attained. Cancy is one of those young men any physical program would like to have as its representative. He looks as if he was planning to break the Olympic record for the shotput, the 200 yard dash, AND the marathon, come the 1936 Olympics, and was willing to pose for the newsreel cameras before and after doing so. I get this impression from the fact that he has inscribed this book to his sister, not merely on the title page (that’s his picture on the title page) but on every picture which includes him, which includes that nude picture in which we are expected to admire his form as he flexes. He’s amused by it. “Your ‘little’ brother”, he writes.

I have hunted around to see if I can find any record of Cancy at the Olympics, or anywhere else. He would have to be at least a hundred years old at this point, so I believe I don’t need to worry about meeting him next time the Newberry’s Board of Trustees get together. I can’t find him on a list of participants in the 1936 Olympics, nor on the professional baseball or football teams of the Thirties. (One is handicapped by not knowing if Cancy was his name, or short for something else.) I hope he used his body beautiful only for the forces of good, but the only thing I can tell about his judgment is that though he was the Y member who posed nude, he did NOT pose for the picture of throwing horseshoes. So he had his standards.

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