Let’s Read Physical Culture, October 1940!

Physical Culture was founded in 1899 by a crazy man named Bernarr Macfadden. Seriously, read his wiki page, it’s incredible. There’s failed cults, buried treasure, people named “Byrnece”, horrible racism, the works. The magazine ran until 1955, when Macfadden died, although he had stepped down as editor back in 1912.

You can read a ton of fully digitized issues of Physical Culture here

Either “feminine allure” alludes to the ancient Chinese practice of foot-binding, or someone didn’t plan for enough room for realistically drawn feet on this cover.

I could have removed the label but I liked that back in 1940 some dip in the mailroom put the mailing label smack-dab over the title. Good work, mailroom scrub.

Wow, that daily description hits close to home sometimes.

Pelmanism comes down to basically playing memory games with yourself and doing a lot of visualization to try to keep all your thoughts in one place. Sherlock Holmes’s “mind palace” where he stores his memory is a technique of Pelmanism.

Trying really hard not to snicker at “The Magic Wand of Health”.


Back to the fascination with young working women from this period, where people could not stop obsessing over what they ate and how they looked and where they went and who they talked to. “How fortunate she is!” [that she has creeps like me obsessing over what her body should look like and how she must present herself] indeed.

“Special attention to the central portions or glands which control the emotions of sex”: I have read this three times and I can’t tell if he’s talking about her brain or her boobs.


May your afterlife be spent getting kicked in the nuts by square-shouldered buxom washerwomen, Bernarr.


And now continues our femininity lessons, brought to you by a Lemony Snicket villain (in that I’m not completely convinced that she isn’t just Bernarr Macfadden in a wig). All I could find about Loire Brophy is that she wrote a few books, one titled Men Must Work and its companion, If Women Must Work. Really, do we need to know more than this?


“What do you consider your strengths that would make you particularly suited for this position?”
“I possess charm and allure, with feelings of personal security, emotional ease, and confidence from within.”
“Uh-huh. And what would you say are your weaknesses?”
“Well, I’m short. I only spend a few minutes a day attempting to correct my posture when I could spend every Tuesday night at posture practice with the Business Women Club. Sometimes I worry that it will present me with a serious psychological hazard.”
“We were thinking more like…you don’t respond to emails immediately, or you could manage the efficiency of your workload better, but let’s just move on to the next question…”

Learn to look alive, as everything inside you steadily dies.

I’m at least relieved that she recommends actual exercise, and not, say, stretching your legs over your boss’s shoulders.


I’m also choosing to believe that the names under each photo is not the photographer’s credit but the names of the subjects portrayed, so say hello to plucky girl secretary twins Underwood and Underwood, Ewing Galloway the tennis champ and horse jockey, Camera Guild with her bouncy curls, and H. Armstrong Roberts the glamorous sailor.

This woman just proudly stated that she passed over a woman for a job because the other applicant looked better with a tan. Holy shit.

Gosh, if only I just faced the facts that I wasn’t actually tired after a long day at work, I was just lying to myself because truly I just didn’t want to achieve my career-dream of succeeding as a switchboard operator. I’ve spent too many nights dining and dancing when I should have been home, by myself, pretending to look alive and cultivating my simple, becoming coiffure.

The supplement to this horrible article is a rundown of the newest and hottest beauty products, which is presented infuriatingly without any actual mention of the beauty product itself for each description, so it just sounds like a crazy woman rambling on about things she sees in the cosmetics aisle at Walgreens.

What color is WIGWAM supposed to be?

You know, if you can’t handle the insane pressure of keeping your boss sexually attracted to you at your exhausting menial office job with no hope of promotion, maybe try motherhood instead? Here’s how one woman managed to have babies AND keep her husband from cheating on her!

“Only those who know it will believe me when I say that I have three children living – the fourth was killed in the Tupelo Tornado.” Wait, WHAT? Not that I’m doubting that her child died in the Tupelo-Gainesville tornado outbreak of 1936, but is she saying that…I think she’s…uh…I don’t get it. I think she’s trying to say that no one will believe her when she tells people that she has given birth to four children, because her figure is so trim, but only those close to her know that one of her children died. Which is something that maybe we should talk about a little bit more instead of randomly throwing it in there? I guess they just really needed an explanation for why there were only three children in the photo but she needed to really hammer home the point that she had delivered four and still looked hot.

We’ve come across Kellogg’s Pep ads before in other magazine reviews. Pep, the cereal that makes you poop!

If you’ve had enough lessons on feminine allure, consider Mr. America for a minute. Or however long you want to look.

Oh, nevermind, back to cute girls falling down.

Keeping fit with Bernarr Macfadden’s daughter, Helen, who somehow managed to avoid being named “Byrnece” or “Braunda”. Daddy’s little girl has certainly taken on the mantle of constantly preaching about the evils of constipation. Her outfit is cute, although I don’t understand how it seemed legally mandated that women be photographed doing literally everything in heeled shoes.

The grape diet actually has a ton of documented notoriety around it, going back to the 1870s.

This whole thing reads like a horror story.

I’m assuming that the fella sitting down is supposed to be the woman’s husband, who is smiling benignly at her obvious discomfort at being fondled by a man who is clearly dressed as her prom date.

I do find it interesting that this 1940 psychologist is like “Well, you COULD try to be less monogamous on both sides, but USUALLY it doesn’t work out” instead of just straight-up telling her that it’s her fault that her marriage isn’t working out because she isn’t eating enough bananas or something. Maybe he’s just got a fetish for watching his wife flirt with other men, who knows. I also liked the placement of these two articles next to each other, just enough to either make you start to doubt your own marriage or full-on hate-read about someone else’s marriage problems.

As much as I want to venture that pre-war anxiety is feeding into the cultural push to re-claim your virility and charm up your ovaries and make those babies babies babies, I think this obsession with keeping yourself a 1940 sex machine something that’s been around long before that.

That looks really hard. Do it for America! Do it for your prostate!

Sorry, this is one of those annoying magazines where everything after the first or second page gets chopped up crammed into sections in the back.

The prize-winning body YOU gave him? Oh dear, does the morgue know? Is this part of the bigger “man-building plan”?

Guns and Butter has to share page space with the next article, so apologies for weird jarring cutoffs.

The U.S. Government wants YOU to eat more wholesome bargain lard!

I found a little on H.R. McBride, the illustrator, here and he has another illustration in this issue that I love. I thought he might have done ads for Campbell’s soup, but nothing I could find backed that up. Anyway, on to some swell 1940s recipes for children to pack in their lunchboxes. I don’t know if at this time it was more in fashion to bring your own food to school or get it from the cafeteria, but I see that a lot of convincing is needed here to make your kids lunch healthier. Macfadden had a well-documented hatred of white bread, which is probably why they emphasize not letting sandwiches take up all the space in the lunchbox.

Oh boy. What do you want to learn about first – the amber sandwich, the lima bean, onion, and cheese casserole, or the creamed fish and egg casserole? Hermits?

Ah well, we only get the recipe for the amber sandwich, which sounded alright until you get to the lettuce part. I guess lima bean-onion-cheese casserole and creamed fish and egg casserole are pretty self-explanatory. As for hermits, in case anyone was wondering, I looked them up elsewhere and they seem to be cookies made out virtually whatever you had sitting in the pantry at the time. Very Great Depression-friendly. Oh, and behold: the milk steak.

Yes yes, very accurate, whatever. I’m only sharing this one because I love the illustration.

Something about that expression is not doing much convincing that this is, indeed, the best bran he’s ever tasted.

According to Marian Hopkin’s IMDB page, the twins were actually world record breakers in swimming. Virginia was a teammate of Esther Williams, but that seems to be about as far as her fame stretched, and she died young.

“This goes great with the lima bean onion casserole and stewed prunes that I packed in your lunch!”

Enemas, enemas, he’s talking about an enema. One that you sit on.

I wonder if that’s an actual photo of a doctor, and if he knew that his face was being associated with this notoriously quack device?

I love that apparently one pair of glasses is enough to turn you from Almira Gulch to Joan Fontaine.

If the “is this magazine run by a cult?” bells haven’t been ringing in your head since the first few pages, may I remind you that if you aren’t into Macfadden’s cult, which he called Cosmotarianism, you’re welcome to try Frank B. Robinson’s cult Psychiana – a cult that spent virtually all of its ill-begotten money on mink coats and postage.

How do you get your child to stop biting her nails? Feed her tomato juice until she has a nervous breakdown! Works for weasels!

Macfadden had a lot of weird ideas about fitness, but he was also an outspoken critic about diet pills, so at least there was that.

Whatever the Oscillatherm is, I’m sure someone got a lot of good and confusing use out of it.

Bernarr Macfadden’s school for kids who can’t move their bowels good!

Belinda doesn’t want to be bothered when she’s in her personal perspir-ator.

“We take pooping very, very seriously.”

Sounds hot.

George F. Jowett is known as “The Father of American Weightlifting”, and as far as I can tell he was not totally insane. He also had quite the booty.

That’s it for this week! Whoo, what a magazine. Next time we will be looking at Interview magazine from January 1989!