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Weakness Is A Crime: The Life of Bernard Macfadden.


Barnarr Macfadden was spectacular. He seemed to be a mixture of a sex addict, original thinker, devotee-at-any-cost to the principles of good health, crusader for freedom of information (versus the medical profession), and a great business innovator who eventually sacrificed his fortune in the frenzy of trying to realize ever-looming new goals.

Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955) began life as a sickly child who eventually realized that a strict diet and regular exercise could cure him. During his colorful lifetime, he married four times (the media considered him oversexed) and was fervently convinced that the same practices would work for others, including the spouses who eventually exhausted themselves in keeping up with his irrepressible needs.

Throughout his life he championed frequent sexual activity, ate only natural foods, exercised intensely, walked hundreds of miles at a time, and abstained from smoking, alcohol and drugs. His slogan, "Weakness is a crime; don't be a criminal," led to his first successful business venture, the publication of Physical Culture, a magazine he founded in 1898 that let to the establishment of Macfadden Publications, publishers of True Story and dozens of magazines that were very profitable and popular during the early part of the 20th Century.

During the mid part of his career, Macfadden was considered the health guru of the nations. He counseled presidents and celebrities from all segments of society. Macfadden certainly proved that the "American Dream" of rising from rags to riches could happen to someone dedicated to an ideal.

"In many ways, the self-educated Macfadden was among the champions of health practices now generally accepted: attention to personal hygiene, healthful living, avoidance of restrictive clothing, and physical activity," the author notes.

"He campaigned against white bread, and eventually bakers fortified their bread with vitamins," Ernest emphasizes. The idealization of whole wheat became one of Macfadden's principal endeavors.

Publishing enabled Macfadden to carry his health message across the land and beyond. Through more than one hundred health books and Physical Culture magazine, he touched many lives. His biographer also credits him for emphasizing the value of vitamins (which were formulated in the 1920's for popular consumption) in good nutrition. In that respect, he was far ahead of his time.

He established schools, camps, and health resorts dedicated to healthful living that cost him millions of dollars. Another of his subsidies included One-Cent restaurants, where a meal could be purchased for so little money. Eventually, they were raised to Ten-Cent restaurants where a nourishing meal could be bought for a dime. Macfadden drew upon his fabulous earnings derived from the string of publications he owned.

After World War II, Macfadden convinced a government agency investigating methods of rehabilitating returning wounded soldiers and sailors, to use hydrotherapy, light, heat, cold, exercise programs, and physical therapy to aid their suffering.

The ideas that Bernarr Macfadden developed throughout his lifetime were not all original. It is likely that he was influenced by earlier health advocates such as Sylvester Graham, for whom the Graham cracker has been named, Samuel Thompson, who maintained that disease resulted from a clogging of the intestinal tract, and others who urged the public to resist conventional medical treatment and the use of pharmaceutical drugs.

In the 1830's, Ernst reminds us, other reformers began to attack conventional medical treatment while emphasizing the importance of fresh air, nutritious food, and daily washing of the skin to open the pores. They also preached against the use of alcohol, tobacco and coffee.

Macfadden shocked and angered many by his advocacy of wearing loose clothing, criticizing the practice of tight-fitting garments as being barbaric, unaesthetic and injurious to the body.

The book provides a fascinating biography of a man who was more than a legend of his time. There were advocates urging him to try for the governorship of Florida (where he established a health spa hotel), and some made attempts in his behalf to have the Democratic Convention of 1928 nominate him for the presidency.

Bernarr Macfadden had hoped to restore the spirit of the Glory That Was Greece in at least one of its manifestations, the adoration of the human body. He glorified his own, loved its appearance in women, and never stopped reveling in its joys.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Vegetus Publications
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1991
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