Strong, Beautiful and Modern
240 pages, 6 x 9
53 b&w illustrations
Release Date:01 Jul 2013
Release Date:20 Jan 2013
Release Date:20 Jan 2013

Strong, Beautiful and Modern

National Fitness in Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, 1935-1960

UBC Press

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, a wave of state-sponsored “national fitness” programs swept Britain and its former settler colonies. Following revelations of Nazi enthusiasm for government-backed sports and the organization of mass leisure, the programs quickly foundered. They are attributed, however, with laying the foundations for the twentieth century’s obsession with fitness — a key facet of modern life.

In this highly original account, Charlotte Macdonald shows how governments became convinced they must encourage citizens to be healthier and more active, and how these efforts reinforced the cultural ties of the Empire. Alongside these state-sponsored efforts was a growing emphasis from business, the medical establishment, and popular culture on the importance of having “a better body.”

Strong, Beautiful and Modern explains the origins of the modern preoccupation with “the body.” At a time when government concern over public health issues such as obesity is once again on the rise, this work offers valuable lessons as to why the first national fitness drive was ultimately a failure.

Drawing on extensive research, Strong, Beautiful and Modern is a lively investigation into the way people and their governments think about  health and well-being, and how historical views have shaped our modern life.

Strong, Beautiful and Modern will appeal to students and scholars of physical education, sports history, and Commonwealth history in the interwar period.


  • 2012, Short-listed - Ernest Scott Prize
  • 2012, Winner - The Ian Wards Prize, Archives and Records Association of New Zealand (ARANZ)
Strong, Beautiful and Modern is an outstanding book: fresh, original and panoramic. Tony Collins, International Centre for Sports History and Culture, De Montfort University, Leicester
In Strong, Beautiful and Modern, Charlotte Macdonald provides an insightful corrective to previous accounts that have largely focused on domestic developments and writes eloquently about the ideologies of the body. An impressive feat of comparative scholarship. Bruce Kidd, Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Toronto
Charlotte Macdonald is a professor of history at Victoria University of Wellington. She has strong interests in women’s history, both in New Zealand and the wider British Empire, and in the history of sport. Publishing widely on these subjects, Charlotte Macdonald is also the co-editor (with Frances Porter) of My Hand Will Write What My Heart Dictates (1996) and (with Merimeri Penfold and Bridget Williams) The Book of New Zealand Women / Ko Kui Ma Te Kaupapa (1991).


1 Movement is Life: National Fitness in England and Scotland

2 Leisure and Democracy: Physical Welfare as the People’s Entitlement in New Zealand

3 Education or Health? National Fitness in New South Wales and Across Australia

4 Fitness for War and a Changed World: National Fitness in Canada

5 Healthy Bodies, States and Modernity: A Twentieth-Century Dilemma



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