05 July 2016

An anthropologist walks into... a gym

Katie Hejtmanek is a cultural anthropologist who studies the culture of strength sports (powerlifting, weightlifting, CrossFit) in the United States.

Her articles for BarBend offer not only interesting insights into her particular 'tribe' but also an easy intro to what ethnographic field research is actually about. For instance, in "Anthropology 101: A Cultural Anthropologist Walks into a Gym" (27 May, 2016), Hejtmanek discusses how she set out to understand the the cultural shift where 'strong is the new skinny': "new phenomenon that women are seeking out fitness activities that actively promote muscular bodies. We’ve been taught that the ideal female body is skinny. It is not “natural” or universal to idealize a skinny female body, rather it has been an American cultural ideal."

What are the larger forces at play behind this cultural shift? What are people saying about their participation in strength sports, and how does this reflect or differ from what they do in strength sports spaces?

In her recent article in this ongoing series for BarBend, Hejtmanek answers some of these questions in "The Morality of Fitness: An Anthropologist’s Observations in a CrossFit Gym" (8 June, 2016). In connecting the official 'origin stories' of CrossFit gyms with the local tellings of these stories in the context of (potential) gym members lives, we see how cultural and moral worlds are created by "1) by mobilizing moral frameworks of health, and 2) linking the activity with a community and relationships."

Quick links: