Leisure and Pleasure: Reshaping and Revealing the New Zealand Body 1900–1960

Caroline Daley

Author: Caroline Daley
Format: Ebook only
Pages: 320
Published: December 2003
ISBN: 9781869402914

Available in Ebook

This engaging book explores an unexpected aspect of New Zealand social history: the modern body at leisure.

Leisure and Pleasure begins by tracing the only New Zealand tour of Eugen Sandow, the most famous strongman of his age. Sandow’s body delighted his audiences and inspired many to reshape and then reveal their toned torsos. His rich New Zealand legacy is examined as Daley takes us through the gyms of the early twentieth century, the rise of beauty contests, the new crazes of swimming and sunbathing, the advent of organised nudism and the display of young bodies in parks and playgrounds.

While many advocated bodily improvement for the sake of the nation’s well being, Daley shows that not everyone was motivated by such civic desires. The pleasure gained from looking and being looked at, from having fun in the surf and sand or on the swings and roundabouts, is an understudied aspect of our past. In uncovering it Daley argues for the need to broaden our conception of New Zealand history, and to move away from the common assumption that our geographical boundaries contain a unique national story. The leisure and pleasure lives of modern New Zealanders were intimately connected with global developments, whether this meant watching an international strongman perform in his leopard-skin knickers or looking to the Hitler Youth Movement for inspiration.

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Reviews

[F]ull of fascinating details and glimpses into past obsessions about the body, gender relations and physical health, many of which have a surprisingly familiar and current ring. With numerous illustrations which inform the text, and a narrative that moves along with flair, Leisure & Pleasure is in a most welcome addition to histories of recreation and popular culture in the antipodes. – Kate Darian-Smith, JAS Review of Books