7540 - Forging a Beautiful Nation: Physical Culture and Womanhood (Argentina 1920-1940)

This paper considers how global discourses about beautiful and healthy bodies, which transmitted different images of what a woman should look like, were translated and appropriated by Argentine mass media. More specifically, it examines magazines specialized in physical culture to explore how journalists made use of European and US discourses on physical culture to promote their own agenda about not only what a native female healthy body meant but also what a vigorous nation was supposed to be. Discourses about physical culture were based on the allure of modernity and were intermingled with nationalist concerns on Argentina. Advocates of physical culture suggested that not only should Argentine women look healthy and beautiful in order to measure up to women of other countries, thus catching up with modern times, but they should also pursue this goal in order to become devoted and patriotic mothers, thus strengthening the Argentine race with their newly acquired healthy bodies. The strengthening of the race and the emergence of a ‘competitive’ nation—through the acquisition of a robust feminine body— would show to the world Argentina’s progress. Paradoxically, this initial pedagogy was accomplished by showing to Argentine women the achievements of foreign women, almost forcing the former to learn from and to copy the latter. Nevertheless, Argentine women, while being encouraged to emulate these models, were also alerted to remain ‘truly’ Argentine and ‘truly’ feminine, for the sake of their children and their nation. While substantial scholarship has addressed both the topic of the fit and beautiful manly body and the creation of new male figures that symbolized national identity during the interwar period, fewer studies have focused on the role that global discourses on physical culture played for women and national identities in Latin American contexts.

Keywords: Global history, Argentina, Gender, Physical Culture

Author: Tossounian, Cecilia (Latin American Institute, Freie Universität, Italy / Italien)


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