WAS YOUR FAVORITE ROMANCE HERO REALLY PHYSICALLY FIT?
by Kathleen Bittner Roth
Back in the day of film stars like Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable, there seemed to be little emphasis on physical fitness. Fast forward to 2015 and nearly every male actor in a lead role, romantic or otherwise, displays not only a well-toned, ripped body, he’s given the term “six pack” a whole new meaning.
This shift in physical aesthetics got me wondering—what about the heroes in romance novels we authors write about and readers adore? Don’t we usually depict them with broad shoulders, slim hips and muscular thighs? Are we fantasizing about what never was, or are we closer to the truth than we realize? Curiosity piqued, I dove into a little research project and I learned a lot.
Present day film stars and athletes bear a lot of resemblance to the ancient Greek and Roman athletes whose very lives and livelihoods depended on their level of fitness both in mind and body. Staying fit today can translate into money. Big money. But believe it or not, it did back then, as well. What we consider immense earnings today don’t come close to those of the ancient athletes. Gaius Appuleius Diocles, a Roman chariot racer, became the wealthiest man in Rome in his time. Modern day figures would put this chariot jockey’s earning at over fifteen billion dollars!
The dark ages descended upon man and everything tied to the physical/intellectual continuum faded away. Then came the Renaissance (1400-1600) which not only renewed an appreciation for human life, but renewed interest in fitness relating back to the Romans and Greeks (even Martin Luther, a religious leader, saw a connection between physical fitness and enhanced intellectual learning). This renewed interest in fitness brought about a development of physical education throughout Europe.
Walking was considered a fine form of exercise. The kilted Scot, an exceptional example of fitness, walked miles most days and could swing a heavy six-foot long claymore as if it were little more than a hammer (I know how heavy they were—I once gifted my late husband with a claymore for his birthday and when it arrived via UPS, I couldn’t lift the box to wrap it).
During the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, intellectually aware men kept their bodies fit through the art of fencing, a rigorous sport that toned virtually every muscle in the body. These men also boxed, used dumb bells to keep their upper bodies fit, and rode their fine horses, a favorite pastime that worked all their muscles and gave those thighs of theirs a good workout.
Then the industrial revolution evolved. Here’s where technology replaced labor-intensive jobs and urban life seemed more appealing than rural life. Consequently, people didn’t move around as much which led to a decline in physical fitness, particularly in the United States. But in time, that changed.
One thing in my research regarding the physically fit hero is that I found a particularly interesting commonality between the fit mind-body concept and the power of the military. When WWI broke out, British forces underwent rigorous basic training, and when the United States entered the war theater of WWII, so many volunteers were not fit enough to stand the rigors of battle that the Army created a cross-fit basic training course (actually, much tougher than today’s basic training).
Out of basic training emerged advanced training which eventually produced special forces such as the Navy Seals—and you guessed it—physically fit, romantic heroes. It seems we’ve come full circle, back to the ancient Greeks and their idea of a fit body-mind continuum.
So whether you read romance or write it, feel free to enjoy your broad-shouldered, slim-hipped, fabulously healthy hero. They really did and do exist.
Kathleen Bittner Roth thrives on creating passionate stories featuring characters who are forced to draw on their strength of spirit to overcome adversity and find unending love. Her own fairy tale wedding in a Scottish castle led her to her current residence in Budapest, Hungary, considered one of Europe’s most romantic cities. However, she still keeps one boot firmly in Texas and the other in her home state of Minnesota. A member of Romance Writers of America®, she was a finalist in the prestigious Golden Heart® contest. Find Kathleen on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, Pinterest and www.kathleenbittnerroth.com.
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