How Putnam Author Danielle Friedman Unlocked the Feminist History of Women’s Workout Culture

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Danielle Friedman, © Lindsay May for Classic Kids Photography

With 2022 here and resolutions set, our new Igloo Book Buzz pick is Danielle Friedman’s LET’S GET PHYSICAL: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World, published on January 4 by Putnam and Listening Library. This captivating blend of reportage and personal narrative explores the history of women’s exercise culture–from jogging and Jazzercise to Jane Fonda–and how women have parlayed physical strength into other forms of power.

The New York Times buzzed: “Fact-packed but bouncy…Most enjoyable is when Friedman shines light on less hallowed figures, like Judi Sheppard Missett, the relentlessly upbeat founder of Jazzercise, whose classes ‘changed the rhythm of women’s days;’and Bonnie Prudden, ‘the lady in the leotite’ and a descendant of Davy Crockett…[Friedman’s] book is very much ‘pro’ exercise, but for the right reasons: not slimming down but mood management, community, spirituality in the corporal.”

Friedman shares what inspired her to delve deep into this area and write LET’S GET PHYSICAL: “Five years ago, a few months before my wedding, I stepped inside my first boutique fitness studio: a Pure Barre on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I was struck by how physically strong the barre classes made me feel, but as a feminist journalist, I also became curious about the origins of the workout. I wondered: Where did barre come from? The answer turned out to be much richer and more fascinating than I anticipated, and I wrote about the workout’s ‘secret sexual history’ in a feature story for The Cut, which I was delighted to see go viral. But research­ing that piece opened my eyes to more than just the barre workout’s wild ori­gins. I felt as though I had unlocked a portal to a hidden feminist history. It was a history rich with cinematic characters, many of them forgotten pioneers of what we now call self-care. It was also a story about how, over the past seventy years, women have harnessed movement to change their lives in subtle but incredibly meaningful ways. And amazingly, it was a story that had never been told. From there, I set out to write the cultural history of women and exercise that I wanted to read.”

Putnam Executive Editor Michelle Howry says, “LET’S GET PHYSICAL takes us back to a time when just lacing up your running shoes or picking up a free-weight was, as a woman, an act of defiance, even courage. Danielle Friedman shows us that the history of ‘workout culture’ (or, as we might call it today, #selfcare) is not one of air-brushed perfection, but rather one filled with weird and messy and awkward and glamorous characters who are a joy to read about. It’s a fascinating, feminist look at workout culture in the 20th century and Danielle tells the story with verve and style.”

Michelle adds, “Danielle is a well-known journalist now, but before that she was an editorial assistant at Hudson Street / Penguin! She is a ‘book person’ through and through, and it was such a joy having someone as knowledgeable about the editorial process as a publishing partner.”

Posted: January 5, 2022