Let's Get Physical #9: Fitness from a Catalog (Part 1)

There is no other market where Americans are more vulnerable than health and fitness.  We're a First World Nation, so we are subsequently going to be prone to vanity.  Unfortunately, in the U.S. French Fries and soft drinks are sold by the bucket and available for pennies on every corner. We also spend a lot of our time completely stationary at our desk and in our cars.

You do the math:  Hundreds of millions of people with lots of money all wanting to look trim - while at the same time bombarded by fattening temptations and saddled with stationary lifestyles.  What these people need is something that will promise them the good looks they so desperately crave packaged as a quick and undemanding solution.

Well, look no further than in JC Penny's and Sears catalogs from around the 1970s. Sure, there's always been and always will be hucksters peddling their snake oils to a gullible public. However, the vintage catalogs hold a special place in my heart for being so damn amusing. See for yourself...

Can you imagine how gross it was working out in those Sauna Suits? Picture the puddles of sweat, the smell - could you even wash those things? No thanks.  I'll stick with the much cooler "Air Belt" - sure, it does absolutely nothing, but my hot girlfriend and I get to smile contemptuously at the couple in the Sauna Suits.

The Pedle-Dedle may the worst of all time.  Did anyone really start peddling at the office? I'll bet a lot of calories were lost sweating the fact that they just blew ten bucks plus shipping on this piece of junk.

Electric Belt Massagers were really big in the early sixties.  It didn't take long for people to figure out that they were completely ineffective; however, they still popped up now and again in catalogs in the early seventies.

These things always remind me of A Confederacy of Dunces, where this device features prominently with one of the main character's wives.  This is the great book that has been on the table for a movie adaptation since John Belushi, but it still has yet to materialize.  I guess that's probably for the best - I don't think I could bear Kevin James or Jack Black as Ignatius J. Reilly.

The "Steam Bath/Sauna" is incorrect.  It should read "Steam Bath/Coffin".  There's not a doubt in my mind that at least ten people have died in that death trap.  She doesn't even look like she fits in the thing - do you have to curl into the fetal position?

This appears to be a variation on the belt massager. There's no way the roller massager was soothing or comforting to the muscles - it looks downright painful.  How could you even stay seated as those bumpy posts rotated around?  The girl in the "Tummy" position seems to be enjoying herself, though.  Perhaps we should give her some privacy.

If they were honest, they'd call this the "Bruised Ass Machine".  An alternative to using this device would be to ride down a bumpy road in an El Camino with bad shocks.

The stationary bike certainly does have merit; however, it still highly enjoyable to see the way they were presented back in the day.  I especially love the middle lady's brown leotard with yellow slippers.  The blonde's Princess Leia 'do is also a nice touch.

Admit it.  When you first saw the picture above, you thought she was naked.  Nope - it's just an unfortunately colored leotard.... which bring up a point that deserves mention.  When was the last time you saw a woman at the gym dressed in a leotard and slippers? Everyone wears shorts and and running shoes. The leotard is has long since gone bye bye.

Home gym equipment today is often so enormous and full of electronic whistles and bells - the equipment from the seventies just looks wimpy in comparison.  The equipment on the upper left would quickly become a pile of flattened crumpled metal beneath the girth of most Americans today.

Here's a few more catalog oddities...

Well, folks, this has turned into a pretty long picture-heavy post.  So, I think I'll divide it up into three parts.  I've still got lots more where this came from, including diet pills, full page scans, and a particularly awkward catalog image that I'll save for round two.  See you then!


  1. for something skin-tight the leotard sure wasn't very flattering.

    1. AnonymousJuly 02, 2012

      I don't know about that; nothing but leg. MMM.

    2. AnonymousJuly 02, 2012

      Have you seen the beautiful Inger Stevens (RIP) in "A Guide For The Married Man"?


  2. The Pedle-Dedle would probably still be better than sitting motionless at a desk all day.

    I think my mom had the Total Body Shaper rope contraption that you hooked up to a door and worked your arms and legs both. I don't remember her using it much, it was a huge tangle each time you got it out. It took longer to get it ready to use than it took to use it.

    1. Mine too. I think I played with it more than she used it.

    2. It still basically exists. They made it a little taller and sell them through magazines aimed at people who have limited mobility due to various reasons - spinal injuries, arthritis, etc.

  3. Notice that none of the bikes have a place for a water container. Hydration wasn't yet a fad.

  4. As we laugh and look back, feeling such superiority over that previous generation's stupidity, keep in mind that EVERY one of the devises pictured above is still around, refigured, re-purposed, and re-named, then re-sold to today's audiences!

    Al Bigley

  5. Can I point out that the girl wearing red in two of the exercise bicycle photos look like Flo from the Progressive commercials?

  6. Some of these photos look like they were from some kind of bondage shoot.

  7. I remember those gold inflata-pants, called "Trim Jeans", from a Monty Python sketch: "Trim Jeans Theatre" where famous films or plays were recreated with the actors wearing those things over their historical costumes. Watch Macbeth whilst losing inches around the tummy, hips and thighs!

  8. The story of evolution gym. Never had read some of these equipments you have shared here. Thanks for sharing.