Harvard Ash Center
Mar 19 · 3 min read

From the moment your alarm goes off until your head hits the pillow at night, fitness is in your face. During the day, most of us will either go to the gym, think about working out, get a reminder from our fitness tracker, walk by a fitness studio, or feel bad for not getting any exercise at all. Fitness is not only a large part of our day, but it’s a part of our cultural identity and pop culture.

Last week, we talked about Captain Marvel on This Week in Dystopia. Here’s an article that covers actress Brie Larson’s effort to achieve peak physical condition as a part of her transformation into Carol Danvers. See, it’s all around.

This week Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Associate Professor of History at The New School, joins This Week in Dystopia Host Chris Robichaud for a conversation about fitness, pop culture, and public policy. We talk about everything from SoulCycle to physical education in schools.

This Week’s Guest: Natalia Mehlman Petrzela

Photo credit: Camille Tokerud Photography

🐦 @nataliapetrzela

🌐 http://nataliapetrzela.com/

As Associate Professor of History at The New School, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela studies politics and culture of the modern United States, including issues of gender, race, class, and identity. Her first book, Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture(Oxford, 2015), explores the roots of the culture wars in American public schools, specifically amid heated battles over sexuality and bilingual education. Her current book project traces the rise of the American obsession with fitness — and its privatization — since the 1950s, asking how and why Americans have increasingly linked fitness regimes to the pursuit of self-fulfillment even as shockingly few actually exercise regularly.

These scholarly pursuits are closely linked to her wellness activism as co-founder of HealthClass2.0, an experiential health education program that bridges a wellness gap in public school education and connects university mentors with K-12 students. Petrzela is also a Premiere Leader of intenSati, an innovative mind-body practice, which she teaches in commercial and community settings. She serves as a board member of i-Tri girls, a scholarship-based mentorship organization that mentors middle-school girls to achieve “transformation through triathlon.”

Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, New York Times, Slate, and The Huffington Post, and I am Well+Good’s fitness historian. She is a co-host of the Past Present Podcast and the host and creator of the upcoming History Channel series, “The Unlikely History of Everyday Objects.” Petrzela has been featured as an expert historian on venues such as Brian Lehrer TV, the Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic. Her work in wellness has been covered by many publications including The Guardian, Well+Good, Univision,and Fox 5 NY. She received a BA from Columbia College and a MA and Ph.D. from Stanford University, all in History. She lives and works in New York City.


Is there something you want to hear on This Week in Dystopia? Reach out to the show’s producer Sarah at sarah_grucza@hks.harvard.edu or message us on Twitter @WeekinDystopia.


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This podcast is produced by Harvard Ash Center.

This Week in Dystopia

This Week in Dystopia is a new podcast hosted by Christopher Robichaud, Harvard Kennedy School Senior Lecturer. A podcast of politics, theory, and pop culture, This Week in Dystopia, brings commentary from the halls of Harvard to everyone's headphones.

Harvard Ash Center

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A global research center housed at Harvard focused on making the world a better place by advancing excellence and innovation in governance and public policy.

This Week in Dystopia

This Week in Dystopia is a new podcast hosted by Christopher Robichaud, Harvard Kennedy School Senior Lecturer. A podcast of politics, theory, and pop culture, This Week in Dystopia, brings commentary from the halls of Harvard to everyone's headphones.

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