When Men Started to Obsess Over Six-Pack Abs

Western culture’s fascination with chiseled abs can be traced to the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

by Conor Heffernan
A man posing and showing his six-pack abs

The cultural obsession with six-pack abdominals shows no signs of abating. And if research into male body image is to be believed, it will likely only grow, thanks to social media.

Today, there’s an entire industry centered on obtaining – and maintaining – chiseled abs. They’re the subject of books and social media posts, while every action movie star seems to sport them. Pressure is also mounting on women to sport six-pack abs as body ideals for athletic women have evolved.

All of this raises the question, when did the six-pack craze start?

It may seem like a relatively recent phenomenon, a byproduct of the fitness culture boom in the 1970s and 1980s, when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rambo reigned, and men’s muscle mags and aerobics took off.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article, by Conor Heffernan, an Assistant Professor of Physical Culture and Sport Studies at The University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts.

Greeks inspire envy

While I was researching Irish health and body culturesFrench historian George Vigarello

and even pietyancient GreeceKinesiologist Jan Toddothersdistorted body imageElgin MarblesGreat ExhibitionBritish physical educationalist George Forrest complained that

Projections of military might

were renowned for their physical fitnessFriedrich Ludwig JahnDon Francisco Amorós y OndeanoP.H. Clias

and went on to gain a following among Americans

The six-pack industry is born

writers from the 1830s and 1840s proddedEugen Sandowwho was once hailedlate 1980s and early 1990sGoogle NgramAbs of Steel6-Minute Absmore than 12 million