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Charles Atlas, Italian immigration, physical culture, masculinity


Communication | Critical and Cultural Studies | Film and Media Studies | Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication


The major wave of Italian immigration between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries coincided with the growth of the physical culture movement in the United States. A principal participant in both phenomena was the Italian male, with a particularly fascinating case being that of the bodybuilder and fitness guru Charles Atlas. Born Angelo Siciliano in Calabria, Italy, Atlas provides an interesting window into how the Southern immigrant became American and how that Americanization was written on the muscled, male body. This article examines how Siciliano/Atlas transformed himself into the world’s most perfect white man at a time when Italians’ whiteness was contested and how not only bodybuilding but also the textual discourses surrounding it, including the fitness plan itself and the male physique photography that accompanied it, played essential roles in that metamorphosis.

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Publication Date



Published in Men and Masculinities, Volume 12 Number 4, June 2010, pp.444-461.