Lessons in Manliness From Charles Atlas
by Brett & Kate McKay
Art of Manliness
Me Prove in 7 Days That I Can Make You a New Man!
Insult That Made a Man Out of Mac
Skinny! Yer Ribs Are Showing!
ad the majority of readers out there can easily conjure up in their
heads. A cartoon of a skinny, 97-pound weakling who gets sand kicked
in his face by a beefcake, uses the moment as inspiration to build
his body, and comes back to the beach to give the bully his belated
The name associated
with that image is just as familiar as the ad itself: Charles Atlas.
two images go hand-in-hand may have led you to see Atlas the man
as a cartoonish caricature, or to view him in the light of the thousands
of sometimes shady modern-day fitness hucksters who have taken Atlas
old mail-order business model and ramped it up for the online age.
But Atlas was
that true rarity, a man equal to the marketing hype the real
deal. He was a scrawny immigrant kid who transformed his body and
launched a fitness revolution by creating a 12-lesson exercise course
that was translated into seven languages and adopted by millions
around the world, including King George VI, Joe DiMaggio, and Rocky
Marciano. Even Mahatma Gandhi wrote to inquire about the program
no kidding! The mail-order business Atlas started has now
been around for 82 years (although its currently run by others
Atlas died in 1972), and thousands continue to look to his
program for a way to get in shape.
For the men
who lost confidence in themselves during the Great Depression, Charles
Atlas was a source of hope and inspiration. Today he remains a symbol
of virile strength and vitality, and his life offers us several
lessons in manliness.
in Manliness from Charles Atlas
weaknesses into strengths.
was born Angelo Siciliano in Acri, Italy in 1893. When he was ten,
his family immigrated to America, and he landed on Ellis Island
not speaking a word of English.
swore hed do great things, but his prospects didnt look
too promising. He was a skinny, sickly, slope-shouldered boy easy
pickings for the bullies in his tough Brooklyn neighborhood. Coming
home one Halloween night, a bully beat him with a bag of ashes,
knocking him out for an hour. It seemed like he was beating
the brains out of me, Atlas recalled. When he came to, Atlas
lumbered home, crawled into bed, and said a prayer, telling God
hed never let another man beat him.
Siciliano: A real life 97-pound weakling.
But the pummelings
continued. At age 15, Atlas really was a 97-pound weakling,
and said he really did get sand kicked in his face by a beefy lifeguard
in front of a good-looking gal.
When he turned
17, Atlas finally reached his breaking point and made it his goal
to change his body so that he could finally stand up for himself.
He experimented with different exercises and developed his own fitness
routine, and when he emerged on the beach after months of training,
his friends were astonished at his transformation. You look
like that statue of Atlas on top of the Atlas Hotel! one exclaimed.
(When he later legally changed his name, he paired that heroic moniker
with Charlie, a childhood nickname.)
From an auspicious
start, Atlas built his body into a mans whose measurements
would be buried as part of the Crypt
of Civilization at Oglethorpe University, which wont be
opened until 8113. He turned his most hated-weakness into his most
How did Atlas
go from a scrawny kid to what one scientist called, the absolute
masculine ideal? From inspiration he received at a museum
and a zoo, respectively.
While on a
school field trip to the Brooklyn Museum, Atlas gazed with wonder
at the statues of Greek gods, focusing particularly on the muscular
physique of Hercules. He asked his teacher how he could build a
similar body, and he suggested that the young man try lifting weights.
So Atlas began
a diligent exercise program. He couldnt afford to buy weights,
so he jury-rigged some together at home and used them every morning.
But after months of training, he wasnt at all satisfied with
the results his body was still lean and lanky. Young Atlas
wondered how to proceed.
came as he was walking through the Bronx Zoo a place he would
often go to think. As he stopped to admire the lion exhibit, he
saw that jungle beast stretch, and observed the way in which its
muscles ran around like rabbits under a rug. Thats
when his light bulb went off: The lion was strong but had never
used a barbell or any exercise equipment. Hes been pitting
one muscle against each other! Atlas thought.
home, deciding to try something different working out
like the lion did. He discarded his weights and developed a new
exercise program for himself this one based on isometric
exercises. Pushing one arm against the other, push-ups, sit-ups,
squats, leg lifts, and so on.
business partner, Charles Roman, said that Atlas continued to observe
animals his whole life, always on the lookout for a bit of inspiration
on how he might improve his fitness regimen.
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© 2011 The Art of Manliness