It seems that periodically the United States gets in a panic about the weight or fitness of its children. Towards the end of the 1950’s, such a concern surfaced about the physical condition of American kids. Bonnie Prudden, then a dancer and exercise advocate had designed a set of exercises that she tried on European and American children. She determined that American children were trailing far behind their European peers. By extension, then, they must be falling behind Soviet children. In the Cold War era, there was a constant emphasis on keeping up with Soviet children, whether in science knowledge or in fitness..
Commissioned by President Eisenhower, a set of exercises were devised to get kids fit. Sadly, once other government agencies became involved, the exercises took on a military character. These new goals, such as climbing up ropes and doing multiple chin-ups were borrowed from skills needed by combatants, but not necessarily needed by children. So suddenly I, who was very fit in the usual sense of the word, found myself deficient when tested by these measures.
And tested I was, once our high school physical education class undertook to evaluate us all, boys and girls, tall and short, against the same standard of “fitness.” Sadly these tests, at which I was a poor performer, somehow changed my idea of my own strength and ability. From thinking I was a fit, agile and strong girl, I came to see myself as weak when measured by these standards. I climbed numerous stairs both at home and at school, walked a couple of miles a day, did household chores and carried my siblings around, proving I had appropriate strength. But since I couldn’t shinny up a hanging rope, I felt like a failure. I have never put much faith in the government’s exercise programs since.