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121 From 1927 on, a statue of a robust indigenous woman greeted visitors at the entrance of the new Parque México in Mexico City. Shaded by high trees, the woman—pouring water from two large urns into a small pool of blue waters—beckoned passersby away from the hustle and bustle of the large new Insurgentes thoroughfare to a place where life was tranquil, easy, and uncorrupted by the toils of modernity. With her braids, her strong indigenous physique, and the blue waters and greenery around her, the statue represented an idyllic, pastoral landscape that weary city dwellers had come to associate with authentic Mexico—a utopian place where beauty and health went hand in hand. What residents of the surrounding Colonia Condesa encountered upon entering the park, however, was not merely a shady respite of trails, ponds, and fountains. Directly beyond the fountain, on the grounds that had once housed an upscale horse-racing track (the Hipódromo), a visitor would find a large open-air theater. Bathed in Art Deco, the theater’s stage was graced by two slender columns bearing two women significantly distinct from the indígena: they were tall, angular, and white. Named after the man who had first accomplished transcontinental flight, the Teatro al Aire Libre Lindbergh inspired onlookers to reach for the skies. BUILDING BODIES CREATING URBAN LANDSCAPES OF ATHLETIC AESTHETICS IN POSTREVOLUTIONARY MEXICO CITY 6 AGEETH SLUIS 122 • AGEETH SLUIS While seemingly innocuous, the full-figured, water-bearing, nude indígena—especially when juxtaposed with her white, angular, and clothed theatrical counterparts a few steps away—prompts us to consider the meanings of female embodiment during Mexico’s postrevolutionary period, its relationship to space and place, and messages about the gendered constructions of beauty, health, and identity. This chapter explores the relationship between women’s bodies and the built environment in Mexico’s capital during the 1920s and 1930s, a turbulent period of revolutionary reform. Drawing on feminist philosopher Elizabeth Grosz’s ideas that bodies and cities are mutually constitutive, and the links of physical culture to the aesthetics of athleticism in debates over health, beauty, and mexicanidad, I argue that “Deco bodies” informed the spatial and aesthetic reconfiguration of revolutionary urban reform in Mexico City. The new angular 1920s Deco bodies—my term for a new ideal female physique that stressed length, height, and athleticism—represented the importance of athleticism as an aesthetic, rather than praxis, which found its way in novel desirable female body types and informed a larger discourse that linked health, beauty, and place. ATHLETICISM AS AESTHETIC During and after the armed phase of the Mexican Revolution (1910– 20), which claimed more than two million lives and displaced many more, the majority of migrants who reached Mexico City were women. Some hoped to escape the ravages of war in the countryside while others sought refuge after losing male protection after the death of husbands, fathers, and brothers. Many parents, convinced that the city was safer than the war-torn campo, sent their daughters to the capital.1 Women fled to Mexico City believing that cities were spared the devastation and violence that typified the revolution in the countryside. With the pronounced influx of these female, usually poor migrants, concern over women in public places resonated strongly throughout the revolutionary period. At this time the country went through what Mexicanists refer to as the Institutionalized Revolution, an intense period of state-led social reforms to overhaul cultural norms and modernize the country. As had happened elsewhere following periods of prolonged warfare, Mexico’s new political elites sought to “return” women who had taken active part in the revolution to the private sphere, where they were thought best equipped to fulfill their duty to the nation and to the revolution as mothers and caregivers.2 After 1920 state anxieties tying “free women” to a potential disintegration of society mounted with the appearance of the flapper and a proliferation of women ’s activism in the wake of the revolution. Newly ascendant revolutionary BUILDING BODIES • 123 elites reacted to these novel identities by attempting to regulate women’s bodies and sexualities.3 Yet we know that the revolution also allowed women greater participation in public life from which many were unwilling, or unable, to depart. Revolutionary reform was contemporaneous with transnational trends that beckoned women out of traditional domestic spaces. In Mexico advancing modernity—expressed as the rise of consumerism, mass media, and mobility—proved an indispensable tool in women’s...


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