Featuring photographs and drawings of young men posing and flexing their muscles, usually in small posing straps, physique magazines flourished from the mids to the early s. They were the major source of print and visual culture for gay men before Stonewall; at the height of their popularity, the physiques outcirculated homophile magazines by almost ten to one. Distributed through the mail and sold on newsstands in some major cities, they combined editorials, readers' letters, and photos and drawings to create an early form of gay public culture through which gay men could experience themselves as part of a collective—a particularly important development at a time when homosexuality was still primarily understood in individual, psychological terms. Thomas Waugh's monumental study of gay male visual culture, Hard to Imagine , provides a thoroughgoing account, not only of the history of the physique magazines, but of the forms of popular visual representations of the male body that preceded them. Waugh traces the origins of the physiques back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Emphasizing the importance of movements like the Young Men's Christian Association YMCA and scouting in the United States , as well as German naturalist and gymnasium movements, he suggests that depictions of naked or partly clothed male bodies emerged at least in part from a need to resist the dehumanization of industrial work.
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A Stonewall Inn Book, St. Martin's Press, NY, Palm sized small format hardcover, bound in black paper covered boards, canvas covered spine, and wrapped in an illustrated paper dustjacket.