Pilates: faddish affectation of the effete elite?

... or an on-the-level workout? Truth is, it's a little of both. While most of us never heard of it before celebs like Carrie-Ann Moss and Jennifer Anniston began dropping the P-bomb in interviews (Moss described her training regimen in prepping for The Matrix: "lots and lots of Pilates") , Pilates has been well known to athletes, especially dancers, for nearly 80 years. Here are some highlights from its colorful history:

"¢ German founder Joseph Pilates had a noble motivation for designing his get-fit regimen: so he could best the bullies who tortured him at school. Born a sickly weakling, he was a natural target, so he studied anatomy and worked out like a maniac. By age fourteen, not only had the bigger kids stopped taking his lunch money and calling him "Christ killer" (a clever play on his last name), he was in such good shape that he was asked to pose for anatomy charts.

"¢ After distinguishing himself as a pugilist, swimmer, diver and gymnast, WWI found him interned at a camp for "enemy aliens" in the UK. Also trained as a nurse, Pilates began to develop a system of physical rehabilitation which wounded soldiers in the camp's hospital could perform in their beds -- thus the Pilates Reformer (pictured above), based on modified WWI-era hospital beds.


"¢ Pilates founded a famous training studio in New York in 1926, later publishing a book about his new method, modestly titled Your Health: A Corrective System of Exercising That Revolutionizes the Entire Field of Physical Education.

"¢ Known as a lover of whiskey and women as well as a fitness freak, Pilates was mildly notorious for his "hands-on" training sessions.

"¢ Another lover of women and Pilates, actor Hugh Grant, has claimed that he has "muscles of steel and could easily deal with giving birth" thanks to his workouts.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

Custom-Design the Ugly Christmas Sweater of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)

For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, sells—you guessed it—ugly Christmas sweaters to seasonal revelers possessing a sense of irony. But the Michigan-based online retailer has elevated kitsch to new heights by offering a create-your-own-sweater tool on its website.

Simply visit the site's homepage, and click on the Sweater Customizer link. There, you'll be provided with a basic sweater template, which you can decorate with festive snowflakes, reindeer, and other designs in five different colors. If you're feeling really creative, you can even upload photos, logos, hand-drawn pictures, and/or text. After you approve and purchase a mock-up of the final design, you can purchase the final result (prices start at under $70). But you'd better act quickly: due to high demand, orders will take about two weeks plus shipping time to arrive.


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