Angela Lansbury's '80s Workout Tape Positive Moves Is An Unexpected And Affirming Delight

Despite the nostalgic gloss we often apply to the 1980s through the lens of shows like "Stranger Things," the decade Reagan built was a lot weirder than we often choose to remember. There's plenty of questionable fads to look back on with one eyebrow raised (I'm sorry, but jelly shoes were always ugly and gave you blisters) but the obsessive culture of health and wellness skyrocketed into the mainstream during this time period, and we're still reeling from the effects of it today.

Current audiences, even those that weren't alive in the 1980s, still have tangential knowledge of the 1980s workout craze thanks to its permeation of pop culture. Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" is a certifiable banger, Apple TV+'s dark comedy of the same name perfectly captures the home video workout tape boom, and as long as people continue to sing "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-a-Lot, new generations will be introduced to "workout tapes by Fonda."

"Jane Fonda's Workout" from 1982 was the first non-theatrical home video release to top the charts, and was the top-selling VHS tape for six years. Her unprecedented success spawned plenty of copycats, with Cher's "A New Attitude," Alyssa Milano's "Teen Steam," Mark Wahlberg's "The Marky Mark Workout," La Toya Jackson's "Step Up," and even "Golden Girls" star Estelle Getty's "Young at Heart." As the product of women who projected their own body issues onto their daughters and granddaughters, I've seen just about every celebrity home workout video ever made. I'm a "Dance! Workout with Barbie" girl, personally, but one celebrity tape has never left me: "Angela Lansbury's Positive Moves."

Workout, She Wrote

It's hard to explain how unbelievably famous and beloved Angela Lansbury was in the late '80s and early '90s as she was well into the success of "Murder, She Wrote," and about to star in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" in 1991. Lansbury had already enjoyed a fantastic career spanning decades, but even at an age where Hollywood often puts women out to pasture, she was continuing to thrive. In her mid-60s, Angela Lansbury wasn't about to let the celebrity home workout craze pass her by, and hosted "Positive Moves," a tape geared toward viewers of any age. The goal was not getting thin or becoming sexy, but rather, keeping the body moving and limber as age and life pushed us into a more sedentary lifestyle.

I know "Positive Moves" well, because it's a routine I had done as a child with my grandmother during the many evenings she babysat me while my parents were working. As a workout, "Positive Moves" is an extremely gentle routine, making it accessible to a variety of body types, ages, and levels of mobility. The video performed rather well, and inspired a companion diet book of the same name in 1990. To be completely transparent, the book is a bit more complicated to process than the video because we weren't having conversations about interrogating anti-fat bias in the 1990s, but by and large, Angela Lansbury's health and fitness plan is the only one out of the celebrity boom that isn't a shame-filled mess that equates fitness with beauty, happiness, and worth.

'The Bob Ross of Fitness and Exercise'

The popular podcast "Maintenance Phase" perfectly described Lansbury as "the Bob Ross of fitness and exercise," and positions her as the antithesis of the home video market that popularized titles like "Buns of Steel." Unlike her contemporaries, Angela Lansbury wasn't making wild claims that couldn't be fulfilled. She's old, she's aware of it, and she's not trying to prepare herself or anyone else to run a marathon or lose 100 pounds. Angela Lansbury just wants us all to be able to get out of bed in the morning and not have excruciating back pain.

Throughout the video, Angela Lansbury makes sure to affirm her viewer every step of the way, reminding them that there's no shame in having to modify any stretches for comfort or safety. She's also one of the only people during this era to acknowledge that our bodies are greatly impacted by our genetic makeup, and some of us are going to have a harder time than others because of it. She does throw some unnecessary shade toward thin people but compared to the systemic issues faced by fat people, this is hardly a cancelable offensive.

Her kind, gentle, and realistic approach shouldn't be revolutionary, but for the late 1980s (and even today), "Positive Moves" absolutely was and continues to be. Lansbury starts her tape with her daily preparation, which includes taking a bath and massaging her muscles, as a means to get in touch with her body. Lansbury takes us step by step, and that includes watching an elderly woman touch herself in a bath towel. Again, something that shouldn't be revolutionary, but absolutely was and still is almost four decades later.

Thank you, Angela

On a superficial level, "Positive Moves" is also a hilarious relic of time, with Lansbury donning an oddly flesh-colored, flowy athleisure suit and delivering kind hearted words of affirmation while looking like a human creamsicle. Incorporated throughout are also her discussions on the importance of senior sexual health, meaning the video takes a strangely sensual turn, especially when she spends most of the video being the sweetest old grandma you could ever hope to encounter. Trust when I say you haven't lived until you've heard Angela f****** Lansbury wax poetic about the importance of sexual confidence to the tune of a seductive saxophone. She preaches the importance of naps, setting limits, and "puttering" around the house for your health. I say this with the utmost of sincerity — but I trust Angela Lansbury's approach to health and wellness more than any protein powder obsessed musclebro at the gym. After all, she made it to 96, so she clearly did something right.

Growing up in a body that matured early and therefore was "bigger" than most of the girls in my class, I have had years of baggage associated with the way fat bodies are presented, discussed, debated, and policed, and I am certainly not alone in this experience. We live in an incredibly fatphobic society, where someone like Lizzo, a vegan who performs full-out concerts for hours with singing and dancing every damn day, is berated as being "unhealthy" just because she exists in a bigger body. Never could I have imagined that the voice of reason in taking a more empathetic approach to health and wellness would be the woman who played Jessica Fletcher, but I am forever grateful for her.