Sunday, March 6, 2011

Louis Theroux: Bodybuilding

Ronnie Coleman - 8 times Mr. Olympia

As a follow-up to yesterday's post on the male body (repulsive or beautiful), here is one subculture where the male body is worshiped, but not in a healthy way (in my opinion). Bodybuilding seeks to take the male form to its idealized extremes - how big can a man become, using any means necessary?

At the end, he also visits with female bodybuilders, who are extremely masculine (due to the steroids). This is a fascinating topic in its own way, but not for this discussion.

Bodybuilding - at least in those men I know who do it, and as an outsider watching the spectacle - seems to represent both an admiration for the idealized male form and a strange form of body image disorder. Most of the guys who are serious about bodybuilding are never satisfied with how they look (they are not big enough, or a muscle group is not quite right, or they want better symmetry, there is always something that needs to be bigger or better) - and many of the men I know at the gym have some self-esteem issues (physical size becomes a compensation for a perceived weakness or missing sense of worth, a kind of literal "body armoring" in the Reichian sense).

When I was in high school, back in the early 1980s, I saw in bodybuilders the musculature and (perceived) strength of some of the comic book superheroes I grew up with - Superman, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, and even Captain America (who became the perfect specimen of human strength after being given an injection by the government, oddly similar to taking anabolic steroids).

Since then I have had some sense that bodybuilders seek that strength and size as a way to embody and possess some sense of the hero aura, the need to be a "super" something - which is clearly an unconscious drive.
Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends: Bodybuilding

Louis Theroux: BodybuildingLouis travels to California, home of the body beautiful, to see if he can join the world of extreme body building.

After working out with Guy Grundy, a leading amateur, he soon realizes he is not cut out to be a muscle man and goes off in search of another role in the bodybuilding world.

Theroux travels to Charles Peeple’s farm in Connecticut, where Peeple has transformed his farm into a playboy mansion for female body builders. While here, Theroux gets a part in a female muscle film being made at the farm.

If you are interested in learning more about the strange world of bodybuilding (which I think reveals a lot of how the sense of masculinity can be interpreted and distorted) here are a few resources that might be useful.

Pumping Iron (featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger)
Bigger, Faster, Stronger (on steroids and masculinity)

There is also an excellent book on this topic:
The Adonis Complex: How to Identify, Treat and Prevent Body Obsession in Men and Boys, by
Harrison G. Pope, Katharine A. Phillips, and Roberto Olivardia


Etal said...

But of course you are aware that there are female body builders?

william harryman said...

mentioned that at the top - but it's a different discussion