I don’t know the exact point in my exposure to Instagram famous gym-bros, superhero
movie beefcakes and topless models in perfume adverts that I decided this, but it did
happen and it controls my life to a shameful degree.
My current “body goals” involve adding 10kg of muscle and reducing my body fat to 8% (it is around 13%). To do this I’m lifting weights 4 times a week, lightly exercising on an empty stomach in the morning every day and doing ab workouts twice a week. I’m also attempting (and failing) to stick to a strict only natural diet that excludes any processed foods from being consumed. If I do adhere to this I know that in 2 to 3 months time I will have achieved these goals. But in all honesty what is the point? It is insanely time consuming, expensive to eat the amount of high quality food I need to bulk and no fun at all. How did I get in this state of irrational aesthetic obsession?
Since very early childhood my idea of what a ‘man’ looks like has been shaped by the media. As a pretty typical boy I was sucked into TV shows like Power Rangers and played with Action Man and Star Wars action figures, my favourite Disney movie was Hercules. All of my ‘heroes’ and role models were characters that were exceptionally muscular. This belief that muscles equalled hero continued to be reinforced as I grew up and started watching action movies; X-Men, 300, Batman begins. Most superheroes have incredible bodies and the genre is more popular than ever.
Around the same time as this new cascade of musclebound heroes began to form my
ideals, I hit puberty and started to become interested in girls. Of course, being shallow and 12 years old, I believed that girls (who were also shallow and 12) were only really attracted to boy band guys with abs; we were all bouncing the same lie we’d been sold back and forth off each other till everyone internalised it. Consequentially 12 year old me ended up doing 15 press-ups and 30 sit-ups a night before going to bed. How utterly ridiculous. It did work slightly, I got a faint 4-pack and at 13 I changed my Bebo profile picture to me topless with a dog tag necklace round my neck. I can assure you, categorically, 100%, no doubt at all, that this did fuck all to help me attract girls. In fact it definitely did more damage than good.
Bebo’s popularity soon died after that and I forgot my login details, so that picture is still
there for all to see. It’s horrific. I wasn’t particularly hindered with body issues for the next few years, though worried about my ‘lankiness’ (I was 6ft at 13) I was assured by others that I would fill out as I got older.
Well, I did get older and to my great dismay woke up on my 18th birthday not looking like a Men’s Health cover model. A few months later I broke up with my girlfriend of 2 years and this is when I really began to focus on the body issues again. Looking around on Instagram it was easy to see that the guys who warranted millions of followers were insanely buff. Newly single I wanted to get absolutely ripped in the hope my life would turn into some sort of sexist Lynx commercial with supermodels falling from the sky to clamour over me.
Fast forward to the present day and I have the body that 13 year old me always wanted, however I don’t want it anymore, I don’t think it’s good enough. Becoming entrenched in the gym fanatic world I’m now pursuing an even more extreme ideal and I imagine if I get there the goal posts will move again. It can be argued that being a gym rat and focusing on your diet is healthy in the long run but there is not even the tiniest part of me that is doing this for health reasons. It pains me to say it but multiple times a day I will walk into the spare room where there is good lighting and take my top off to check out my progress. I criticize everything at a level that no-one else would, questioning if I have the right ratio of armpit hair, whether or not my shoulders are level. I even waxed my chest and stomach once and it came out in loads of spots. I waste far too much of my life altering my body to please others. In all honesty having a ‘good’ body probably adds up to 20% of any of the success I’ve had with women over my life and If I’d spent as much time making my personality shine as I had obsessively watching workout videos on YouTube I might be dating the girl of my dreams. Ironically the girl of my dreams wouldn’t care if my body fat percentage was single digits.
It’s semi-comforting but more upsetting to know that I am not alone in my insecurities.
Studies have shown that 63% of men think that their arms or chest are not muscular enough 1 and I would wager that the number is on the rise. Multiple times in recent years I have not gone out, or I have planned my entire day around exercise and I’m pretty sure I’ve missed out on some great life experiences and opportunities because of it. It’s a silly way to improve your life because no good story ever started with ‘This one time I was deadlifting in the gym…’
That being said I will still wake-up tomorrow morning for my fasted jog and drink a protein shake for breakfast. Sigh.
By Alex Williams / Contributor