By Morgan Scott
(HENCH: strong and fit with very well-developed muscles; used about men)
1. Schwarzenegger: the Trendsetting Terminator
I have to admit it, growing up in the 1980s, myself and many males (and females) were in awe of bodybuilding action hero, the Austrian Oak, The Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger was of course not the first bodybuilder, but he was the first to bring this bizarre body-expanding behaviour into the limelight, beginning with the release of acclaimed documentary, Pumping Iron.
Schwarzenegger was and is a fascinating man. He left Austria to live the American Dream over in the US. What he didn’t know was that he would become the epitome of the American Dream. He nailed it. His vehicle? Bodybuilding. Schwarzenegger was already a local European bodybuilding champ but he knew America was the place to be to achieve his ultimate dream, to conquer bodybuilding and then conquer the movie business.
After winning Mr. Olympia 6 times he was going to hang up his posing trunks until he was convinced by the producers of Pumping Iron to carry on for one more season. They wanted to follow his quest for a 7th Mr Olympia title, which he ultimately achieved.
Years later in an interview, he confessed that he started to see the ridiculousness of it all, posing in little trunks.
From building up his body, Schwarzenegger went into acting. His breakthrough movie role came as Conan the Barbarian in 1982. The director John Milius actually told Schwarzenegger that he was too jacked for the part and that he actually had to lose muscle weight. This was the opposite of what bodybuilding was all about. However, a large part of bodybuilding is bulking and shredding where you would bulk up in off competition season and shred body fat leading up to one. Schwarzenegger had it covered and got it sorted ready for Conan.
Schwarzenegger had some challenges in his way; his English was terrible and he had a strange accent, plus Hollywood actors were just not huge behemoths back then. He also had a weird unpronounceable name and no acting experience. Well, the rest is movie history.
However, he was unique and he spurred an epidemic of muscle growth. In the wake of the Schwarzenegger phenomenon, gym memberships soared and muscles across the globe groaned and swelled in search for the ‘Pump’ and a body that would have Michelangelo’s David second-guessing himself.
Why do people build bodies in the first place? Why do they emulate Schwarzenegger? Success and motivational coach Tony Robbins tells us that one of the six human needs as to why any of us do what we do is Significance. We want to be seen, we want to ‘be’ somebody and what better way to be noticed, by having to walk into a room sideways. But do we need huge muscles to be significant in the world? At what point does growing your biceps become pathological?
Don’t get me wrong, having an awesome torso is a great thing to have. You look great, you feel great, clothes fit you well and you don’t have to worry about whether your beer belly looks big in this. What I’m wondering about is that line which separates ‘normal’ behaviour and when you enter into an obsessive world where size and body fat percentages becomes body dysmorphia – when the obsession overtakes the rational and becomes a problem, trumping the significance you seek.
During my time lifting weights in gyms I got speaking to ‘the lads’ squeezing the iron now and again. I was curious as to why they were building such massive bodies. These were not the guys who were training for a particular sport or who were fitness trainers nor movie stars. These guys built for personal goals.
When asking them why they did it, I would usually get one of two answers, one being “Woman” (or men) or as one charming young man put it bluntly “Pussy!” So sex is high on the agenda. The second answer was “Because I was bullied at school.” Both answers certainly lent themselves to the motivation of feeling significant.
Social media, particularly Instagram, has become a cultural mirror feeding a worrying narcissistic trend to achieving the perfect body. Before, we only had floor-to-ceiling mirrors in gyms to flex and pose, to see our progress and satisfy our ego. Now we have a platform to tell the whole world about our triceps with a selfie. Just another way to feel significant, especially if hundreds, if not thousands of followers can double tap on your virtual torso to give you a heart. #mustbewinninginlifenow?
OK, sure, it’s not all about feeding ones ego; it’s also about mastering oneself and feeling good. The body may be the easiest bit of us to master, because even if your soul and spirit are in shatters, at least we might protect them in slabs of muscle.
Lifting weights also feels good. When bench pressing 100 kg you’re certainly in the present and not thinking about that work report. It’s the rush, the pump and even the delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) a couple of days after is a great feeling, we’ve triumphed, we’ve mastered our body.
I do worry that most young men are growing up being seduced by what the media and advertisers portray as the perfect body. Often the ideal is an unrealistic one at that, where anything less suggests unworthiness.
I remember talking to an old mate, who was into bodybuilding at the time, and he said “I just want to get Huge. I want to be a monster!” He was in his late thirties when it’s much harder to achieve ‘huge’ and he seemed to be a lost boy trapped, seeking a measure of significance.
I asked “But why do you want to be huge?” The chances of becoming a world champion bodybuilder were slim to zero and becoming the next Schwarzenegger, even slimmer. He just stared into space searching for an answer.
Let’s not forget that the idea of the perfect body is driven by profiteers preying on our fragile persona and a need for significance in the world. Just buy this widget and you too can have a body like this. Young men are even turning to steroids to reach perfection sooner, but at what cost?
Can we get more sex without spending hours in the gym? Can we heal our broken selves without having to get Hench? Can we still get in shape and look great without XXL shirts? Sure we can. If it’s significance we seek, can we achieve it in other ways and channel that energy into making a difference in the world?
Damn right you can.
I’m delighted that professional photographer Morgan Scott shares his images and ideas. His exciting portfolio can be found here: https://www.instagram.com/morganscottuk/
Watch out for more posts from Morgan in the future.