Hench

By Morgan Scott

Guest Post

(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.

2.Experiences

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.

3.Final Thoughts

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.

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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/

Instagram: MorganScottUK

Twitter: MorganScottUK

Watch out for more posts from Morgan in the future.

Two More Yoga Trends, 2017.

Apparently, I missed some yoga trends in my most recent post. There are others.

For example: beer yoga.

Beer Yoga is yoga…with, yes, beer. German yogis BierYoga are reportedly the major first innovators, offering classes and workshops after seeing it being taught at the Burning Man festival. Since January, the idea’s spread internationally. Here are two recent articles on beer yoga.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-asia-39711513/have-you-got-the-bottle-for-beer-yoga

http://www.gq.com/story/beer-yoga-is-a-thing

Then there’s Kilted Yoga, which is pretty self-explanatory.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-39076023 

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Thanks to Maaike de Vries for pointing these out.

Canada’s healthy-eating guide fights to stay relevant

Tis the season. Turkey. Stuffing. Mince meat tarts and more. Many of us worry about that extra helping during the holiday season. And so I was interested to read this on Canada’s story on the BBC site today!

I was especially pleased to hear Dr Ian Mosby’s thoughts! He visited the University of Saskatchewan before I left in August 2016 and he was extremely informative and generous with his time – for both faculty and grad students alike.

* Food History *  (Robin Levinson-King)

Since World War Two, the Canadian government has been telling people what to put on their plate to stay healthy. But with obesity rates on the rise, is it time to start focusing on what to leave off?

Canada’s food guide first appeared in 1942 under the title Official Food Rules and was originally created to help Canadians stay strong and healthy despite meagre wartime rations.

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The guide recommended drinking fruit juice, loading up on bread and eating plenty of liver.

Over the years, the publication has used many designs to illustrate the different food groups. In the US, the “food pyramid” became an instantly recognisable illustration of nutritional categories but Canada switched from a “food wheel” to a “food rainbow”.

The Canadian government used to be concerned about people getting enough food, now it’s worried people are getting too much. In the new year, Health Canada will start drafting a new food guide aimed at getting people to eat less.

Despite the commitment to changes, food historian Ian Mosby says the guide may have simply outlived its usefulness.

“It was started as a way to prevent malnutrition. But it’s hard to see what it’s doing in an era where those are not the main health problems facing Canadians.”

When the Canadian government released its rules for healthy eating in 1942, it was marketed as a guide to “health-protective foods”. The rules laid out the bare minimum that a person should eat in order to stay nourished.

“Eat more if you can,” the rules advised.

Daily servings of Vitamin-C rich citrus fruit or tomatoes were advised, along with weekly servings of liver for iron.

Food was expensive in the 1940s and 1950s, and overeating was a luxury few experienced. According to a 1955 survey of household spending, the average family spent about 30% of their earnings each week on groceries, the bulk of which was spent on meat and dairy products.

But by the 1970s, rising incomes and the growing commercialisation of food had completely transformed how people eat, says Mosby.

Sugary cereals, trans fats and TV-dinners became a staple of many people’s diets.

As the price of packaged foods high in sugar and salt plummeted, overconsumption became a bigger problem. The government could no longer just tell people what they should eat, they had to tell people how much.

Consequently, the old black-and-white list of Official Food Rules got a Technicolor makeover and was transformed into Canada’s Food Guide, a consumer-friendly guide for making better food choices.

Critically, a warning to eat sugar, fats and salts in moderation was added in 1982.

Canada's Food Guide 2007Image copyrightHEALTH CANADA
Image captionCanada’s Food Guide 2007

But Canada’s overeating problem didn’t go away. Since 1985, the obesity rate has tripled. Canadians are spending less and less on food overall, but more on eating out and sugary beverages.

It’s possible, food historian Mosby says, to be both obese and malnourished.

The full story is here

And be sure to look at my other posts and articles on weight loss, diet pills, and health!

 

Here’s one vintage healthy-eating advert from my youth…

 

The Weight of History/The History of Weight in CBMH/BCHM

Or, History has Heft: On Public History and Debates about Weight Loss

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Trying to lose weight isn’t a new phenomenon. Consumers have long searched for a safe and effective approach to lose weight. At the same time, a strong debate persists about the genetic component of obesity, new scholarly sub-fields (see Fat Studies) are emerging questioning the stigmatization of overweight individuals, and our body images are being shaped by these forces. Historians have a crucial role to play in the way in which individuals, communities, and health authorities conceptualize bodies and think about weight.

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In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by Frank L. Baum, all of the characters are searching for something. Dorothy is looking for a way home. The Scarecrow wants a brain, whereas the Tin Man wants a heart and the Lion desires courage.The only way to attain their goals is to visit the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City. Only with his magic will their wishes be granted. As it turns out, the wizard is a total fraud. He’s just an ordinary man trying to protect his position and his empire. He’s a charlatan looking out for himself.

It is the same with TV’s Dr. Oz. As Americans (and Canadians) seek out their own desires,  be it weight loss or low blood pressure, it’s best to be wary of false wizards.

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In 2014, Dr. Oz was called before a Senate committee on consumer protection and given a public lashing for his promotion of fraudulent weight-loss products. He admitted he was a bit of a cheerleader, using flowery language, although he suggested that it was important to advertise multiple views on the show. He also admitted that some of the products he’s suggested his viewers use don’t necessarily have “the scientific muster to present as fact.” For many, Oz came across as a quack and a huckster.

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Promoted by Dr. Oz

John Oliver, of Last Week Tonight, came down hard on Oz. He taunted and belittled the TV doctor. He used all the bells and whistles he could, including a tap-dancing Steve Buscemi, to continue the public lashing. Likewise, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni described Oz as “a carnival barker” and “a one-man morality play about the temptations of mammon and the seduction of applause….” Then, a group of high-profile doctors called for the removal of Oz in a public letter. They suggested he was pushing “miracle” weight-loss supplements with no scientific proof that they work. He displayed an “egregious lack of integrity,” said the letter, and Oz had shown “disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine.”

In 2015, I decided that I had something to offer about this matter. I felt that, having written about the history of the pharmaceutical industry and diet pills, I could contribute to the understanding of Oz. His influence on people. The role of spurious products in the marketplace. More specifically, I thought I could move beyond the walls of the so-called Ivory Tower and link my academic research with the public and maybe even policy-makers, as Kathleen O’Grady and Noralou Roos have advocated for.

As they put it, “An average paper in a peer-reviewed academic journal is read by no more than 10 people, according to Singapore-based academic Asit Biswas and Oxford researcher Julian Kirchherr, in their controversial commentary “Prof, No One Is Reading You,” which went viral last year….as many as 1.5 million peer-reviewed articles are published annually, with as many as 82 percent never cited once, not even by other academics. In other words, most academic writing rarely influences thinking beyond the privileged circles in which it is constructed – and the vast majority of it is far from influencing public policy and debate on critical issues.”

So, why not try a short piece aimed at the public? Oz was topical, after all.

It was not the first op-ed/web-based article that I had written for public consumption, nor will it be the last. However, the result was stunning. I criticized Oz rather severely (using some of the same language above) and certain readers pushed back hard. Because Oz was a supporter of organic and natural foods, and because he often positioned himself as anti-GMO, I was, by default a supporter of big business, of Monsanto, and a product of the right-wing establishment. It was startling that my piece on Oz would generate such animosity.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.

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This is where the Canadian Bulletin for Medical History/Bulletin canadien d’histoire de la médecine comes into the story of The Weight of History/The History of Weight. Because any historian wanting to engage with weight loss, dieting, and public health in Canada (as well as beyond) must – absolutely must – engage with CBMH/BCHM.

Obesity is not the exclusive focus of all CBMH/BCHM articles addressing health, food, and dieting, although such works as 1987’s “Juan Luis Vives: A humanistic medical educator,” 1993’s “Medieval Women’s Guides to Food During Pregnancy: Origins, Texts, and Traditions,” and 1995’s “Promoting Good Health in the Age of Reform: The Medical Publications of Henry H. Porter of Philadelphia, 1829-32,” showcase the evolving knowledge of nutrition and proper eating in general sense.

More specifically, Lori Loeb explores Upper Canadian quacks and spurious diet drugs in “George Fulford and Victorian Patent Medicine Men: Quack Mercenaries or Smilesian Entrepreneurs?”  Fulford, a Canadian senator and philanthropist, made his fortune from a product called Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills and he serves as a window into the patent medicine industry, which included various obesity “cures.” For Loeb, “Popular obesity cures…were mostly citric acid in water. The dangers of a minority of medicines, especially soothing syrups, which contained laudanum and chlorodynes should not be minimized, but many medicines were not only benign, but even appropriate for common ailments. Indigestion remedies were largely bicarbonate of soda. Rhubarb pills were good laxatives.” (130) The article is useful for a variety of reasons, but one of the more crucial has to be the discussion of professionalization, evolving safety standards, and developing medical knowledge surrounding the patent medicine industry. Essentially, Loeb is placing Fulford – an influential operator in the medical marketplace – under a microscope.

Then, there’s the journal’s approach to alternative medicine. Through such works as Ziadat’s “Western Medicine in Palestine, 1860-1940: The Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society and Its Hospital,” Heap’s “Physiotherapy’s Quest for Professional Status in Ontario, 1950-80,” Jasen’s “Maternalism and the Homeopathic Mission in Late-Victorian Montreal,” and Furth’s Paterson lecture on “Becoming Alternative? Modern Transformations of Chinese Medicine in China and in the United States,” readers have been exposed to conflicts within professional and scientific medicine over alternative medical knowledges, as well as upstart organizations.

What becomes clear in these articles, in addition to Barbara Clow’s excellent work on “Mahlon William Locke: ‘Toe-Twister’“, is that unusual therapies and counter-knowledges in medicine generate tremendous heat. The topic may be “toe-twisting” for arthritis or anti-vaccination narratives or diet pills or organic food/anti-GMO foods – these issues are all of the hot-button variety. And the CBMH/BCHM clearly underlines this. Hence, I should not have been surprised by the response to my Oz article.

Skip ahead.

In 2011, Roberta J. Park wrote about weight loss and public health with “Historical Reflections on Diet, Exercise, and Obesity: The Recurring Need to“Put Words into Action.” She cited how the American Centers for Disease Control estimated that more than one third of all adults and nearly one fifth of children were obese. And she argued, as the title of her paper suggested, more had to be done! It was time to put “words into action.”

Thereafter, in an incredibly ambitious article, Park tackled the historiography and history of diet, exercise, and obesity in (a) the Classical World; (b) the 1700s and 1800; and (c) the 1900s. She concluded with a clarion call – that it was time “sports medical personnel, including physical educators, should embrace lessons from…past successes in promoting exercise and sport among children and adolescents, and rekindle practices once popular and effective but now abandoned.” (397)

Of all CBMH/BCHM articles on weight loss, Park’s is the work most grounded in public policy – and the one most strident in its call for change. For historians and other academics to push for change!

The debate over diet drugs and body image continue. We still gobble up quick-fixes peddled by celebrities and we still search for drugs that will make losing weight painless. As Americans and Canadians continue to struggle with obesity, the history of diet pill regulation may continue to display familiar patterns. At the same time, the CBMH/BCHM can act as a tool in fostering new pathways in the months and years ahead.