When people discuss the current Mr. Olympia, Phil Heath, I don’t think about training, muscles or aesthetics. All that comes to my mind are his ridiculous juvenile posts on Instagram praising Gucci garbage and custom sneakers made for clowns. This thinking often leads me to a critical question – how does bodybuilding fit into the modern world which thrives on buying things?
Are bodybuilders hardcore materialists too?
Is going to the gym the equivalent of shopping for muscles?
While bodybuilding and lifting weights in general could be an escape from materialism, they aren’t for most people.
There are many problems associated with being a shopaholic. One of them is hoping that the things you buy will develop your personality for you. When I was a skateboarder I witnessed a similar phenomenon. We were obsessed with various brands and many were convinced that having the best gear will make you a better skater. Provided that your board is not bought from a toy store and made out of plywood, what will really make the difference is how much talent you have, how hard you are willing to work and how friendly the environment is regarding your goal. I can gladly say that I didn’t become a pro skater not because I didn’t have the best board, but because I didn’t have the talent, the desire and the knees for it.
Lifting weights is not really supposed to be based on having stuff. A barbell is a barbell and any semi-decent gym will have a working one. Therefore, this activity should be by definition anti-materialistic because you are developing your personality, both externally and internally, through physical effort and patience. Good, right? Well, obviously this is not really the case and the activity of lifting weights is not so pure. Instead of things there are muscles to be bought.
You go in a supplement store where the atmosphere, the labels, the promotions and the Photoshopped posters make you think like you have come to a place selling muscle fibers in bottles. I have known how the game works for many years, and yet I am pretty sure that if I go to a big supplement store today, I would feel something similar. That’s how strong the vibe is.
Actually I remember an interesting story from one of my few protein powder shopping trips.
I went to a popular protein powder store where I saw a semi-intelligent teen and his father. Apparently, the father had fucked up somehow, because he was buying his son a massive bucket of protein powder vanilla flavor. I guess his son caught him having a mistress and was blackmailing him. I mean, that’s one of the very few possibilities that actually make sense.
Anyway, when they were just about to exit the store, the kid’s attention was stolen by another bucket of protein powder. I don’t remember the flavor or the brand, but it was pink and more expensive than the rest of the dust there.
His father said: “I will buy you this one next time.”
“Awesome, dad,” answered the kid and I could see the muscle greed turn on in his eyes.
As you can see, the world of muscle has also been largely affected by the system which uses purchases as an engine.
I recall watching an interview with a girl who has successfully recovered from anorexia. According to her one of the main reasons she started was the fact that food goes in and out. It doesn’t stay with you like a phone for example. You buy it, consume it, and soon it’s gone one way or another.
This reminded me that bodybuilding actually takes another approach – you eat good food in order to allow your body to function as efficiently as possible and grow. Bodybuilders spend a lot more money on food than regular people, although such actions are not always justified. Therefore, one could form the wrong impression that bodybuilding is all about living here and now and improving oneself, instead of accumulating things that will last longer than a sandwich. Sorry, this is not really the case.
Remember: bodybuilders are muscleholics and protein vampires. They use the extra food as money to buy muscle mass. Those guys don’t see food the way you see it. For them it equals a credit card which can partially pays for your big biceps.
One more factor which proves that modern training is also part of the materialistic net is the overuse of drugs. Obviously, if people were lifting weights for the sake of lifting weights drugs wouldn’t abused.
Muscle building addiction and shopping addiction have much more in common than you may think. The purpose of both is to give you a high which only lasts for a short period of time. You buy something, enjoy it for a little while, then you get used to it and no longer appreciate it. The same is true for muscle amss. You build some and then you want more and more. Some get caught in the trap and dedicate their whole lives to the pursuit of bigger muscles at all costs. The desire to be bigger and bigger has similar mechanism to buying new clothes, phones and other things supposed to change your personality in the eyes of others.
In an old interview the popular French bodybuilder Serge Nubret was asked whether bodybuilders are too narcissistic. He answered by comparing bodybuilding to buying new shoes and dressing well. I get what he was trying to say, although one could argue that developing your legs usually requires more effort and dedication than going to the store and buying the latest sneakers. Of course, that’s only true if the things you do for cash aren’t more difficult than lifting weights. However, if you are working really that hard, you probably wouldn’t be spending it all on expensive shoes anyway.
So, where do we draw the line? Do we really need the latest and the most expensive shoes out there, or in the case of bodybuilding the biggest muscles on the block, to feel complete and in peace? The truth is that after a certain threshold all extras begin to lose their value. Once the initial thirst has been satisfied you forget how much you love water, and the excess just stretches your belly and chains you.
Lifting weights wouldn’t be facing its modern problems if catalog bodies weren’t the only goal. We have endless amount of muscle media constantly reminding us how we are supposed to look. The magazines and the websites are selling an image and we are consuming it. That’s what started the usage of phrases such as “look like you lift” and “do you even lift”.
Who determines how a person that lifts should look like in the first place? The media.
I don’t look like I lift according to the magazines, even though I have been lifting with way more effort than others who do. Many times the unrealistic expectations that have been constantly in my face were close to making me quit permanently. They failed. I am still lifting with or without muscle growth. I guess that makes me mentally ill according to people who only judge the external. I get it that. What many will have to learn, however, is that sometimes the final prize cannot be measured in kilograms of gained muscle. I have learned a lot of valuable lessons about myself thanks to the lifting game, and I am sure others have experienced the same thing. You may not realize it now because you are disappointed by your biceps size, but one day you will know the journey was worth it.
With that said, I understand why people feel frustrated when they are putting in the work and nothing happens. You are still the same muscleless guy regardless of how hard you train. I can tell you that you will find way more enjoyment, if you simply look at the whole journey as a way to get stronger and keep your body in condition, instead of expecting that you will look like a model.
Wait!You could actually become a professional fitness model. Those guys aren’t that special anyway. Nevertheless, you should know by now that it takes way more than dirt powder to get there, way more. Most people lead lives that will not allow them to be professional muscle mannequins for various reasons.
Another main characteristics of consumerism is the unnecessary replacement of things for the sake of having new models. Of course, the most popular example would be the fan-boys who buy the latest iFone model, even though their previous phone is working just fine. This is called new model marketing. Since things don’t break so easily, the only way to make people buy more is to inject in their heads the idea that purchasing the latest model is on their “things to do before death gets me” list. This where the magic of marketing teams come.
Last week I decided to buy a pocket knife. I was amazed by the amount of reviews I found on the Internet. What shocked me the most was the video of one guy who got addicted to a specific knife brand. The guy showed his collection of 6-7 knives which he was able to accumulate in about 2 months. He also said that there were a few more ordered already. The knives looked the same to me and had some bugs on the blade. The ironic part is that each one was expensive and from really good quality. A knife like that could last 20+ years even if you abuse the hell out of it. Still, some people want to buy 10 or more of those because each time a new package arrives at your door, you feel the drug working.
It’s similar when it comes to adding muscle mass. You don’t need to be overly muscular to be happy, successful or whatever else you desire to be. You don’t necessarily need more muscle (new models) to operate at your optimum capacity.
At the end of the day, it’s not so much about what you have, but how you use it. Doing is always better than having.