Ever since I can remember, I had a deep, burning desire to have a striking physique. In Kindergarten we were asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to be presented at our graduation ceremony. I had watched a lot of sports on television at that age, and loved boxing and greats like Marvin Hagler. Marvin had deep, ebony skin tone and was very lean and defined. Put some sweat on him during a hard boxing match and he looked like he was a man carved out of wood with a fresh coat of paint laid down on him. I proudly announced to my Kindergarten teacher, precisely because I was so enamored with this look, “I want to be a black boxer.”
I’m not making this up. I really wanted to be black. It seemed the black guys had more defined “bumps in their stomachs” as I used to call them. Yes, at 5 years old nothing excited me more than the prospect of growing up and someday having bumps in my stomach. It was announced at graduation that “Matt wants to be a boxer when he grows up.” Pretty hilarious that they censored that, especially seeing that there wasn’t a single black, or even brown or yellow face to be seen for miles in the suburban area I attended school.
I originally intended this post to be about some of the dangers of bodybuilding and powerlifting – continuing to point out the negatives that few mention in a world where muscle celebrities are considered the gods of not only physical appearance, but health as well. This is irk-worthy enough to write about, as the people setting these artificial physique standards are far less healthy and much shorter-lived than your average person – and in competition form they are by far at their unhealthiest.
But unfortunately my damn brain wouldn’t stop thinking about it, and I wondered why so many of us are so paralyzed in life by our desires to look a certain way. Stupid brain.
I don’t have the answer, or the solution. In fact, I am just as preoccupied with “physical culture” as I’ve ever been. What started me thinking about this recently was watching a video that went viral of CT Fletcher. This video is like pornography to the part of the male brain that seeks to be dominant and powerful. It’s a story of being beaten by an authority figure, rising up and becoming indestructible. A triumph over fragility and weakness. Sort of a Mike Tyson-like story – Mike of course being another prominent male symbol of badassery in my youth. The story of CT is a double-whammy on this front, as CT had a massive heart attack and almost died and has now come back strong – even competing at the top level of natural bodybuilding at age 53.
As far as the heart attack is concerned, I was kinda pissed that cheeseburgers got all the blame for it. Why does the cheeseburger get all the blame for every heart attack? Or even the diet? As you can see, there is a theme amongst bodybuilders and powerlifters (and many pro athletes, certainly in the NFL, and Michael Clarke Duncan behemoths) like CT Fletcher – heart failure, heart attack, kidney problems, and overall early death. And not all of them ate 7000-calorie lunches at McDonald’s every day like CT. Perhaps being BIG is a stress and ages you faster (well, not perhaps – the larger members of any species have a shorter lifespan than smaller members of the same species). Perhaps doing hard training to the point of fainting and puking is a stress. Perhaps there are lifestyles, mindsets, and predispositions amongst athletes with this kind of ferocious drive that predisposes them to certain diseases. Perhaps, as Robert Sapolsky suggests in his findings on baboons, being an alpha male is stressful and unhealthy.
Of course, most blame all the problems bodybuilders, powerlifters, and NFL athletes face health-wise on steroid use. It’s certainly a big player, but CT claims again and again that he did not do steroids. And if it was his diet, how do we know that it wasn’t the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the fries, all the cysteine and methionine in his and other bodybuilders’ and powerlifters’ high-protein diet (which can cause a pathological rise in homocysteine), or otherwise?
Well, there’s your dose of the potential health risks of gaining excessive body mass as promised in the last post. I have nothing definitive to say, but just think it’s an issue worthy of thought and discussion.
So what’s the point of all this rambling? I’m not exactly sure. As you know, especially if you read Diet Recovery 2, I am an advocate of strength training and doing some productive physical activity – at least in the right dose. I also am anything but shy to recommend a person gain some body weight if it’s necessary for optimizing metabolic rate and proper functioning of the body’s systems.
I think what I’m really meaning to express is my deep concern over the increasing trend towards obsessively doing something in attempt to change our physical appearance. It seems nearly everyone has been “infected” with something they saw on tv or in a magazine – perhaps even at an age as early Kindergarten like it was for me (later leading to endless hours playing with my He-Man action figures and dressing up like Mr. T). For guys it might involve intentionally becoming gigantic like it was for CT Fletcher, who wanted the sidewalk to crack under his feet when he walked down the street. For women it might mean starving oneself to the point of serious self-inflicted starvation, or filling breasts and buttocks with squishy synthetic implants. Or this may manifest in totally different ways – like obsessive pursuit of money to achieve other happily-ever-after fantasies – most of them also rooted in an idea planted in our heads from tv and movies.
Maybe, just maybe, we are simply hard-wired, as humans, to want what we can’t have. For me, growing up in rich, white suburbia as a chunky kid with asthma and waited on hand and foot by my mom, made me want to be poor, healthy, lean, black, and self-sufficient. Skinny women want big butts and giant breasts. Fat women want to be skinny. Guys with abs want more mass. Guys with mass want abs. Poor people want to be rich. Young people want to be older. Older people want to be younger. Maybe we shouldn’t question or be hard on ourselves. But it is a relief to consciously recognize how foolish this is and maybe not take our desires and aspirations quite so seriously.
While we may be far from fully overcoming the powerful influence that today’s models, sex symbols, athletes, and He-Men have over our inner insatisfaction, and we may be even further from overcoming the primitive state of mental slavery we enter into when we idolize someone or something, hopefully this article can at least give you a small glimmer of what it would be like to just be you. And be happy with that.
And if you want to discuss how freaking awesome CT Fletcher is in the comments, well, that’s cool too. The stupid part of my brain could daydream about benchpressing 700 pounds all day long.