The Cult of the Gym
December 23, 2002 12:35 PM   Subscribe

The Cult of the Gym Anorexia and obesity have both been beaten to a bloody pulp...but how about "bigorexia", or "muscle dysmorphia."? It has many of the same characteristics as anorexia, such as never being satisfied with the way one looks no matter how big and muscular they get, and it shares with obesity the same propensity for discovering a "quick-fix" mentality. This author likens the cult of the gym to the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment through the church of one's choice.
posted by vito90 (14 comments total)
I think the super-muscled look is on the way out in San Francisco's gay male community. Lots of folks still doing it but it doesn't seem to be the trend anymore. Maybe folks finally wised up to the dangers of steroid abuse.
posted by Nelson at 12:43 PM on December 23, 2002

Someone should tell this guy.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:54 PM on December 23, 2002

The "gym bunny" obsession is indeed rampant in many metropolitan gay communities. It contributes to the complaints of 'clones', adds to the obsessive worries of those who are HIV+ and trying to hide it via excessive workouts and the cocktail, and why I'll continue to prefer corn-fed Nebraska boys to those who worship at Gold's in Santa Monica ;-)
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:58 PM on December 23, 2002

Wow, MrMoonPie, nice link. The guy's biceps look like meat, like a prize cornfed steer piped full of antibiotics and hormones. He must have some idea though, his video is titled "True Freak". And he's an Ozzy fan.
posted by Nelson at 1:34 PM on December 23, 2002

I should have credited this thread.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:45 PM on December 23, 2002

The author of the article finds working out to be boring and pointless. Clearly, what is required is an in-depth look at the social and historical underpinnings of the gym phenomenon to find out why so many people would willingly subject themselves to such a boring and pointless hobby.

Perhaps the easy answer is that some people don't find it boring. Also, perhaps they feel that they gain something from working out that they would not gain from staying at home and watching television or browsing the web or any other sedentary hobby.

Besides, it's only fair that men are now racked with insecurity and worry about their bodies just like the ladies.
posted by rks404 at 9:05 PM on December 23, 2002

Speaking as someone who goes to the gym regularly, I'd don't find working out to be boring at all. For me, it's a form a meditation, a way to set aside the stresses of work and home life and focus on this task, right here, right now. I feel calmer and sleep better after excercise; if I go a few days without hitting the gym, I get fidgety.
posted by SPrintF at 9:49 PM on December 23, 2002

i like working out too. it's like a decompression chamber. i just think to myself for an hour and a half, doing my own thing. it's great.
posted by moz at 10:54 PM on December 23, 2002

Have come to appreciate the obsessive-compulsive nature of working out lately, as I've been trying to quit smoking and drinking. Realized that I was satisfying the same needs by working out, back when I was in high school. Never smoked or drank, but I would go nuts if I didn't run four miles every day. Used to joke that I had quit the wrestling team and joined the smoking team.

Never have liked public gyms, though. It makes me extremely uncomfortable to know that people are there for superficial reasons. I was on a spiritual quest. Lately, I've noticed, I look down on people in bars the same way. Bunch of trendy pukes who have no idea what it's like to be a serious substance abuser, and I no longer have anything in common with them.

If I get back into working out now, it's gonna have to be extreme. I'm like Mad Max coming back from the wasteland, Moses coming down from the mountain, etc. It's going to be scary for everyone around me.
posted by son_of_minya at 11:34 PM on December 23, 2002

Here's an alternate explanation:

Gyms are cheap.

Think about it -- you want to do something, anything, after work. Going out to dinner with friends will cost (on average) $10; a movie will cost more. A couple drinks at a bar will run around $10-$30 depending on how much you partake and how many rounds you cover; going clubbing has the same bar cost but tacks on a cover charge. Sports events are unimaginably expensive, even for something like baseball that plays every other day, relegating the enjoyment of such to a sports bar (with its own costs).

Even if a gym costs $200/mo, it's *still* cheaper than going out every night.

Now tack on the fact that, through college, a) Bars and clubs are for some a pain in the ass to get into, b) Funds are limited, and c) The campus gym is usually free, and check it out -- something to do every day, with attractive people of the appropriate sex who live nearby.

I'd be impressed with this author's analogy towards gym-as-faith, but hell, any and every social structure can be reduced to faith, that's what makes the psychology of it so amenable to institutionalisation. Your family is a religion -- it has a patriach, a matriach, traditions, secrets, ranks, ceremonies which introduce those from the outside into the trusted circle. Your job is a religion -- it has leaders, followers, deeply enforced rules, excommunication, even a bible (employee handbooks, mission statements, etc). Taking a *CRAP* is a religion -- followers who fail to do so suffer, those who do tend to do it in privacy and solitude, people have been known to spontaneously call out to their diety while doing so...

I'm not being disrespectful to religions; I'm just pointing out that it's literally possible to find similarities between faith and every human behavior -- that's precisely why religions are able to claim control and relevance to all of human behavior.

Incidentally, I suspect you'll find gym populations increasing as blue collar populations decreasing.

posted by effugas at 12:39 AM on December 24, 2002

In terms of population shifts, I'm referring to the fact that as work becomes more sedentary, the proportion of the population in shape from their work drops significantly. This means there's an opportunity to become attractively unique by bolstering one's physical appearance (actually taking a lower income but greater physical labor job is less appealing, since it detracts from personal wealth that people *are* actually looking for).

As too many people do the same thing, musculature becomes less of a deciding factor in mate selection and other things (innocence, as the cornfedophile pointed out) come into play for their relative rareness vs. other attractive qualities.

posted by effugas at 2:46 AM on December 24, 2002

cant anybody do ANYTHING on this planet without some holier than thou journalist twat writing an article about it?
Theres always some piece by some journo somewhere about the dangers of whatever the hell it is your'e doing.

mind you i have yet to see the "health risks associated with writing melodramatic articles in newspapers"
posted by sgt.serenity at 8:31 AM on December 24, 2002

Incidentally, I suspect you'll find gym populations increasing as blue collar populations decreasing.

This is true - in modern urban life those of us with desk jobs are compelled to create opportunities for exercise or become overweight and unhealthy. This is something quite recent, this whole concept of "working out". Thirty-five years ago very few people had gym memberships. My blue collar dad uses the phrase with quite a lot of contempt, and I agree with him that "working out" is much less preferable to actual physical work whereby one accomplishes something and stays in shape, or even to playing a sport that one enjoys.

I wish I found working out on machines enjoyable as some do - I don't, I consider them modern torture devices. And I resent the demands on my time and budget that joining a gym entails. So instead, since I enjoy walking, I walk seven to ten hours a week (depending on the weather), do my housework, and since I take public transit get quite a bit of exercise sprinting for buses. This works pretty well.

But I realize I'm becoming an oddity. I consider a gym membership a luxury, so many of my acquaintances consider it a necessity. If our lives stay as soft as they are now and food remains as plentiful as it is, my take on this is going to become more and more old-fashioned and the gym more and more a fixture in a modern lifestyle.
posted by orange swan at 8:40 AM on December 24, 2002

For any who are interested, there's a book called The Adonis Complex that goes into some detail about male body perceptions. There are some truly sad tales of the pain that associated eating disorders bring to people.
posted by holycola at 12:15 PM on December 24, 2002

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