Unless you’re the kind of person who has a hankering for hoisting heavy weights over your head and flexing in front of the mirror, the recent death of bodybuilding promoter Joe Weider may have escaped your attention.
Personally, I had mixed reactions when I read of Weider’s demise. Momma always told me not to speak ill of the dead, so I’ll just say I believe the world would be a better place today if Weider had gone into a less loathsome line of work – say, baby seal bludgeoner or internet scam artist.
Instead, Weider spent his life amassing a fortune by contributing to an insidious yet rarely publicized plague that has spread over the past few decades: body image disorders among adolescent males – specifically, muscle dysmorphia.
Body image neurosis is treated with grave concern and seas of empathy when it pertains to girls, but not so much with boys, even though psychologists agree there is a disturbingly high incidence of this malady among young males who are often left to deal with their feelings of insecurity and inadequacy on their own.
How many teen-age girls have planted themselves on Oprah’s couch to share their sad tales of battling bulimia? How many shows has Oprah done on boys who suffer emotional distress obsessing over what they perceive as their physical shortcomings while enduring schoolyard taunts, seeing the chiseled physiques of male superheroes constantly shoved in their faces and dealing with the impact all this has on their maturation process?
I’ve read more than a few articles about how ridiculously proportioned Barbie is and how this affects the self-image of little girls, but I’ve never seen one article on how buff the Superman action figure is and how this affects the self-image of little boys.
When a girl becomes pathologically fixated on trying to achieve an unattainable, idealized body shape, it’s a legitimate sickness that makes people gasp. When a boy is driven by the same fixation and goes to absurd lengths trying to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s a running gag, like the old Hans and Frans skit on Saturday Night Live. “Listen up all you girlie-men, we are here to pump (clap) you up!” Ha ha.
Weider didn’t invent what’s called the Adonis Complex or more colloquially “biggerexia,” but few individuals in our time did more to perpetuate this psychosis than the man called the “godfather” of pro bodybuilding. Weider was cut out of the Charles Atlas mold, men whose mission was to profit by aggressively promoting a glorified, unrealistic image of the male form and – for the mere cost of shipping and handling – revealing the deep secret of exactly how to achieve it.
For his part, Atlas led the way in warping the minds of a generation of impressionable boys by billing himself as “the world’s most perfectly developed man,” making his pitch in the back pages of comic books where he explained how you could become a well-built behemoth and avoid getting sand kicked in your face by simply following his scientifically-proven dynamic tension isometric training system.
Youngsters were mesmerized by the plight of Mac, a pasty, pole-thin 97-pound weakling who gets humiliated in front of his girlfriend by some muscle-bound beachgoing bully. Downcast and demoralized, Mac sends off for the 32-page illustrated book and quickly bulks himself up to he-man size. Mac returns to the beach and smacks his nemesis across the chops, convincing the fawning girlfriend he’s “a real man after all.”
The idea was clear: pump yourself up and men will quake in fear of you and women will fall at your feet, a lesson that manages to insult both genders at once.
Weider put this sleazy flesh-peddling industry into hyperdrive when he began publishing magazines featuring pictures of outlandishly proportioned physiques, staging bodybuilding contests and hawking supplements and substances with the unambiguous implication that if you consumed enough of his pills, powders and potions you could look just like the muscle-heads in the magazines – and, of course, men will quake in fear of you and women will fall at your feet.
The brutes who appeared in Weider’s publications made Charles Atlas look like the male version of Twiggy. Jacked full of steroids and HGH, photographed under hard lighting and digitally enhanced, the menacing, grimacing models looked more like inflatable Marvel Comics characters than your dear old Uncle Bob.
As if testosterone-fueled young men don’t have enough mental and emotional angst to deal with while going through the travails of puberty, now they’re being programmed to believe the measure of their masculinity is determined by the circumference of their biceps or how much of a self-absorbed jerk they can be.
I never thought I’d quote former Alabama Gov. George Wallace about anything, but I think any heartless huckster who makes the decision to prey on the insecurities of young boys at an especially fragile stage in their physiological, psychological and emotional development deserves “a barbed-wire enema.”
If you have a teen-age boy nearby at this moment and he happens to be striking poses in the mirror, pull him over and tell him to read this message:
Yo, yo! Look, dude, straight up…God made you as an endomorph, ectomorph or mesomorph and you can’t change that any more than you can change your eye color. So, roll with what you’ve got, player. Just make a lifelong commitment to staying fit and eating a balanced diet, and remember that any woman worthy of your attention will judge you based on the content of your character, not the ripple effect of your abs. And if someone starts assaulting you with sand, don’t commence throwin’ down like a Neanderthal with roid rage. Just go find yourself a good lawyer, yo.
A glance outside the office window shows that summer is here and the beach is calling. Looks like it’s time to start working out.