This is the second installment of a three part series investigating our nation’s role models and their effects on the American male.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s outstanding box office success and political dealings have eclipsed his history as the most revolutionary bodybuilder in the world. It is important to note that before he became an actor and later a governor, he was the champion bodybuilder. He stood 6’2″, 235 pounds at less than 8% body fat, an absolute monster by any standards. However, Arnold was not able to achieve his legendary figure without help. Arnold has admitted multiple times to using anabolic steroids. Sylvester Stallone, 1980′s action star in Rambo and Rocky, was arrested in Australia with forty-eight vials of a human growth hormone. Popular examples of steroid use lead well into the present day, as well.
In the 2011 film, Captain America: The First Avenger, steroids play a role in the plot of a scrawny, physically inadequate young boy becoming a super soldier to help America battle the Nazis. In 2004, actor Christian Bale played the role of a lunatic anorexic in The Machinist. Six months after filming for The Machinist, filming for his next movie, Batman Begins, began. In that time frame, Bale went from 121 pounds to 230 pounds which was actually significantly more than director Christopher Nolan imagined his Batman, so Bale dropped to 190 pounds before filming began. While Christian Bale has never admitted to steroid use, gaining 109 pounds in six months is extremely alarming and suspicious. After all, he is portraying a classic American action hero, and therefore acting as a role model for innumerable adolescent males.
Without a doubt, the movie industry has begun to focus on larger-than-life actors, and while there is not evidence that every actor has achieved their body by illegitimate means, Hollywood certainly has an unrealistic portrayal of male physiques and has been so bold as to freely use steroids as a plot device in films such as Captain America. The film industry has forgotten the strong psychological impact it can have on consumers, and has shirked its responsibility of presenting effective role models. A 2006 study concludes that: “… images produced and circulated by media become part of an idealized standard of behavior and body type by which consumers should live their lives.”. It should come as no surprise that young males aspire to be like their role models. Any adolescent male with a taste for adventure is going to have a favorite actor, whether it is one who plays a boxer, soldier, or superhero. However, problems arise when that actor has a prototype figure that is intimidating to the viewer and unreachable by the viewer without illegitimate means. Due to the high saturation of highly idealized male physiques in the media, adolescent males are becoming increasingly insecure about their own bodies. This insecurity brought on by the media often comes with a very specific set of symptoms and side effects, such as obsessive weight training, depression, and the use of anabolic steroids.
The psychological disorder that this irresponsible media can lead to is not a new concept, and has in fact been the focus of numerous studies. It is called muscle dysmorphia, and it can be thought of as the reverse of anorexia; instead of a central goal of losing weight, muscle dysmorphia is characterized by the intense focus on gaining muscle and losing body fat. Along with the behavioral effects, muscle dysmorphia also heavily impacts the psyche. Subjects may experience depression and a negative quality of life due to their perceived physical inadequacies, while holding a belief that becoming more muscular will fix everything. Muscle dysmorphia has also been linked to increased suicide rates. It is understandable that the disorder comes alongside behavior such as obsessive dieting and weight training, in an effort to become bigger. However, these efforts are often not enough, and the subject may partake in anabolic steroids, especially given that many of their high-profile role models have done the same.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out part 3 tomorrow, where we outline the epidemic of designer steroids.