If there weren’t a drug-free bodybuilding community out there, I don’t think I’d ever be comfortable calling myself a bodybuilder, even a recreational one. I’m a pretty straight-laced person. I drink a mug of coffee in the morning; I enjoy some chocolate. I take my prescription medications and a few over-the-counter things like NSAIDS to keep my migraines under control. Otherwise, I don’t really like using anything body or mind-altering. I don’t drink, smoke or consume marijuana products and have never been drawn to other recreational substances. I’m also hesitant to take many supplements, naturally skeptical that they will work, and if they do work, naturally skeptical that they are safe.
But bodybuilding is a maximalist culture. We’re a loose community of folks who are drawn to the extreme–drawn to taking on the lifestyle to build a physique that is difficult to create and more difficult to maintain in societies that have many pressures to do otherwise. Moreover, there’s a hyper-macho, extreme masculinization in lifting culture which encourages ignoring the symptoms of an excessive lifestyle. Real men push through their pain and do what has to be done.
Competition brings out all of this all the more, and I think that’s at the heart of this conversation between Eric and Berto on choosing whether or not to remain natural as a bodybuilder. Competition increases the stakes, creates urgency and pushes someone to make decisions, as Eric says, “out of fear and desperation, [encouraged] from someone they trust.”
I wish they’d brought a woman into this conversation. Berto acknowledges that “for women, it’s a whole different can of worms.” They imply that there are women who “don’t have fully informed consent” but don’t explain what that means. Are trainers sneaking exogenous androgens into women’s supplements? Certainly, there’s an acknowledgement that there are greater consequences for a woman’s physiology to become “enhanced” as an athlete. And left undiscussed by Berto or Eric, the social pressures for women must certainly be very different. Personally, I’m totally turned off by both extremes of the women’s physique sport world–I don’t desire the artificially grown physique of women on gear, nor do I desire the hypersexualized tits and butt, plastic heals and big hair of more “feminine” women’s competitions. But I’m an outsider in a niche sport. I’d like to hear from women who love the sport and have hard choices to make about how they want to compete. My guess is it’s a truly different conversation than this one.
My wish for bodybuilding would be that it could become something like basketball–where folks could go out and play a pick-up game each week and say they love the sport without the pressure and implications that they are delusional about going pro. Without that pressure, maybe we could all find healthier ways to live our slightly-more-casual bodybuilder lives, without the urgency and desperation that leads to unwarranted use of anabolics. Be a fan, toddle around the gym doing what we love, living the dream without implicit competition between each other. That’s not the point Berto and Eric are making, but I wish it was.
The first video is Berto’s video of natural physiques he shared a few weeks ago on Youtube. The second video is the 3DMJ podcast episode.