So, I think Eric Helms has been hanging out over here at Progressive Strength. In addition to a lot of post hits out of New Zealand lately, in this more recent episode of Iron Culture, he goes out of his way to acknowledge his point of view speaking from the position of being a heterosexual (and I’m guessing he meant cis-gendered) male and gave recognition to the fact that this conversation is not complete in exclusion of all the other relevant voices.
Makes me think he read this post in which I grew deeply annoyed at the Iron Culture locker room style discussion about testicles.
If I’m correct, Eric you are welcome here! Feel free to leave a note in the comments section or say hello on Facebook! And hey, if I’ve just picked up some Kiwi readership, welcome to you all too!
For any of you lovely readers, if you gave this episode of Iron Culture a listen, I’d love to hear what you think of it. To me, these kinds of conversations are what Iron Culture do best–a mix of personal reflection, history and science without getting too nerdy, exploring the deeper implications of a culture that pushes aesthetics over health. Regular PS readers will know that’s an important theme for me, too.
I do think it’s important to explicitly explore how gender impacts our experiences as we navigate the world of lifting for aesthetics. No question, a young, cis-gendered male has pressures to get swole in a different but parallel way that a young, cis-gendered female has pressures to get small.
For both, there are unrealistic, unhealthy expectations built upon rare ideals rather than what’s average, healthy, and normal. We all want to be exceptional, and how that’s defined is different depending on gender norms. But what we share is a need to navigate a society that celebrates the extremes and fails to reinforce the complex realities that physical ideals mask. We all must respond to the illusion of safe, healthy, easy “solutions” to manufactured problems.
I think Eric really gets into this when he talks about how our motivations for why we do this kind of work matter. I’ve written before about my motivations, and part of that is because I think we can’t actually tell if someone is doing self-harm in this arena without knowing where they’re coming from. If I lift to punish myself for eating a cupcake, that’s unhealthy. If I lift to feel comfortable in my body, capable and empowered, that’s a net positive in my life. Same lifting session, vastly different motivations. Which one will lead to me making the best long term, values-driven lifting decisions? Which one is more likely to stay motivating and inspiring?
Eric and Omar reference this video from Alan Thrall, and he hits this point, too. What feels good in the long run? What goals will carry you forward, towards the life you really want to live? Most of us want more than to leave behind a beautiful corpse. As a side note, I love that Alan extends this logic to his max lifts as well. I’ve heard lots of powerlifting types talk like the whole meaning behind their work is to improve their lifts–with seeming no recognition that inevitably, that progress is going to slow down and eventually, they will have lifted the most they ever will. As Alan puts it, those big lifts will eventually be behind them. That pursuit of endless gainz–whether physique or strength–creates a strawman motivator and pushes us to do extreme things like taking anabolics.
I appreciated this conversation between Eric and Omar, and I look forward to hearing the promised continuation and expansion of the conversation into broader populations. It is essential that we all learn to respond rather than react to the pressures to perfect our bodies. Of course, what I want is to change society–to move away from narrow definitions of success based on the most ideal bodies and towards a more inclusive vision. Conversations like this one need to happen more often and with more people, so we can each do our part to create a healthier lifting community.