Weight Lifting: No Longer Just For Getting Chicks, Bro
By: Broc Christensen
Like many other weight lifters, I began spending time in the weight room during high school with my mind set on getting in better shape for my sport, which at the time was lacrosse. I was loosely familiar with bodybuilding culture and many of the statue-esque figures that were dominant in the sport because my dad was an amateur bodybuilder during much of my childhood. During my time in the high school weight room none of that was in my head though; I was only there as a way to earn easy credit and to get a little bit stronger so I would be faster on the lacrosse field. Fast forward to two years after graduation, I was working full-time and was no longer playing lacrosse or any other sports: however, after realizing that a good friend of mine was really into lifting weights I got back into it, this time just as a means of getting some physicality back in my life. Fast forward again through four to five inconsistent, naïve, relatively meaningless years in the gym with my friend and by myself, and now I have been back at it for two solid years. I am currently training for my first powerlifting meet, a competition that consists of the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. The person with the highest combined total amount of weight lifted for their respective weight class is the winner. Going to the gym is now my favorite part of the day; I spend countless time reading, listening, and watching anything that will help me improve in the weight room. I have fully immersed myself into a sort of “gym culture” that involves powerlifting, bodybuilding, and nutrition. Though there are great distinctions to be made between the terms powerlifting, bodybuilding, and Olympic weight lifting, in order to prevent confusion they will be lumped together as weight lifting for the duration of this essay. Also included in my description of weight lifters will be others with significant musculature such as: professional football and baseball players, professional wrestlers, and stars of Hollywood action films. It is in these past two years, as I have let myself become immersed in this weight lifting culture, that I have noticed how it is negatively portrayed in popular culture. While I cannot speak for anyone else involved in the weight lifting community, I am here to take the stand that there is more to lifting weights than getting big shiny muscles, taking steroids, picking up girls at clubs, and otherwise being a meathead.
On Dom Mazzetti’s popular YouTube channel called, “BroScienceLife”, he is the star of a series of videos in which he provides weight lifting advice based on what he calls bro science. You may be asking yourself what bro science is, and in three and a half short, entertaining minutes, Mazzetti will explain it below.
In the BroScienceLife video, “Evolution of the Lifting Man”, Mazzetti explains just that, the evolutionary stages of the “typical” weight lifter.
According to him, “before man started lifting, he was nothing.” This statement makes it clear that masculinity is discovered only through weight lifting and muscular hypertrophy, and that this is the only type of masculinity. Yvonne Wiegers, in her article “Male Bodybuilding: The Social Construction of a Maculine Identity” makes the statement, “Men’s experiences differ from one another according to the structural mechanisms through which power and resources are distributed. Hence, it is a mistake to speak of masculinity as though it is a monolithic, homogenous identity. To do so would involve posting one form of masculinity as normative and making all other masculine identities deviant. (p. 152)” Mazzetti, playing off of stereotypes about masculinity relating to weight lifters makes it clear that popular culture only wants to see one type of weight lifter, and that weight lifter is the kind of man that is so concerned with how he looks and with getting laid, that he is willing to sacrifice physical and emotional well-being to achieve, what Morrison and Halton call, “the most desirable body shape for men” which as they further explain, “emphasizes muscle mass and physical bulk. (p. 58)” But according to Mazzetti, as a weight lifter I should not be satisfied with what is most desired, instead I should strive to be, “the top of the food chain super predator with two dicks.” While this is being said, an altered photograph of a professional bodybuilder is shown on the screen to give a visual example of what said super predator looks like. As a weight lifter evolves, according to the BroScienceLife “Evolution of the Lifting Man” chart, from ooze to tadpole he is said to have experienced his first pump, which as Arnold will explain in a clip from the classic film “Pumping Iron”, is quite the feeling for some.
At the most evolved end of the chart is what Mazzetti calls the Freak Beast, “The biggest, most shredded dude around. “ Which is an ironic twist in the evolution of the heterosexual lifting man that is being described, because now Mazzetti explains that, “You stopped lifting for chicks a long time ago, because the only people who are really gonna care about your veins, and your cuts, and how swole your rear delts are, are dudes.” I feel like Mazzetti makes this statement in defense of his own masculinity against the very people whose attitudes his character portrays. The BroScienceLife channel is full of Mazzetti’s satirical looks at gym culture, and the character he is playing is very telling of the stereotypes that surround weight lifters. Everything from his scientifically unfounded and mostly reckless advice on how to get bigger muscles and thus more chicks, to his thick East Coast accent, and his vocabulary are signs of what society expects from weight lifters. He does a good job of showing people what society wants and expects serious weight lifters to act like, while being comfortable enough in his own masculinity to poke fun at the gym culture that he is obviously very involved in.
A commercial introducing Taco Bell’s Power Protein Menu, featuring what Dom Mazzetti would refer to as Freak Beasts, further demonstrates stereotypes that were introduced in “Evolution of the Lifting Man.”
The gigantic men depicted in this commercial are examples of the de-evolution, that is the “Evolution of the Lifting Man.” They are just six men standing around on the beach, wearing outdated bodybuilder fashion, drinking protein shakes, grunting about how much they love protein. They are all so typical and dumb that all they can do is repeat each other and sip their shakes on a beach that is completely devoid of any women, because as Mazzetti said, men are the only ones that care about gigantic muscles. The two normal looking men in the commercial are enjoying items off the new Taco Bell menu and they decide not to tell the bodybuilders about it, because even though the food is from a special high protein menu, it is not for meatheads, they can stick to the protein shakes that they love so much. It is worth mentioning that nearly all of the bodybuilders in the commercial speak with an accent, or are of a race other than white. They are for the most part shown as being “the other”, because the average American man has better things to do than lift weights and try to look like what is shown. With this commercial it is hard to decide whether Taco Bell is pulling a Dom Mazzetti and making fun of gym culture to appeal to weight lifters, or if they are actually trying to condescend weight lifters by offering a high protein menu targeted towards the average male. Either way, they are perpetuating the negative stereotypes that seem to follow weight lifters.
Chris Bell’s documentary, “Bigger Stronger Faster” gives a look into the often unspoken side of weight lifting culture that involves the use and abuse of performance enhancing drugs, mainly anabolic-androgenic steroids. The film highlights the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs by professional baseball and football players, Olympic athletes, bodybuilders, high school athletes, and professional power lifters among others. The bodybuilders and other weight lifters interviewed by Bell are all in favor of the use of anabolic steroids, and Gregg Valentino even goes as far as to say, “Steroids are as American as apple pie”, while eating a T-bone steak with his bare hands. Bell himself is a weight lifter with an anti-steroid agenda, but the way the documentary plays out is that he is alone in the community of weight lifters who are not on steroids. Power lifting guru Louie Simmons asks Bell, “Do you want to be strong? Or do you want to be weak?” in regards to using steroids, implying that strength cannot be achieved without the use of illegal drugs. The father of a high schooler who committed suicide is interviewed because he blames his son’s death on the use of anabolic steroids. This interview is the only segment of the film that really shows an anti-steroid sentiment, but it is suggested to the viewer that the kid committed suicide because of mental health issues not related to his steroid use. It is an interesting film in the sense that Bell, who is anti-steroid, seems to be implying to the viewer that using steroids is inevitable for anyone in serious pursuit of competition involving weight lifting. He seems to be defending the use of steroids by showing how widespread usage is within professional sports from baseball to power lifting. His depictions of weight lifters chewing on steaks with their bare hands, and lifting weights so aggressively that their nose bleeds is still in line with the negative sentiments within society regarding weight lifters. Steroids are illegal drugs and are often times blamed for violent behavior known as “roid rage.” Bell may have had intentions of showing the world how widespread the use of steroids is within many sports and professions in the world, but he also may have solidified weight lifters’ place in the minds of the average person as being roid-rage having, drug users.
From television commercials, to full length films, and Internet memes, weight lifters are often depicted as being meatheads only considered with the pursuit of huge muscles and hot girls. I identify with much of the hard work and the dedication that goes along with being a weight lifter, but I do not agree with many of the depictions of weight lifters in popular culture artifacts. To be shown as cavemen not concerned with my own physical or emotional wellbeing is not fair. To be shown as a narcissistic meathead only concerned with how big my biceps are and what kinds of girls are noticing me is not telling the entire story. Weight lifting is cathartic, it is challenging, and it is ever changing yet it is constant. As Henry Rollins said, “Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.” Strength is not only about proving your masculinity or worth, it is about teaching yourself how to perform the best you possibly can in any given situation. But popular culture would like to have you think otherwise, instead pop culture would like to show you that the pursuit of physical strength it is a mindless pastime only meant for meatheads and cavemen.
Bell, Chris. “Bigger, Stronger, Faster: The Side Effects of Being American.” 2008.
Butler, George, and Robert Flore. “Pumping Iron.” 1978. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdVCfDioTcY
Denham, Bryan E. “Masculinities In Hardcore Bodybuilding.” Men & Masculinities 11.2 (2008): 234-242. Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 June 2014.
Mazzetti, Dom. “Evolution of the Lifting Man.” 2013
Morrison, Todd G., and Marie Halton. “Buff, Tough, And Rough: Representations Of Muscularity In Action Motion Pictures.” Journal Of Men’s Studies 17.1 (2009): 57-74. Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 June 2014.
Rollins, Henry. “Iron and the Soul.” Details Magazine. 1994
Taco Bell Protein Commercial. 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SV9Suw6gw8
Wiegers, Yvonne. “Male Bodybuilding: The Social Construction Of A Masculine Identity.” Journal Of Popular Culture32.2 (1998): 147. Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 June 2014.