SOOT: Muscle Networking

http://sootmagazine.com/2013/11/07/muscle-networking/

SOOT Magazine Online

7 NOVEMBER 2013

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During the early norties, a designer drug swept over the world. Social media was virtually free, and it seemingly had no side effects. Before long there were two billion users. Between laptops and smart phones, you could take a hit at any point of the day. It’s now standard to see couples mid-meal in a restaurant, completely entranced on their mobiles. But with this degree of usage, some side effects have emerged.

One of these is vanity. Recent studies have explored the link between social networking and narcissism. Users can be plagued by the need to self display.  A recent study showed there’s an epidemic of narcissism in Gen Y. This one proved narcissists are more active on social media.

Bigorexia is a seemingly unrelated mode of self-interest. It’s defined as an unhealthy fixation with muscle size and definition. Those that suffer from it can be built like tanks, but the reflection they see is distortedly small, like looking in a fun-house mirror. Rare as it may sound, the condition is on the rise. Forty-five per cent of men are unhappy with their bodies. This is three times more than 20 years ago (it’s now essentially equal to the body dissatisfaction expressed by women). Bigorexia was first smoked out in The Adonis Complex, a book which argues that the “supermale” image in mainstream media is the root of the problem.

There’s no doubt the images in Hollywood and advertising do play a part. But the authors failed to acknowledge that the supermale is no recent affair. Due to the intrinsic link with the human body, it cannot be wholly attributed to a cultural construction nor an inborn one. The supermale dates back to our earliest surviving literature. There’s a wealth of Abercrombie and Fitch like physiques in Greco-Roman Art. One studyfrom Elizabeth Hancock  showed the ideal male form is comparable through MySpace, Calvin Klein billboards from the ’90s, and classical art. If the supermale has been around since then, and this condition emerged in the now, then it must be sparked by a contemporary flame.

Perhaps digital narcissism is related after all. Studies on bigorexia have yet to account for the interwebs. While the top networking sites are intended to be social, there are some which are inherently narcissistic. Bodyspace.com is a branch of the biggest fitness network online, bodybuilding.com. It presently has more than 7 million members. They use it to get praise or advice for pictures of their body.  In a Melbourne University study, ten members were asked why they use the site; “a lack of appreciation offline” was the mutual answer.  Dave, 28, said, “It gives us a place to post our picture for the whole world to see. Bodybuilders need to be noticed.” This site is to bodybuilders what Instagram is to duck-faced girls flashing their assets in the latest lingerie.

Many of our grandfathers kept themselves fit. They did so without the internet, and they were happier with their bodies. Men may turn to social media with a thirst for recognition, but the sites only make matters worse. A study from Los Angeles Times showed social networking encourages users to “base self-worth on appearance and compete for attention”. One should look no further than the “Top inspirational Bodyspace members list” to find the competition.

Enter the social media celebrity. Anyone with a wifi can reach a hitherto unthinkable audience. Jeff Seid, the youngest professional bodybuilder in America, has 704,529  Facebook followers. He uses his page to document an appallingly muscular body, and the resulting fans and endorsements. These returns are far more tangible for his followers than a Calvin Klein billboard. This is because he’s real. The supermale sculptures were carved from stone. The Hollywood heroes are digitally enhanced. But the Facebook stars are flesh and blood. Followers see their daily routines, their “before” pictures, their views and advice.

The top inspirational Bodyspace member is Azizz “Zyzz” Shavershian. Zyzz, a 22-year-old Sydneyite with a legion of fans, documented his rise from a scrawny dweeb to a true Adonis. At one stage, he was Googled as many times as Prime Minister Julia Gillard. He would preach insightful tidbits to his fans such as this: “In life, if you wanna be noticed, you gotta be ripped”. Despite his mysterious death in 2011, there are a plethora of pages which mimic his own.

In truth, physiques like those discussed are “naturally” implausible. Even with the use of anabolics, the ideal male form demands an unbalanced lifestyle. I contacted a number of bodybuilding.com users who suffer from bigorexia to ask them their experiences. Eighteen-year-old Bonboy9969 wrote that his condition resulted from  “a combination of real life experiences and the internet”.
“Social media inadvertently promotes bigorexia, though mostly just in the bodybuilding communities,” he continued.
Twenty-one-year-old Austere agreed. “Before the internet, you’d hardly see buff people outside the movies, and everyone knows those are artificial. Now, thanks to Facebook and the internet, you see them everywhere.”

One glance at the inspirational bodyspacers tells how one could warp their self-perception. Users compare these pictures to their own, which detaches themselves from the average male.  Austere said it’s a different standard online.
“Compared to people in my community, I’m relatively fit. Compared to people here, I’m grossly fat. Spending more and more time here led to me seeing more and more flaws with myself.”

Bonboy6696 felt the same way about his appearance, so offered some advice to other sufferers. “Try not using the sites as often. Focus on things you’re good at.” They could visit a Hungry Jack’s and remember how the average man looks instead.

It’s become accepted to use social media for hours a day. Perhaps we need a new stance. Perhaps we need to recognise that, when abused, these sites are akin to recreational drugs; they harm the users health. Bigorexia is one condition which verifies this concern. The recently acknowledged social-media addiction also supports the drug-parallel, and it will serve as a serious hurdle.

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