Aesthetics and Bodybuilding: Why We are the Laughing Stock of the Fitness Industry and How We Fight Back
Bodybuilding has become the laughing stock of the fitness industry. The pursuit of aesthetics is often seen as shallow at best and an unhealthy and dangerous pursuit at worse (see, for instance, the ideas put forth by movement advocate Ido Portal). For most of you, this statement is going to make you mad. Your immediate reaction is going to be to call those who hold these views “haters” or to just dismiss them entirely. As someone who genuinely loves bodybuilding, however, hearing statements like this causes me to take an honest assessment of our sport and our practice.
I love bodybuilding and physique sports, but I honestly hate what they’ve become. I am to the point where I can’t even go to the bodybuilding websites anymore because the content is frankly mind numbing. Rather than serious academic exchange, bodybuilders have a way of simplifying everything into simple black and white statements. This goes both for the classic “bros” who have become the punching bag for many popular youtube channels, and for the more progressive flexibile dieters and intermittent fasters, who often appear as if they are on a witch hunt to discredit and eradicate anyone who does not fit their “new and progressive” view of nutrition. Of course, this is not an indictment of any particular approach and its utility, but it is an indictment of the actions of their proponents. This type of thinking is not limited to bodybuilders, but it has, unfortunately, shaped the direction this sport is taking. In an age where information is so abundant through the internet, it is getting more and more difficult to actually find good information.
What has resulted is the onset of a series of bodybuilding “diet cults.” Groups of bodybuilding enthusiasts have fallen in line to blindly follow the advice of individual personalities. They begin these programs and rather than honestly assessing their results, their affinity for the person who created it prevents them from being open and honest about their results. Instead, they focus their criticism on themselves and they begin to think that there’s something wrong with them (because they aren’t getting the same results as their hero) rather than something wrong with the program. So they continue to follow that program indefinitely and waste months and years in stagnation. What I am describing here is a simple psychological phenomenon called cognitive consistency. When we like someone, we tend to try to like everything about them: their food, their knowledge, and their actions. If you like someone, you are less likely to see their imperfections. The bodybuilding industry is fueled by cognitive consistency. Think about why you bought your last set of supplements, or why you’re following the program you’ve following. Are you using that supplement because it is actually supplementing something you need? Or are you using that supplement because someone you admire uses it? Why are you following the routine that you’re following? If you’re honest with yourself, the answer will probably scare you.
Please understand that I am not saying that these programs or supplements are useless. What I am trying to do is to create better and more informed people in this industry. We need to become leaders rather than followers, and seekers of knowledge rather than zombies chasing gains. Bodybuilding has always been a fringe sport. At times, many criticisms have been unfounded. My hope is that we can keep these critiques as being unfounded rather than lending credence to the idea that we are the laughing stock of the fitness industry.