I blame WWF Wrestlers for my “wanting to get bigger”. In particular Kurt Angle-circa-2000.
I blame him and his WWE colleagues (then WWF) and their oversized, hugely muscled physiques and perky bubble butts looking amazing in lycra singlets. I’d also like to blame; Wolverine, Thor, Lion-O, He-Man, Dean Cain as Superman, Jonny Wilkinson and the whole 2003 England Rugby World Cup winning team and, well you get the picture. They are the reason I started lifting weights.
When I was 14 years old I bought my first set of dumbbells, colourful plastic ones from Argos along with a cheap bench press, and set them out proudly in my room. After nine months of being intimidated by these purchases, I finally put them to use – the threat of angry mother who wanted to chuck them out is a strong motivational tool.
I started throwing the weights around and began to enjoy the process. I wasn’t seeing many results, as I had literally no idea what I was doing, but I felt strangely good about myself. In an effort to learn about workout routines, I bought a magazine about muscle and fitness, called ‘Muscle and Fitness’.
At 16, I joined a gym and took up weight lifting more seriously. I started taking supplements like whey protein and creatine, and slowly I began to see muscles developing and increasing in size. I was so pleased and proud! I became a three-times-a-week gymmer. I eventually went from a Topman small to a large!
Four years later, a gentleman I was chatting to on the old dial-up, offered to buy me steroids so he could “grow me” for his own personal enjoyment. I declined, but it spooked me and I was extremely tempted. It was my first offer of growth-enhancing drugs, but not my last.
I was again offered the opportunity to inject hormone altering chemicals into my butt when I was 26, and this time by a personal trainer. As he offered to get me the “gear”, I looked at him and I saw big biceps full of lies but also, I was just overcome with a sense of sadness. It seemed it just wasn’t possible to achieve his perfectly rounded arms or butt without juicing. I’ve since learned this to be untrue, but still, the prevalence of steroids was alarming.
“I looked at him and I saw big biceps full of lies”
I’ve often wondered what drove me down the path of weight training. I’m no built-like-a-brick-shithouse weight lifter, I’m just a normal guy who likes keep in shape. But it’s a certain shape that I’ve chosen to keep. Why is that? Why do I want to be big? Why am I never satisfied with the gains I actually make? Why do I want to get bigger still?
As I mentioned, I blame the hyper-buff cartoons and wrestlers of the 90s for warping my view – I couldn’t help but idolise these men/action figures. And although I didn’t realise I was gay at the time, subconsciously I was lusting after their physiques. A small part of my brain must have thought, “If I want anyone to lust after me, I must look like that”. Bingo.
Muscle dysmorphia is where one sees oneself as a skinny, noodle-armed waif in the mirror. No matter what our family and friends reassure us, it’s just not quite where we want to be. No muscle gains are enough, and we always want to be bigger.
Some psychologists have seen this pattern of dissatisfaction – often-termed “bigorexia” – as a form of obsessive compulsive disorder, where the sufferer attempts to obtain a body that (often unrealistically) epitomises masculinity to him. It’s an interesting idea, and perhaps it could be true. Certainly, growing up reading the adventures of over-muscled superheroes and playing with an Action Man leads to one thinking that this is how men should look from a very early age.
It is easy to see why so many men both gay and straight try growth-enhancing drugs to achieve results that are either too hard or too slow to achieve cleanly. When I was offered steroids by my then-personal trainer, it made me realise just how common they were. Here was someone who people go to get both advice and a damn good workout in an effort to look and feel fantastic. Yet he was cheating and offering the same opportunities to his clients. He then proceeded to point out all of the men around us who were on ‘juice’, and the particular tells to look out for. As he explained the different types to me, I became lost, struggling to believe they were all on steroids. “Everyone is doing them!” he said. Did they all suffer from bigorexia as well? I suddenly had Roid Vision. After I left our consultation, I wandered through Soho and suddenly any man with an inspirational physique, or even a bit of muscle mass to him, I just believed was on steroids.
It doesn’t mean to say that I judge anyone who does steroids, or indeed drugs. Since then I have met friends who have done or do partake. If you do decide to take them, stay safe. But remember like any drug, the high (in this case, the increase in muscle mass) is only for a limited time before the ‘come down’.
Dysmorphia won’t be cheated away easily. But it can be eased by a bit of hard work.
This article was originally printed in Gay Times magazine.