I have complained before, in posts such as this one and this one, about the images of women in advertising and popular culture and the harmful effects they can have on the self-esteem and body image of girls and women. I hadn't really given much thought to what men experience as a result of the Madison Avenue portrayal of their gender until this past week, when I watched the film "Bigger, Stronger, Faster*."
"Bigger, Stronger, Faster*" is an intriguing documentary in which director Christopher Bell turns the camera on himself and his two brothers, who used anabolic steroids in an attempt to look more like their childhood heroes — Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Hulk Hogan. The asterisk in the title refers to the sports records that have come under suspicion as a result of the use of anabolic steroids by athletes.
The film, which premiered last year, drags on a bit too long and almost self-consciously strives too hard to appear balanced in its look at the use of steroids in sports, but it does offer a thought-provoking look at the dissatisfaction that many men have with their bodies and the frightening ends to which they'll go to change their appearance.
While women have bought into the notion that to be smaller is to be sexier and more attractive, men have become convinced that they must become bigger. Taken to extremes, the results are the same: an unhealthy obsession with becoming what is essentially a caricature.
There really isn't a world of difference between her:
This is Gregg Valentino, who appeared in "Bigger, Stronger, Faster*" and whose claim to fame is having the world's biggest biceps. At 28 inches, they are one inch larger than my waist. Valentino admitted in the film that women do not find this attractive, but it seems he just couldn't stop himself once he started using anabolic steroids.
I was surprised to learn from the film that just as Barbie has become impossibly thinner and more voluptuous over the years, G.I. Joe has undergone a transformation, becoming much more muscular than when the action figure debuted in 1964. I have to wonder if G.I. Joe hasn't secretly been waging war on boys' healthy attitudes about their own bodies.
Clearly, most people do not go to the extremes of the fashion models who live on salads and diet sodas or the bodybuilders and other competitive athletes who use anabolic steroids and lift massive amounts of weight. So why do we continue to regard their images in advertising, films and TV shows as the norm?
The purpose of advertising, of course, is to sell us things — things that we think we need to correct some perceived deficiency in our bodies or in our lives. But before we can be sold on that notion, advertisers first have to sell us self-loathing and discontent.
I think it's time we as consumers take back our lives, our bodies and our health.