BENCH PRESS

 
 

The Body and the Social Environment

 
The development of 'The Cult of Muscularity' may also have parallels in other social environments which were evolving at the turn of the century. For example, I think that the construction of the muscular mesomorphic body can be linked to the appearance of the first skyscrapers in cities in the United States of America. Skyscrapers were a way increasing visibility and surface area within the limited space of a crowded city. One of the benefits of owning a skyscraper like the Chrysler Building in New York, with its increased surface area, was that it got the company noticed. The same can be said of the muscular body. Living and interacting in the city, the body itself is inscribed by social interaction with its environment, its systems of regulation and its memories and historicities (his-tor-i-city, 'tor' being a large hill or formation of rocks). Like a skyscraper, the muscular body has more surface area, is more visible, attracts more attention to its owner and is more admired. The owner of this body is desired because of his external appearance which may give him a feeling of superiority and power over others. However this body image may also lead to low self-esteem and heightened body dissatisfaction in the owner (causing anxiety and insecurity in his identity) as he constantly strives to maintain and enhance his body to fulfil expectations he has of himself.

"There is something unusual about
the back of this young Phillipino,
Anselus T. Del Rosario. The pose
is rather original and offers
suggestion to others."

 

Anonymous.
"Anselus T. Del Rosario."
n.d.

Anon. "Anselus T. Del Rosario" nd

 

 

Of course, body image is never a static concept as the power of muscular images of the male body resides in their perceived value as a commodity. This value is reinforced through social and moral values, through fluid personal interactions, and through the desire of self and others for a particular type of body image; it is a hierarchical system of valuation. It relies on what type of body is seen as socially desirable and 'beautiful' in a collective sense, even though physical attractiveness is very much a personal choice.

 

 

Anon. "Cheah Chin Poh" nd

Anon. "Prof. C.C.Shah" nd
Anon. Wesley Williams" nd

 

Anonymous.
"Cheah Chin Poh."
n.d.

 

Anonymous.
"Prof. C. C. Shah."
n.d.

 

Anonymous.
"Wesley Williams."
n.d.

 

In the four photographs from the 1930s we can see a range of ethnic men portrayed, all seeking the attainment of what was, for them, the perfection of the muscular human form. Indian, Chinese, Afro-American and Phillipino are all represented. Compare this to today's cast of images from a muscle fitness video and you can see how the broad inclusion of different ethnic types has been tailored to the demographics of its particular buying public. Today what is desirable in a masculine body seems to be even more limited in its stereotyping than was the case in the 1930s. Then, at least, there was a diversified range of ethnicity. Now, within the 'lifestyle' health and fitness magazines, the paradigm for the desirable male body is predominantly the tanned, toned, muscular white male. Thankfully, professional bodybuilders do still come in all colours!