Photo by Cristina Anne Costello on Unsplash 

Why believing the photos and the hype can hurt a lot more than just your wallet.

In the futuristic movie Ghost in the Shell, Scarlett Johanssen plays a girl whose brain is salvaged and placed inside a shell. She is supposed to be the first in a series of military weapons, as the future she inhabits has humans who have all embraced some kind of enhancement. Much like now, although enhancement in this regard takes considerable money and investment of time. There are all kinds.

While I am well aware of the life-saving benefits of medical enhancements, and have a rotator cuff surgery that is in part the result of that kind of advancement, I want to focus elsewhere.

Enhancing ourselves to be more attractive, more intimidating to our enemies, or clothing ourselves to establish rank is part of being human. You could argue that enhancement evolves with us, although for my part, I tend to draw a line at a certain point when it affects our health. Mind you, during the Elizabethan age, lead-based white face paint led to its fair share of deaths and health issues, so we are hardly alone. We literally die to try to be more than what we are. But I digress.

The other day I read an article by a guy who is blaming Thor's Chris Hemsworth for "everything that's wrong with the fitness industry."

His argument isn't entirely without merit, but he's a little off. He claims that Hemsworth, along with all the uber-massive-seriously steroid and CGI-manipulated heroes of todays blockbuster movies, are part, if not fully, what's wrong with the fitness industry. Kindly, if I may.

A 2013 Esquire article outlined some of the more bulked up actors of the time, but in the ensuing eight years we've seen far more incredible transformations which compete with each other to light up Instagram. It's hardly Hemsworth. Chris is just one of the many terrific and impressive body transformations. All of them are the natural outgrowth of the original, Arnold, who transformed- without the help of CGI- how the movie public sees and prefers its heroes. Muscle-bound, veinous and impressive. In many ways, that also is the natural outgrowth of the Weider industry which used to pitch its products with cartoons of bullies kicking sand in the face of the skinny guy on a beach towel.

How far we've come, and how far we've fallen at the same time.

Schwarzenegger was very open about his steroid use. He's also paid some significant prices for that use. These days, the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and an increasingly broad spectrum of supplements and enhancements have changed what's possible, albeit not always for the guy on the street. It is impossible for anyone, despite the claims of all the (fake) ads in Men's Health, for any normal human being to achieve Dwuane Johnson's traps or Chris Hemsworth's cobblestone abs in just a few weeks or months.

Each of those actors has access to a few key assets most of don't: the best trainers, food, supplements and CGI that money can buy. Millions, in fact, are invested in these physical transformations. Many of these men and women do indeed turn their bodies into superhuman forms, at least for the sake of the filming. Or, until they HAVE to stop the roids to save their organs or transform into something else for another movie. Christopher Bale is the hands-down champion of physical transformations in this regard. What kids - (and apparently a great many other folks who should know better) don't see is utter dishonesty of all this bulking up business.

As with virtually all things weight loss, beauty, health and fitness, nearly every single bit of it is monumentally fake. This isn't something you and I can do by changing a few curls or adding some heavy trap work to our routine. Besides, CGI does the rest of the work. And while you and I can invest in filters which change how others perceive us via digital device, the results when we actually meet are rather disappointing. So is the acne that any bodybuilder taking steroids lives with, including women, the additional facial hair that are airbrushed out of photos. Those are real. Steroids damage us, sometimes permanently. You don't hear about that part in your striving to get the biggest biceps on the block.

Some of us are old enough to remember when Robert DeNiro's weight gain for Raging Bull was a huge deal. Now, that is considered lightweight. That was before The Avengers and Justice League.

My jock chiropractor is one of those guys who was born to be ripped, like my big brother. These guys struggle to keep fat on, and getting ripped for them doesn't take much. Bodybuilding values that striated look, but getting to show shape is both brutal and horrific to the organs. Plenty of folks have died trying to walk the fine line between sweet show prep and unintentionally suicidal dietary techniques.

Anyone who does the most basic research knows that virtually all photos which appear for public consumption by anyone with money to make on said photos or the products that the subject is selling is probably airbrushed. Most models, no matter how handsome or gorgeous, are manipulated to have longer torsos or thinner thighs or a bigger chest or diamond-sharp abs. Most would hardly recognize the end product as themselves. The honest ones say so. The problem is that too many of us believe the photos.

Dr. Plummer, my chiro, advises his clients who say they want to look like the guy in Men's Health does his best to redirect them to focusing on what they like about their bodies already. That way he can have a reasonable chance of aiding them in achieving improvement goals, if not Mark Wahlberg's brand new great big arms, which YOU TOO can have, BUY MY SUPPLEMENTS. Pah.

Plummer knows better. He's been a personal trainer for years. Right now his practice is chock full of folks desperate to get their prep-Covid body back and they are all too often looking for woo-woo shortcuts than willing to do the real work. That is what gets all of us in trouble.

Ryan, my personal fitness trainer, is, like me, an all-natural bodybuilder. When he's not training me or other clients, he's training others outside his paying job. He's competed for years. Ryan told me the other day that he starts training for a competition fully twelve months prior.

"There's no way I could get show-ready in three or four months," he told me last week. Not only does the long term plan protect his health from the crash diets and diuretics that can kill. Steroids can too, especially with long-term use combined with underlying health conditions.

Ryan's competition photos made the rounds in his family. A brother-in-law accused him of juicing. As a professional member of the  Professional Natural Bodybuilding Association, he gets tested, and if you get tested and found to be juicing, you're done.

Are they serious?

See this. Those folks are banned from competing for life.

What a pity Lance Armstrong wasn't held to the same standards before his lies ruined a lot of good careers, but I digress.

My boyfriend took courses in how to manipulate photos when the practice was still in its infancy. He remembers feeling that from then on out, he wouldn't really know what was real. While you and I might have the sense god gave a goose to question what we're seeing, too many kids don't. And that leads to bigorexia, male eating disorders and body image problems for men which are just as damaging and devastating as they are for women.

I posted this photo a while back of a supremely healthy guy in his fifties:

Deposit photos

One commenter said, simply, "Fat."

Under no measurement by which any sane person uses to judge a physique is this guy "fat." In fact, with a bit more size on the delts and the lats, this is much like my boyfriend's physique. People at the gym accuse him of juicing, because they don't believe you can get incredible results from pure hard work. Yes. You can. My father accused me of juicing. Not on your life.

People have a hard time understanding that real commitment and real work over the decades pays off. None of that is fake. But it also doesn't happen in just a few months.

And no, Mark Wahlberg's supplements will not give you his freshly blown up biceps. But that is what has happened to our inability to either understand what constitutes a normal, healthy physique and a freakishly massive, steroid-enhanced body belonging to today's superheroes.

As for the pretty girl in the top photo? The way I look at models these days is that I no longer assume that what I see is what he or she looks like in real life. Nice photo. But as with online dating, all too often it's all fake. Just ask anyone who's met the online person in real life. One of the reasons I am with my guy is that we both look exactly like our photos.

Un-retouched, unnecessary.

Imperfect, as we are.

But nothing fake.