Men on Steroids

Tongue in cheek, earlier this week, I wrote about my lack of a beach-ready body which was my motivation yesterday to wheeze and pant through an exercise routine in the gym. Unusually, I had left my earphones at home which allowed me more space to pay more than normal attention to the other gym users.

Going to the gym can be intimidating for the first-time user. I have been a gym bunny for many years and so somewhat immune from the pressures of body shaming. As a daytime user, there is always a group of middle-aged and older women sharing the space. However, they are always slim and trim and seem to be able to run or row forever without the stresses I feel.

Whatever ambitions I have I know that I am there simply to prolong my life. Staying a little bit fit is a good first line of defence against the ravages and illnesses of time.

There is always another group that can intimidate. They are younger, both men and women, who eschew the cardio machines to pump weights. And the weights they use are, by my expectations, prodigious.

My leg strength is quite good, and, on the leg press, I set the machine at 80kg which is in the middle of the range of options. Say it myself, but I was impressed. I was followed onto the machine by another, maybe younger, but leaner user. I sneaked back afterwards to see how much weight he was pushing. 150kg. How the f*** did he do that?

We need to digress for a moment. Earlier today I clicked on an article in a spam email from Men’s Health, titled Researchers Suggest That Half Of Men Are Shaving Their Legs.

It was an amusing little piece meant to attract attention, and it did. For what its worth the trend started with swimmers and cyclists and is now seen as an aesthetic enhancement. While half of men may be doing it, there is an equal number of women who think it is something between silly to gross.

What then caught my attention was a video on the same page about the UK use of steroids. Official statistics in the UK suggest that there could be around 60,000 UK users. Unofficially there may be up to a million who inject themselves. That would be one in thirty men who use steroids.

Clearly, these are not professional athletes. They would be banned immediately. The video suggested that steroids are easily bought on the internet. I tried. They are right. there are thousands of sites selling online steroids. I was confused by the range and testimonials. Many men must be buying these steroids without any medical understanding.

I suppose I knew what was going on, but I had no idea that it was so prevalent. There are always people at the extremes of behaviour, but this is no longer at the extreme. It is now mainstream.

I think that it says something about how men now perceive themselves and here we are again with self-perception issues.

Rightly, women have a new and strong voice for equality. There may not yet be gender equality but there is an irreversible trend in that direction. While some of us have been educating our daughters to believe that they have the same rights and opportunities, it has an implication for our sons we didn’t see. We have not helped them understand their new role.

From a historical position of dominance and control, many a man is now feeling subservient and unable to understand their role in society. They are confused. Maybe, pumping up with steroids is a symptom of men trying to find a place in a world which is changing around them faster than they can react.

Maybe, even thinking about a beach-ready body shows I am just as insecure.

Me and My Beach Ready Body

There is supposed to be an age when one, or let’s be honest, I should accept what I am, act my age, behave and head quietly out to the pastures. The problem is that I don’t like cocoa or early nights and have this general feeling that I will live forever. I don’t think I have even started the transition from middle-aged to old.

I still have the ambition to run a marathon, I will always hanker after world travel, I understand social media, and I have a beautiful, young fiancée. Great, you might say, but this youthful attitude makes me susceptible to advertising targeted at the properly young.

Show me an open road and Harley and I am tempted and will buy anything that goes along with it.

Go back to 2015 and Protein World was advertising weight loss products with a huge poster on London Underground of a young and well-proportioned woman in a small yellow bikini against a sunshine yellow background. It was the banner words and not the picture that caused controversy: Are You Beach Body Ready?

It was banned because of concerns over its weight loss claims and in the following furore, our awareness of beach readiness was launched.

Beach ready is all about self-perception.

When I was in my early 20s I was reading a book by R D Laing: it might have been The Divided Self. Anyway, I remember the opening chapter.

You are lying on the beach. It is a hot day and you need to cool down. Maybe also you need a pee! You need to make your way to the sea which is 20 or 30 yards away. Do you just walk to and into the sea, wait until it covers your nether regions, and then return to lie on the towel to absorb more of the sun’s rays?

Depending on your age, ego and nationality that is unlikely. It is more likely you will try and trot to the sea to show your vigour, and then lift your knees high to show feigned surprise that running in the sea is more difficult. When far enough in you will dive, dolphin-like and swim a few meters before dipping to the seabed just to show you could have swum as far as you wanted but decided that Spain to Morocco should be saved for another day.

If you had been watching yourself at the seaside would you recognise your intentions? How you present yourself to the world is often be very different from how the world perceives you.

But you can check. More than ever we are obsessed with how we look and how we are perceived.

Today, somewhere that stroll on the beach has been recorded. If not on Instagram or Twitter, then I am sure you can find your promenade on YouTube.

Selfies are not for me, but Sasha has a photo of every moment of her life. Sometimes, to my horror, I appear in them. She is not alone taking selfies and they are the core currency of social media. I wonder if all these people who take them have their perceptions reinforced?

The thought I might be snapped and turn up in one of her photos fuels the dread of not being beach ready and drives me daily to the gym. Finally, it is working, and the results of the effort are showing.

I am moving towards being beach ready.

The next time I might be near a beach is October and it will be with Sasha who, as a model is always beach ready. That just adds to my angst. But October gives me three and half months to tone the muscles, pull in the tummy, shed some kilo and get myself finally ready for the beach.

Sasha be ready for the bulging biceps and fighting pecs. I am taking up the challenge!