Why is it a problem to measure up against others, you may ask. To a degree, nothing. We are social beings and we look at each other and that makes sense to some extent. But if I always must see if what I am and what I did or have stacks up against someone else, I will forever be trying to catch up because fashion changes, society always moves and there will always be someone who is better at some particular thing. He might be very bad at something else or have had different help in his life, but these are things that are not easily seen – particularly for the one who is always a bit behind, trying forever to catch up. It is impossible to ever win a game like that and as a result such a person would spend most of his time either working and fighting to catch up to an ever moving finish line or sit in the realization that he did not catch up and, as such, is a failure.
What a depressing outlook. This is what some would call “being set up for failure”.
It is a devilish game and many, many people are as helplessly caught in that rat-race as a fly in the spider’s web.
So, how does this relate to weightlifting? If we don’t lift to show off, then why lift? Well, to stay healthy, to develop our selves for the sake of development, not because of some particular end goal. Then we lift to establish a regime of self-discipline and progress for the sake of spiritual development as well as physical. Just like we can choose to be educated in order to pass an exam that some people have convinced us is required or we can do it to acquire knowledge and enlightenment. Not because we must, but as an end in itself.
My problem with steroid use
Health issues to a side there is a number of problem with getting results chemically.
Since I don’t believe there is a particular end goal to lifting, the use of steroids becomes meaningless because it adds risk, takes away from the journey of getting to know your body and since the end goal carries little weight (pun intended), steroids has little to offer. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I end up being able to deadlift. I will never need the ability to lift 500 pounds more than the ability to lift 400 pounds in any walk of life. What matters is my subjective progress and that is also how we should compare training programs. Not in how many pounds more we can grow in lifting power – it is subjective according to body type anyway – but in terms of relative gains possible for me with my limits in life, diet, stress and body type.
Not doing so and instead training for the recognition of others, because we want to measure up to a standard set by others, not ourselves and the body we happen to be born with, becomes just another flavor of playing catchup with a finish line that forever moves away.
And not just that: If I am a success and accomplished only when others see my body reflecting an ideal set by photoshopped magazines and a “bigger is better attitude” then it follows that I am not a success and accomplished until I reach that goal. Further, since the standard is unattainable without drugs and, with the advent of edited photos, even unattainable for most WITH drugs it becomes a sure recipe for a sensation of failure, inadequateness and a constant state of measuring up against others, instead of measuring up against yourself, your situation and potentials.
Even worse – I would not be able to manufacture, design or understand these drugs myself. This means, that I can only become a success in this game by using resources that I do not control or command. For someone who buys into this game it is their destiny to never be good enough as they are as humans, as they are biologically. Instead they need an ill-understood chemical agent from society in order to be acceptable in the eyes of society (their society at least). I believe most readers would see a problem with that. As a firm believer in the beauty of the independent and unaltered human, this is a horrible trap in my eyes. In contrast, learning the art of weightlifting, reading the old time masters from before drugs were available are tools and resources that become mine and which I control. Slowly understanding what causes adaption, what different methods and tools yield and what is possible with persistence and knowledge is a process of personal empowerment.
Training to be measured against an outside standard also hints, that the person trapped in this game is forever looking out to others, always gauging himself according to other’s standard, never looking in, standing still. Who is such a person if nothing but a reflection in a mirror set up by others? Who can be original and special, if the agenda such a person follows is a mirror in the distance, set up by others? How do you think freely, if it is ever a concern what others think or if it measures up according to whatever image the mirror holds? I believe that is a very unhealthy attitude, perhaps more unhealthy than possible physical risks connected with steroid use.
Implications for other walks of life
The reasoning above is well suited as a comment on commercials (and to some extent general television as well). Many, many commercials paint a picture of a picture-perfect life in connection with their particular product. Who determines what this picture perfect life is? How attainable is it really? How much money or how much free time and surplus does it take to laugh carelessly in the grass with the photoshopped dog and the 2.3 children? In these images, where stress never occurs and problems are forgot immediately when distracted by the product, we see another standard set somewhere in the myriad interactions of the social world. These images are broadcast, pressed into the little homes all over the country, setting a standard and defining what we should live up to. Day in and day out this silent discourse becomes yet another mirror in the distance, a promise that we can almost reach, if only we work harder, buy more or use more steroids/expensive shampoo/the right lotion and so on. Unfortunately, the image is a mirage and the mirror is always just out of reach.
The same phenomena flourishes on social media. Everyone can show an image of themselves that is the best possible. And they do. Only the good pictures. Only the entertaining remarks. Each person can have a persona in line with the tv-world and the competition can begin – who can be the best mirror? But how does this affect you? A recent study hints that people become depressed on social media like this. Because I know that the pictures and witty remarks I post are not completely true. It is not the full me. But it seems that is the case with all the others. So am I the only one, who is not like the mirror all the time? As a directly measurable phenomena it turned out, that users of social media had a higher tendency for depression than non-users. No wonder. With tv it is at least clear that the visions of perfection are promoted because of economic incentive. But the reason for pushing perfection is not immediately clear on social media and so the nervous system reacts and depression can occur. With no product to sell it is not even always clear what perfection is. So how can I measure myself? The mirror-looker becomes lost in yet another sense.
In a way social media has changed the game. Before, tv and magazines could paint images and hold up mirrors, just out of reach. Now, these mirrors live a life of their own between the interactions on social media and some even emerge there.