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The rising pressure for the perfect male physique

The ubiquity of the gym has transformed expectations of the perfect body type, meaning an increasing number of men are turning towards artificial augmentation.

Wednesday August 02, 2017,

5 min Read

If an alien were to land on Earth right now, it could be forgiven for thinking that something radical has happened in human evolution over the last fifty years. Looking at male bodies in, say, Cool Hand Luke (1957), compared to modern muscle men such as Channing Tatum in Magic Mike, our alien friend might think something dramatic has changed in the makeup of our species – and, in a way, it has.

A greater understanding of nutrition, an increased focus on the importance of exercise for longevity, better education on how our bodies work…sure. This knowledge has helped to shape the change in our ideal body image. But does that really explain why Paul Newman, a man in exceptional physical shape for his time, looks like he had a distinct case of ‘dad bod’ when compared to his modern counterparts?

The advent and ubiquity of the gym has transformed both male and female expectations when it comes to the perfect body type. Now, ideal male bodies are pumped up and sculpted in a way which would be impossible to create through natural, everyday life. While Paul Newman may, in theory at least, have honed his biceps digging trenches roadside as part of an old-timey chain gang, there’s no question that the likes of Daniel Craig and Arnold Schwarzenegger could only ever have achieved their bulging biceps and cheese-grater six packs through an all-consuming passion for the gym…among other things.

Is it any surprise that when faced with an ideal, nay, expected body type which is impossible to achieve unless your job literally involves going to the gym, that an increasing number of men are turning to artificial augmentation? Pre-workouts can include everything from ephedrine, a stimulant used to prevent low blood pressure during spinal surgery, to creatine, which can cause a host of side-effects, including kidney damage. Steroid use has increased 600% in the last ten years. Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder, or ‘Bigorexia’, is now a recognised condition – and as many as 1 in 10 gym-goers are believed to suffer from it. Extreme diets and extreme workouts abound. And, surprise surprise, none of this is healthy – for self-esteem, or for our bodies.

So what are men to do? Fitness can easily become a disruptive obsession, with regular, intense workouts required to build muscle and strip fat – not just for a few months, but for the rest of your life. And while building muscle can be reasonably easy, especially if you’ve just started a new workout regime, burning fat takes a huge amount of effort. In fact, to burn one pound of fat – one single pound – you must burn a whopping 7,000 calories. And who’s going to see that six pack you’ve been working on if it’s lost under a layer of flab?

With liposuction generally lacking appeal for most men, who are unwilling to commit to the downtime such an invasive procedure entails, more and more men are turning to non-invasive procedures like CoolSculpting to enhance their workout regimes. An in-and-out-in-your-lunch-hour treatment which doesn’t leave scars or require downtime, it’s a favourite of men who want to shift stubborn fat and define their muscles, without spending hours doing cardio (which could be better spent on weights). Because CoolSculpting works by freezing fat cells, which are then painlessly eliminated by the body over the following weeks, it doesn’t give the tell-tale “dramatic transformation” of lipo – rather, your new physique emerges gradually, with best results being seen at around 6 weeks. Once eliminated, the fat cells don’t come back – and you can focus on getting bigger, not on an uphill slog to shrink your wobbly parts.

Obviously, this kind of procedure isn’t for everyone – some men still scoff at the idea of worrying about a beer gut, and wouldn’t go to a salon for a haircut, let alone a clinic for a treatment. But many men are beginning to wake up to the fact that, like it or not, their bodies are now being scrutinized in the same way which women’s have been for years, and that if they want to stay at the top of their game, they need to keep up.

Aesthetic treatments for men are booming, and far more are undergoing procedures than are talking about it – so next time you’re wondering how Fred’s beer gut so easily reduced to a lean six pack, you may now know the secret to his unprecedented weight loss success. And whether you like the idea of aesthetic treatments or not, it is at least comforting to know that safe, effective alternatives to dangerous supplements or illegal steroids do exist. And in a busy, competitive world where men face enough pressures without adding a grueling gym routine to their list of time demands, the popularity of these procedures is only going to increase. 

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