The Unnatural ‘Natural’
by Matt Hodges
17 December 2012
For those of you that follow our articles you’ll have probably already noticed that I like a bit of a rant from time to time. There is one major issue that I’ve been toying with for a long time now and it’s well overdue. It’ll no doubt rattle some BIG feathers in the industry but it’s about time someone addresses this issue. First and foremost I want to lay the cards on the table. This article is in NO way directed at any specific individual, company or publication. It is purely an article of observation, experience and opinion.
Before I go on, I want new readers to know a little about me before they suddenly judge me as a ‘hater’ or someone who doesn’t have any training drive or ambition. I’m currently 95kg at 10% BF; I have worked alongside one time Mr Universe, World Fitness Model champion, a handful of ‘elite’ athletes and film stars who have ‘physiques’. I’ve gone to almost every ‘hardcore’ gym in the south east of the UK and I too have been a ‘fitness model’. I’ve worked alongside some of the faces that have graced the covers of Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness and I’ve also trained one of them so let’s just say Ive been around the block and I know what goes on. It’s time to tell people the real deal. The matter in question we’ll now refer to as the ‘Unnatural Natural’.
So what is The Unnatural Natural and why do you need to know about it? In a nutshell The Unnatural Natural is a person (trainer/model/athlete/bodybuilder) who is using enhancing drugs or having cosmetic surgery and still claiming to the world that they are ‘natural’ and in some cases (often most) have clients to whom they preach healthy living. It is the latter that mainly gets my gripe and my intention with this article is to show to people the level of nonsense we are being fed when really we should be educating ourselves better and doing things the healthier way.
Now for the record if you want to use steroids or have cosmetic surgery that is completely your choice and choice is one of the luxuries we have in modern day. To clarify, I am not against anyone using performance enhancers or having cosmetic surgery as long as it’s done for purposes which benefit you more than just feeding your insecurity or to intimidate others on a Friday night down the pub.
I’m sure you have all witnessed at some point the ever increasing ‘bathroom paparazzi’ riddling Facebook with their evil ways.
Both men and women seem to have a picture in their heads as to what the other sex likes. In most cases this is completely distorted. Do most men prefer women who look like a character from Willie Wonka who go around pouting like a duck? Equally, do most women like men who are so involved with their own looks they pay more attention to themselves than anyone else? I think the general consensus is that they don’t. It’s this sort of image conscious generation and in particular its roots that I want to address. Do we blame the individual or do we blame the cause? Do we really know what healthy is anymore or are we just allowing our conscience to be indoctrinated by fashions? I’ve picked out three of the main culprits who can easily change peoples perceptions and clean up this amazing industry we are in.
As much as we need you, we also need you to change. I think the one big factor that has led us to the point we are at now is the misconception of the attainable physique. I remember back in the day, editors used to love the fact that the UK fitness industry hadn’t been ‘Americanised’. However, we’ve slowly allowed ourselves in every aspect of life to be ‘Americanised’. I don’t mean that as a stab at Americans but more to the aggressive commercialisation of brands/marketing/entertainment etc. We are now dictated to as to what looks good, what feels good and the companies have followed suit. We are seeing more mis-education in the media with regard to exercising effectively and more misguided illusions as to our own goals and looks. It’s no wonder everyone wants the quick fix approach rather than putting the time in.
The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported that since 1997:
Men have had over 750,000 cosmetic procedures, 8% of the total. The number of cosmetic procedures for men increased over 88% from 1997. The top five surgical procedures for men were: liposuction, rhinoplasty, eyelid surgery, breast reduction to treat enlarged male breast, and cosmetic ear surgery.
This year posed one of the greatest achievements by the UK – The Olympics which turned many athletes into heroes. On the flip side we have also seen the downfall of one of the greatest athletes of our century – Lance Armstrong. I found the media furore around Lance an absolute farce. Yes the guy cheated and he should be punished for it but why are we making SUCH an example of someone whose counterparts integrities have always been in doubt? We applaud our athletes, we cheer when a boxer wins, we idolise the fastest man on earth and yet the media don’t want to tell you the truth behind it all because it doesn’t make good news. When the athlete is washed up, we simply throw it away. How many more famous athletes will become the next Lance Armstrong?
The media has done as much to build up the notion of health as they have in destroying it. The following article released on 17/12/2012 is a perfect example of the way in which the media has attacked our perception of image and health by targeting in on these Olympians and their dress sense of all things. Have we not got anything better to focus the public’s attention to? Let’s brush these incredible athletes and their achievements to one side and brandish them for the pair of shoes they are wearing. I think you’ll all agree this is a terrible article that only fuels the public’s already tainted perception of personal image:
We are all told that a ‘normal’ female is considered curvy, and to be big is ok and yet when you turn the pages all we see is women getting scrutinised for a glimmer of cellulite. It’s an atrocious article and I think you’ll all agree that there is a huge amount of hypocrisy in the press. However, the media should by no means take all the blame on its shoulders. The whole industry has a part to play in cleaning up its act.
I’ll be careful what I say here because I used to be a fitness model. However in my defence it was different in the ‘old days’. Magazine covers were from guys who were naturally attainable. More slender, swimmer builds were the in thing. Now the look is different. Bulkier muscles, lower body fat, more focus on certain types of muscles. This is ABSOLUTELY FINE if it wasn’t for the fact that some of the modern day cover models are as unnatural as they come. Can I prove it? No, but what I can say is that I move in the same circles, train at the same places and have been around the right people for a lot longer than they have. I’ve seen them come and go like it was an Amsterdam brothel. These same people are the ones on the social media circuit spouting hypocritical nonsense to clients about eating and training healthily – “Don’t eat that chicken it’s full of steroids, it’s unhealthy”. So… let’s get this theory right, if I were to eat you would I be healthy?……….. do as I say not as I do.
A few years back a buddy of mine in the States, Max Wettstein, came out lambasting a lot of the industry physique role models and the media, in particular a photographer who is renowned for his abdominal retouching abilities. Now for those that don’t know Max, he is one of the most well known faces in U.S fitness gracing the covers of Men’s Health, Maximum Fitness and Men’s Fitness just to name a few. In the same way as us he was trying to make people aware of the reality to some of these ‘role models’. The physiques that were gracing the pages in the media promoting healthy living were a notion that didn’t sit well with Max.
The reason they get away with it? Because of the smokescreen put up by all involved. No one wants to mention the ‘S’ word and it’s been like that for generations. Even in professional bodybuilding the ‘S’ word is still kept under the shelf. In my opinion do as Lee Priest did, if you don’t think you are doing anything wrong then be honest about it, and more importantly be realistic about it to help others. Knowledge is power after all and the more we know about grey areas the more can be done to make it safer.
Another issue are these ‘role models’ that represent high profile fitness companies. I won’t mention names here but their physiques are being used to promote the method of dieting/training that the company believes in but it’s all just a grand illusion. What are we trying to tell people here, that these physiques and this level of performance is naturally attainable? What happens when someone busts a gut training for years, eating perfectly and still can’t get that ‘look’ or get that extra edge of performance? Either the company gets discredited (doubtful) or the individual aspiring to these bodies becomes deflated and self conscious with a negative knock on effect (probable).
To give you an example when I was back at Loughborough University I had a conversation with a pro athlete that went something along the lines of:
“I was the best at junior school, I went to secondary school and beat everyone year in, year out. I then competed at county level and no one even came close. The next step was nationals and again I was the top dog. I was the king, no one could beat me…… until I went on the world stage and I wasn’t even in the top 5. The natural progression was to turn to the darkside”
By no means am I saying all athletes are like this, they are not, it is merely an observation on someone’s psychology within an industry so competitive that failure is never an option especially now that there is more money in sports like athletics, cycling, swimming etc. A few months back an interesting article was released with regard to Usain Bolt. Whether you believe it or not it makes for an interesting read:
The problem with our industry is that there is never a right answer to anything and therefore everyone has an opinion and thinks they are always right. It seems like the only way to get business these days is by looking like a cover model. It’s a trend that’s getting bigger by the day. My belief is that all trainers should train themselves but there is a point where appearance dilutes credentials. How many of these ‘physiques’ are actually qualified personal trainers? And how many of them can actually take a client through the processes that have nothing to do with aesthetics, like injury rehabilitation or complex imbalance correction?
I now refer back to the effect social media has had. The Twitter and Facebook forums are full of trolls spouting out the same crap that every time they see someone with a moderate amount of muscle on them its an instant – ‘That guy is clearly on steroids’. The fitness industry then springs back in defence with – ‘Try lifting some weights and then talk’ or ‘No matter if he is on steroids he still needs to put in the nutrition and the gym time to look like that’. The latter is most definitely true but there is an inherent problem with that one statement right there……….. The core of it is that no matter how hard they have worked, no matter how strict their nutrition is:
THEY STILL WOULDN’T LOOK LIKE THAT IF THEY WERE NATURAL!
It’s a fact and not one of you can deny it. We all need to stop using the work and nutrition ethic as an excuse when we all know what’s really going on.
With the likes of reality shows and media portraying perfect bodies, its no surprise we are seeing an increase in teenage steroid use and it’s only going to get worse! The ‘attainable’ physique we often see brandished across the covers of well known publications will always have a story behind them – Are they really attainable for the average person? Well yes, in a lot of cases they are because not everyone is using performance enhancers, you CAN get an incredible physique the natural way and I do NOT want to brandish these guys and girls in the same way as some of these people who are at the forefront of our industry.
It’s going to take more of us to make a stand to see a change for the good but it won’t be remedied without using the cause. The materialistic attitude of our generation has been fuelled by the media and it’s both their responsibility and ours as professionals to clear it up. The obsession with how we look has got to an extreme and the industry has become a cloudy field of deliberate mis-information where people actually have no idea what health is anymore. We are unfortunately in a state of ‘FAKE’ that we need to do away with. The fake looks, the fake performance, the fake persona, the fake image, all needs to end. Is fake the new natural? I certainly hope not.
The remedy – Lets all stop focusing on how big our arms are or how great are abs look in the mirror. It is good to be inspired by people and it is ok to train for aesthetics but at least know the truth, because if your end goal is beyond natural reach then it becomes psychologically and physiologically unhealthy which is a dangerous road. Once everyone gets their heads around it the industry will be a better place and the public will have a better vision of what healthy is.
I hope we have given you some food for thought. In no way are we ever trying to specifically point the finger at someone in particular but if you find this article a little too close to home then maybe its time for a re-shuffle of values.
I’ll leave you with a lovely bit of clarity from Jim Wendler:
Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Research, Statistics and trends for 2001- 2010, Plastic Surgery Research.info, www.cosmeticplasticsurgerystatistics.com/statistics.html
‘Is Usain Bolt on Steroids?’, Muscle Week, August 9th 2012, http://www.muscleweek.com/is-usain-bolt-on-steroids
‘Out of Lycra… and out of their comfort zone: Liz Jones gives her verdict on sports stars’ outfits’, Liz Jones, Daily Mail UK, 17/12/2012