ByRicky Derisz, writer at
Staff Writer at MP. "Holy cow, Rick! I didn't know hanging out with you was making me smarter!" Twitter: @RDerisz.
Ricky Derisz

Arnold Schwarzenegger. Just the name alone is enough to raise the testosterone level in all living organisms, to turn every food group into protein, to make lions whimper and to make wood chop itself. In a nutshell, Schwarzenegger is the living, breathing definition of physical prowess and masculinity, an icon, a pinup, and everything in between.

The problem is, though, masculinity and physical prowess comes at a cost. The former is a toxic, fragile paradigm, the latter the misconception that outer strength is a reflection of inner resilience. For Schwarzenegger, that cost is low self-esteem, a struggle that the '80s action star discussed in an interview with Cigar Aficionado.

Despite winning Mr. Universe at the tender age of 20 years old, and going on to be crowned Mr. Olympia seven times, the 69-year-old explained how he has never been satisfied with his finely honed physique. He said:

"When I look in the mirror, I throw up. And I was already so critical of myself, even when I was in top physical shape. I’d look in the mirror after I won one Mr. Olympia after another and think, ‘How did this pile of sh*t win?’

I never saw perfection. There was always something lacking. I could always find a million things wrong with myself and that’s what got me back into the gym — because I started out with that mentality."

Body Image And The Media

Schwarzenegger in 'Terminator' [Credit: Orion Pictures]
Schwarzenegger in 'Terminator' [Credit: Orion Pictures]

Even before made the transition to Hollywood, he was revered in the bodybuilding community, and is still looked up to as a weight-lifting hero. That reputation was enhanced by his appearances in films such as The Terminator (1984), Commando (1985) and Predator (1987), cementing Arnie as the chiselled face of high-octane, no-nonsense ass-kicking.

To hear the man himself is physically sick when faced with his own reflection is shocking, but it a reflection of the wider issue of body image. The "perfect" model of both male and female physical form, and the way it is drip-fed by the media, is a great cause for distress. In extreme cases, that can lead to eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

BDD is a form of anxiety that causes the sufferer to have a distorted view of their physique, but isn't exclusively linked with an eating disorder. A form of BDD, known as muscle dysmorphia, causes suffers too feel too small, a condition that is believed to affect 10 per cent of gym-attending males.

The difficulty within the bodybuilding community comes from the nature of the profession (or hobby); when the quest is to gain muscle mass and lose fat, when do the lines between trying to improve in a healthy way and obsessing over perceived imperfections blur?

Hollywood's Leaning Men

Sylvester Stallone in 'Rambo' [Credit: Orion Pictures]
Sylvester Stallone in 'Rambo' [Credit: Orion Pictures]

Schwarzenegger — along with fellow action star Sylvester Stallone — was more of an exception, rather than the rule, during his run at the forefront of action movies. However, over recent years, Hollywood's idea of the leading man has added pressure to the idea that lean, muscular framework is the way to go.

A number of iconic roles in the film industry help depict this changing image: Compare Christopher Reeves and Henry Cavill as Superman; Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton as Batman; Daniel Craig and Sean Connery as James Bond; David Hasselhoff and Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch; or even Huge Jackman and, well, an insanely ripped Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. The message is clear — for Hollywood, bigger is better.

Hugh Jackman's physique has changed over the years [Credit: 20th Century Fox]
Hugh Jackman's physique has changed over the years [Credit: 20th Century Fox]

This hyper-pumped-up look is also linked with the concept of physicality and masculinity. But macho behavior has been linked with low self-esteem, so much so that a recent study revealed the higher a man identifies with masculine traits, the bigger the negative impact on his mental health. Not to mention its contribution toward male suicide.

Considering the statistics, Schwarzenegger has taken an important step by speaking out about his lack of confidence. Forget the bulging biceps and stardom, a masculine icon breaking masculine norms is something truly worthy of praise

(Source: Cigar Aficionado)


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