|The Demonization of Anabolic Steroids - PART 2
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The Demonization of Anabolic Steroids - PART 2
"It is not from the strongest that harm comes
to the strong, but from the weakest."
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900)
The class of illicit drugs known
as anabolic steroids, or more accurately referred to as anabolic-androgenic
steroids (AAS), is subject to a general "catch-all" definition.
Although the laws of prohibition specifically name certain steroids, this
general definition specifically excludes certain steroids from the scope
of those laws. The single characteristic of a steroid which allows it to be
classified as an illicit drug is not a chemical one, but rather, a reference to
its physical effect: that it promotes muscle growth. It would seem, then, that muscle
growth is a bad thing! Can it be said that modern American society treats
strength and muscle as a social evil?
Are Strength and Muscle
Considered Dysfunctional in Modern Society?
Historically, strength and muscle
have been the stuff from which legend was made. From the biblical stories of
Samson1 to the legendary Charles Atlas,2 strength and
muscle had always been a source of respect and admiration. But as we stand at
the brink of a new millennium, it appears that an overzealous pursuit of social
inclusiveness and a reliance on technology have denigrated strength and muscle
to little more than a primitive dysfunction.
Those of us who grew to maturity
in the 1970s remember the phenomenon known as "Women's Liberation," as
well as the crown jewel of that early feminist movement, the Equal Rights
Amendment.3 Although the goals of modern equity feminism have not
been reached, we have grown accustomed to seeing women in positions as
executives and skilled professionals, and in jobs traditionally reserved for
men: construction workers, police officers, and firefighters. Nevertheless,
society's regard for strong and muscular women has changed very little since
Mesomorphosis author Krista
Scott-Dixon, a doctoral candidate in women's studies, has written:
for example, does not include muscles, strength, bulk, or physical power. ***
The actual physical presence of muscular women is a challenge to rigidly
gendered ideologies. In a society that prefers to function with an orderly
demarcation of "normal" gender, female bodybuilders are constituted
George Whyte, a competitive
bodybuilder from London, offered this view of bodybuilding in general, and
women's bodybuilding in particular:
[I]t's always been seen as a
freak show, and it will never be accepted. I personally don't give a shit if
the public accept bodybuilding. We can sustain ourselves. The fact that the
bodybuilding public don't have much interest in going to female bodybuilding
shows that female bodybuilding is in a bad state. You can't force people to
In one university study, male and
female students where shown photographs of male and female bodybuilders, as well
as photographs of non-bodybuilders of each sex, and they were asked to attribute
personality traits and sex-role behaviors to the persons shown in the
photographs; both males and females attributed more masculine and less feminine
tendencies to the female bodybuilders, despite the fact that they did not
perceive any difference in such tendencies between bodybuilding and
non-bodybuilding males.6 Perceptions such as these send the message
that muscle makes a woman less of a woman.
It seems clear that, not only in
the United States, but throughout all modern culture, strength and muscle in
women is odd at best, and at worst, an outright abomination. Despite the
advances which women have made in social equity, muscular strength is still not
considered to be a proper goal for the "gentler sex." But are these
traits universally accepted amongst men?
As a male over the age of 40
years, this author has experienced mainstream society's curious perception of
aging men who pursue strength training on more than a casual level: "Why
not golf? Or racquetball? Or maybe enter some 10K races? Why would an older guy
want to lift great big weights?"
It is true, of course, that a
decrease in strength and muscle should be expected amongst older adults. As we
age, the cross-sectional size and the number of muscle fibers in skeletal
muscles decrease, and the relative strength of those muscles also decreases.7
However, heavy resistance training can minimize and even reverse that
effect.8 In fact, substantial gains in muscle size (hypertrophy) have
been observed as a result of heavy resistance training, not only in middle-aged
adults, but also in the elderly.9 Nevertheless, the fact that
muscular hypertrophy can be achieved by older men does not change social
Oddly enough, the most negative
response to strength and muscle in older men appears to come from their peer age
group. While younger adults, both male and female, may appreciate the
muscularity of an aging male, those in his own age group will likely view that
trait less favorably. A study involving 500 subjects, ranging in age from six to
60, showed that nearly all subjects attributed more favorable traits to
mesomorphs (muscular types) than to ectomorphs (slender types) or endomorphs
(obese types), but that mesomorphs were rated more negatively as the age of the
group members increased.10
The culture of strength and muscle
are best characterized by two types of competition: powerlifting and
bodybuilding. While powerlifting is the ultimate expression of pure strength in
athletic competition, bodybuilding expresses the aesthetics of muscular
hypertrophy in physical appearance. Yet neither of these competitive events
enjoy any substantial public support.
In its "Guidelines for
Organising a World Championship" the International Powerlifting Federation
suggests that "[t]he venue should provide seating for a minimum of 500
spectators."11 Five hundred spectators at a world
championship? Bodybuilding fares better in attendance, but not by much. In
1998, Joe Weider's Mr. Olympia, the most prestigious contest in bodybuilding,
was held at New York's Madison Square Garden with a sold-out crowd of less than
6,000.12 Compare this to basketball, for instance, where the venue in
smaller cities, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers' 20,000-seat Gund Arena, can
boast annual attendance of more than 800,000 during a single season.13
Despite the enthusiastic support of die-hard fans, strength and muscle
competitions are of minimal interest to the mainstream American public.
The attitude of many newcomers to
strength training are revealed in Usenet's most prolific weight training
"What I want to do is get
stronger and have more tone without getting big. I really have a fear of
"I don't wanna get all huge
and buff. Just solid and well toned."15
"I'm not interested in
getting big (just toned well.)"16
While these comments aptly
demonstrate the ubiquitous use of the misnomer "tone" and the naïveté
of the writers as to what is really involved in achieving the desired results,
they also exhibit an attitude toward strength and muscle that has become quite
prevalent: one should avoid getting too big or too strong. Does
this attitude have an underlying source?
The answer is an emphatic
"Yes!" As if strength and muscle were not already subject to
sufficient social criticism, some in the medical community have recently decided
to designate them as deviant. Coining the word "bigorexia" from a more
familiar term, anorexia nervosa, health commentators have begun a
campaign to designate muscular hypertrophy as a new version of body dysmorphic
disorder, an obsessive-compulsive psychological illness. Describing the symptoms
of this alleged disorder, one commentator stated that "men with the
disorder think they are too small, and they exercise excessively or take
steroids to bulk up."17 Does an active effort to become stronger
and more muscular make one mentally ill?
Commenting upon the recent
recognition of this medical phenomenon, Mesomorphosis author J. Kevin Thompson,
a professor of clinical psychology, cautions:
Certainly, the decision to
engage in bodybuilding to improve ones appearance or to meet a personal goal
of physical development should not be judged, either positively or negatively,
by the professional or lay person. It is a personal and private matter.
Indeed, there is no doubt that physical activity in its many and diverse forms
may greatly contribute to enhanced self-esteem.18
Thompson further observes that
"work in this area is just emerging and much of the research has the
'pathologizing' flavor of so much of mental health research (i.e., researchers
focus on the psychological problems vs. the positive health associations)."19
Nevertheless, it appears that the popular news media has already seized upon
this diagnosis and, fueled by its preexisting prejudice towards strength and
muscle, is well on its way to labeling bodybuilders as psychologically deviant.
The most jaundiced view of
strength and muscle may come from the perception of its relationship to criminal
behavior. Quite simply, people tend to fear those who are strong and
muscular. Because some violent criminals are, indeed, strong and muscular, this
fear is not completely unfounded; however, it has become so deeply ingrained in
our social consciousness that many people distrust anyone who has these
characteristics, regardless of other facts and circumstances.
In 1949, William H. Sheldon, the
father of "somatotyping," examined the relationship of body types to
juvenile delinquency, and in his rating of 200 delinquent boys, he found a
strong association between mesomorphy (muscularity) and "assertiveness and
uninhibited action" amongst the boys.20 Later studies of adult
males in state penitentiaries, particularly the most violent criminals, also
found a high incidence of mesomorphic body types.21 These findings
merely confirm a fallacy in public perception known as "affirming the
consequent": bad guys are big and strong, so big, strong guys must be bad.
In recent years, the fear of
strong, muscular criminals has manifested itself in the legislative action to
remove weight-training facilities from correctional institutions. Over the
objections of corrections officials, including guards who deal directly with
weightlifting prisoners, state and federal legislators have responded to public
demand for prohibition of weight-training equipment in jails and prisons. In the
State of Ohio, all weight-training equipment has been banned in local jails and
regional correctional facilities, and free weights have been prohibited in state
penal facilities, allowing only the use of selectorized strength-training
equipment for limited periods.22 In federal correctional
institutions, this trend has moved more slowly; however, the No Frills Prison
Act seeks to ban "training equipment for any martial art or bodybuilding or
weightlifting equipment" from all federal correctional facilities, and that
bill has been referred to the Subcommittee on Crime of the House Judiciary
Some concerned citizens argue that
weight training will allow prisoners to overpower and intimidate guards, and
that it serves to release stronger criminals back into society; they also argue
that weight training equipment can be used as weapons against guards and as
tools for escape.24 Although these concerns are not unfounded, the
public appears to harbor serious misconceptions about the true results to prison
weightlifting programs, and many of the suggested alternatives are not as
effective as critics might believe.
Suggestions have been made that
weightlifting equipment provides deadly weapons to inmates, and that adequate
exercise can be provided through other recreational activities that do not
involve such inherently dangerous instrumentalities.25 Although
weightlifting equipment has been used as weapons in correctional
settings, this answer is not as simple as it seems. On August 14, 1986, an
inmate at the Wayne County Jail in Wooster, Ohio, staged an escape with four
other inmates where a jail guard received near-fatal injuries after being beaten
with a dumbbell and a "tension bar" exercise device.26
Ironically enough, on April 23, 1993, immediately before the end of the
nationally-televised siege at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville,
Ohio, that same inmate was beaten to death with a baseball bat which had been
removed from the prison recreational supplies.27 The simple truth is
that if prisoners wish to fashion deadly weapons, they will find
something that works. So much for the safety of other recreational equipment.
Contrary to popular belief, many
corrections officials, including guards, strongly support weightlifting in
prisons. It can be used as a privilege which may be withdrawn as a punishment
for negative behavior, and it can teach discipline and improve self esteem;
furthermore, it occupies inmates' leisure time, which might be devoted to more
nefarious activities.28 Nevertheless, state and federal legislators
are more interested in the public's fear of bigger, stronger criminals, and
legislative action continues.
Society's negative attitude toward
strength and muscle appears to be the combined effect of many factors, including
the publics distaste for women with muscle; its curious regard for muscular
older men; its shunning of the strength culture; and its ever-increasing view of
muscle as deviant and criminal. Given these social pressures, why would anyone
want to be strong and muscular, and more to the point, why would they want to
risk the use of anabolic steroids in reaching that goal? Perhaps the answer lies
in the unspoken expression of society's more primitive desires and needs.
Does Modern Society Send
Conflicting Messages on Strength and Muscle?
Despite open disdain for the
culture of muscle, there exists an underlying appreciation and demand for the
same. Popular sports require substantial degrees of strength at all levels:
professional, collegiate, and adolescent. Furthermore, physical appearance is
important. The sexual attraction inherent in the human mating process favors
strength and muscle, not only with respect to men, but also to a lesser extent,
as to women. Contrary to the conventional belief that these primitive traits are
irrelevant in a modern civilized society, our attraction to strength and muscle
is inherent in our nature, and it still serves as a very powerful motivator in
our social transactions.
America's appreciation for sports
has not waned as we move into the new millennium. Professional sports heroes are
still receiving contracts and salaries in sums which are far beyond the wildest
dreams of the average person, and professional sports franchises have become the
most prized possessions of our wealthiest citizens. Of course, the public's
demand for excellence in sporting competition is not without a price; those who
participate in these sports are expected to win, and obtaining the
"winning edge" often involves the use of AAS.
Steve Courson, a former offensive
lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is now suing
the NFL players' benefit fund for disability benefits due to his enlarged heart,
which he claims was the result of AAS use, a professional necessity during his
NFL career.29 Courson has said that he recalls thinking, "If I
don't take them, I'm risking my job security."30 Strength is
essential to a professional offensive lineman, and the exercise of that superior
strength is demanded by the fans.
Olympic athletes face the same
pressures. National attention is directed at their achievements, and they are
expected to win, not only on their behalf and that of their team, but on behalf
of their nation. Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold
medal after the 1988 Olympic Games when he tested positive for the use of
anabolic steroids.31 However, as observed by Meso-Rx author Brent
Allen, it is interesting to note the comment of his competitor, Carl Lewis,
before the Senate hearings on the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990:
The steroids made that much of
an impact over a 7-year period in his [Ben Johnson's] career. We are talking
about someone who went from possibly 50th or 60th in the world to No. 1 in the
world, setting world records.32
It seems clear that Johnson's
success was the result of AAS use. But was that AAS use fueled only by a
personal desire to succeed, or was it the product of national expectations?
Would athletes such as Courson and Johnson, with the advantage of hindsight,
choose to sacrifice Super Bowl rings and Olympic gold medals in exchange for
athletic mediocrity? It's doubtful, very doubtful.
Expectations of athletic
excellence are not limited to professional and Olympic athletes. Statistics
accumulated by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service have shown that,
in 1993, 1.2% of high school seniors had used AAS within the last twelve months.33
The United States Justice Department found that figure to have increased to 1.7%
by 1998.34 By 1984, 20% of college athletes were using steroids.35
While these figures may alarm some, they are indicative of the expectations
placed on high school and college athletes; the use of AAS may be a small
sacrifice when sports scholarships and professional draft choices are at stake.
While mainstream American society
may exhibit disdain for the culture of muscle, we are as obsessed as ever with
physical appearance. The presence of substantial muscle is an essential element
of physical appearance for men, and to a large extent, for women, too. But most
of us know that the exercise devices touted on late-night infomercials do not
provide the muscular look which we desire and which most of society secretly
craves. AAS do.
Muscularity at its most extreme is
exemplified by bodybuilding competitions. Some competitions, such as the AAU Mr.
USA, demand that competitors be drug free for extended periods of time; however,
the most elite professional competitions, such as the IFBB Mr. Olympia, do not
test for AAS use, nor do they require that competitors be free of the same.36
While "all natural" bodybuilding is growing in popularity, it seems
that the "best of the best" still use AAS.
Mainstream ideals of physical
attractiveness also stress mesomorphic builds. In one study involving men's and
women's ideals of attractive male somatotypes, women emphasized
lean/broad-shouldered and average/balanced male types, while men showed more
appreciation for the muscular bulk male type; however, both groups perceived
that the media promoted stereotypic male muscularity.37 Although this
study indicates gender differences in self-reported personal preferences, the
more revealing truth may be found in the unified belief regarding media-promoted
Market success depends on
well-targeted advertising, and the advertising which is best directed at the
buyer's ego is that which will sell the product, often without regard to the
products quality. With regard to muscularity and men's egos, this seems to be of
great importance in underwear advertisements. One need look no further than the
advertisements for Jockey underwear to see that muscularity is important.38
Although the models for underwear advertisements do not usually exhibit the type
of muscle associated with competitive bodybuilders, they do show a level of
mesomorphy well beyond that of the normal man.
While many women claim to favor
men of average builds, an examination of what they find to be sexually
titillating belies that notion. A good indicator of those secret cravings is the
appearance of male exotic dancers, i.e., strippers. Promotional
photographs of male dancer Jeff DeCosta,39 former-Chippendale Robert
Lopez,40 and Exoticomm male dancers "GQ" and
"Maverick"41 tell the tale. While male dancers such as
these would not qualify for the Mr. Olympia competition, they are far more
muscular than the average male which many women claim to prefer. For women to
deny their sexual attraction to these muscular male dancers is like men denying
that they prefer buxom female strippers: the truth is told by what really sells.
And let's all face facts: the average man sees what type of physique
turns the heads of wives and girlfriends when they are together in public.
It is unquestionable that the
physiques of many male models and exotic dancers, like the performance of many
elite athletes, are enhanced by the use of AAS. It is also clear that a strong
athletic performance and muscular appearance is expected, if not mandated, of
those who engage in these activities as their livelihood. Does it not follow
that these social expectations continue to influence the use of the same drugs
which society condemns?
As a civilized society, we seek to
ignore or deny our more primitive side. Yet that side of our individual
personalities is alive and well, and an essential component of that Freudian id
is our attraction to strength and muscle. This undeniable aspect of our
personalities conflicts with our more civilized goals of intelligence and reason
over brute strength, and of discouraging disdain for the physically
unattractive. So as a society, what are we to do?
We live in an age where notions of
personal accountability and expectations of personal excellence have been
exchanged for compassion and inclusiveness. We also live in a society where the
people look to government for legislation which relieves our social discomfort.
Conflicts in our outlook on many social issues have led to the demonization of
inanimate objects related to those issues, including firearms, pornography, the
Internet, and of course, drugs. And when it comes to our ambivalent attitude
toward strength and muscle, drugs are the perfect scapegoat.
Strength and muscle make many
people uncomfortable. Anabolic-androgenic steroids, by definition, promote
strength and muscle. And despite blatant deficiencies in the popular belief that
even limited AAS use is dangerous, we have been told by our government and the
medical community that these drugs are "bad." Thus, in 1990, the
criminalization process began, and the demonization of AAS was complete.
Nevertheless, we are still besieged with news of positive drug tests amongst
athletes, hearings before Congress, and new myths of how AAS caused the death of
every strong and muscular celebrity who passes on. While it appears that the use
of AAS may still be on the rise, the criminalization of these drugs has done
little to prevent that; it merely changes users into criminals. The solution is
flawed ... but don't expect it to change.
Article by John
*A special thanks to www.mesomorphosis.com
for allowing us to reproduce this article*
CLICK HERE FOR PART 1 OF THIS ARTICLE!
1 Judges 13-16.
2 Brooks JR; The pecs that launched a
thousand gyms [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/gam/Health/20000111/HE11ATLA.html]
The Globe and Mail. 11 Jan 2000.
3 U.S. CONST. amend. XXVII [proposed].
The proposed 27th Amendment, which guaranteed equal treatment under the law on
the basis of sex, was passed by Congress and submitted to the States on March
22, 1972. However, after ten years, it still fell at least three short of the
required ratifications by 38 states legislatures.
4 Scott-Dixon, K. The bodybuilding
grotesque: the female bodybuilder, gender transgressions, and designations of
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5 Whyte, G. Ms Olympia cancelled -
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15 Anonymous (strat81). Wanna get
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16 Anonymous (KaptenKman). Starting
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18 Thompson JK. Body image,
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20 Carter JEL; Heath BH. Somatotyping:
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22 Ohio Revised Code §341.41, 753.31
23 H.R. 370, 106th Cong., 1st Sess., 2
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26 State v. Sommers (Aug.26,
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27 State v. Robb (Apr.30,
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28 Polson G. List of issues concerning
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29 Willing R. Courson fights steroid
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30 The explosion of 300-lbers:
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33 Drug and crime facts, 1994. [http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/ascii/dcfacts.txt" target="_blank">http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/ascii/dcfacts.txt]
34 Bureau of Justice Statistics drug
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35 Smith DA, Perry PJ. The efficacy of
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36 Kidwell S. Bodybuilding competition
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37 Salusso-Deonier CJ; Markee NL;
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38 Mens underwear. [http://www.jockey.com/sitelogic.cfm?id=245" target="_blank">http://www.jockey.com/sitelogic.cfm?id=245]
Jockey®. (Date unknown).
39 Jeff DeCosta. [http://muscleweb.com/Jeff/" target="_blank">http://muscleweb.com/Jeff/]
Muscle Web. 1999.
40 Robert Lopez. [http://muscleweb.com/Robert/" target="_blank">http://muscleweb.com/Robert/]
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41 GQ. [http://www.exoticomm.com/images/stripads/gq01.gif" target="_blank">http://www.exoticomm.com/images/stripads/gq01.gif];
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Exoticomm. 29 Nov 1999.
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