The Dark Side of the Male Fitness Internet, Explained | Internetting Season 2


Bodybuilding.com is one of
the most popular fitness forums on the internet. And the most popular
profile on bodybuilding.com belongs to this Australian
bodybuilder called Zyzz. On the website’s
boards, his catchphrases pulse through
the conversation. “You mirin’, brah? You mirin’, brah? You mirin’, brah?” On Facebook, hundreds of
fan pages pay tribute. And on YouTube, images
of him flexing and posing are remixed into epic
motivational clips. “And every one of us has a
little bit of Zyzz in us. You just don’t know it yet.” He’s also been dead
for seven years. He died in a sauna in Thailand
when he was 22 years old. Doctors said that he had an
undiagnosed heart condition. But on the internet, he lives
on as meme and inspiration. “Zyzz really inspired me to
do gym and just to be myself.” “Zyzz got me
where I am today.” “Bro, thanks for
the motivation.” “Thanks for the motivation.” “Thanks for the motivation. You’ve set the bar. That’s what
everyone’s aiming for. Everyone’s aiming
for your physique.” There are now nearly 300,000
YouTube videos about Zyzz. A new tribute is uploaded
every couple of hours. If Charles Atlas
was the bodybuilding king of the 1920s and
Arnold Schwarzenegger was the prototypical
manly man of ‘80s movies, Zyzz represents the
quintessential man of the modern
fitness internet. He’s got one of the
most valuable assets for an online fitness star — an insane before-and-after
transformation photo set. In four years flat, he went
from awkward high schooler to Myspace Ken doll — 6 foot 1, 205
pounds, 8% body fat. “Oh!” A lot of diet and
workout trends pretend that they’re about
improving your health and wellness. “And feel great!” But Zyzz popularized a laser
focus on what he called ‘aesthetics.’ His persona was never about
lifting the heaviest weights or running the fastest mile
or eating the most nutritious meals. It was about achieving the
craziest physique possible. He pursued it until
he literally died. But a lot of other men
are still chasing it, too. “(SINGING) We’re talking ‘bout
the language of exercise!” Women have always had
a version of this. They’re expected to idealize
certain aspirational female forms and to build
communities around whittling their own bodies
in their image. “(SINGING) [inaudible]” And keeping up
appearances has long been a reality for gay men, too. “Come to Man’s Country
and develop your body — or a friendship with
somebody else’s.” But this space, built for
straight men to measure, quantify, objectify,
and straight-up admire — sorry, ‘mire’ — each other’s
bodies, that feels new. Zyzz made the male-on-male
gaze explicit. It’s interesting that even
as men and women have become more equal in a lot of
ways, idealized images of their bodies are
moving more and more toward gendered extremes. Psychologists
suggest that as men lose status and social
power over women, they’re driven to assert
their masculinity physically — to strive to look
like real men even if they don’t
always feel like them. And on the internet, whole
new vocabularies and image references are forming to
help men express themselves in this new mode. Here, everything
is quantified. Life is a series of stats
and reps and rankings. It’s not cooking,
it’s meal prep. It’s not food, it’s intake. And it’s not breakfast,
it’s meal one. The male body is converted
into a math problem to be solved. All of this can
be totally fine. But when you take
the quantified self to its extreme conclusion,
you find a hellscape of objectification. Every type of guy
can be slotted into his own
dehumanizing category — virgins, Chads,
soy boys, cucks. A man’s stats
determine his status. Online fitness culture offers
men a powerful illusion of control — over their own bodies
and over other people’s, too, because on
bodybuilding.com, guys don’t just talk about fitness. They talk about
relationships and politics. And those are easily filtered
through this adolescent human ranking system, too. In these forums,
humanity itself is reduced to a hierarchy. And the same ruthless logic
that lures men to the fitness internet — that getting
shredded will give you access to some elusive
male dominance — is also easily
exploited by people on the political fringe. “They don’t want
men being men. That’s why Infowars has
developed Anthroplex.” “Zyzz! Zyzz! Zyzz! Zyzz!” Many of Zyzz’s followers
will never achieve his body. “And you’ve got a
genuinely sick [inaudible].. I do not give a [bleep] — ” But they’ve absorbed
his ideology. “Well, Zyzz, he told me
that life’s way better when you’re aesthetic as [bleep].” If the dawn of the social
web fanned fears about young girls falling prey to
pro-anorexia sites where they were instructed how
to starve themselves, we’re just beginning to
realize how these online communities built around
male body goals can be destructive, too — not just for the men
themselves but for all of us. Hey, this is Amanda. This is Shane. He edits the videos. She writes the videos. You watch the videos. And if you like the videos, like, comment and
subscribe here. And then tell us,
where do you see masculinity in crisis? In the mirror Leave your answer in the
comments. We are very thirsty. [singing] “Internetting with
Amanda Hess.”

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