A long time ago, I blogged about one of my favorite books of all time, "Muscle: Confessions Of An Unlikely Bodybuilder," by Samuel Wilson Fussell. It is both a hilarious and, often times, moving account of one man's journey through the world of bodybuilding. In the comments to that post, Reg recently pointed out to me that Samuel Fussell has written some other pieces about which I was unaware. Of particular interest, Fussell wrote, "Bodybuilder Americanus," as a chapter within the book, "The Male Body: Features, Destinies, Exposures." Bodybuilder Americanus is a hypercritical analysis of the culture, statement, and mentality of the modern day iron warrior.
While the piece captures both the sharp wit and the brilliant articulation that Samuel Fussell is know for, I found some of his points to be quite thought provoking. The following segment provides some very interesting perspective, not just for bodybuilders, but for cross-gender understanding:
While the swimmer and the bicyclist shave to cut down on drag, on air or water resistance, the bodybuilder shaves to make sure his body is seen without obstruction. His performance lies in being looked at, ogled, appraised. For these modern-day coxcombs, using the theatricality of the street as their backdrop, the stare is the ultimate reward. It's a reversal of sex roles, with the builder taking a traditionally female role: body as object. (The Male Body, 45)
Fussell points out that in many ways, the bodybuilder heavily blurs the line between masculine and feminine. In some ways, he appears to be an extreme parody of both genders. As a male, generically speaking, it is typically very hard to understand how women see the world. I wonder if the bodybuilder - Bodybuilder Americanus - levels the playing ground, providing a tunnel into the female psyche? And if so, how much does that change our understanding?
Anyway, I would definitely recommend checking out Fussell's piece. Whether or not you like bodybuilding, it provides a fascinating point of view as written by a very talented author.