Readers continue the popular thread from last week:
What especially troubles me is how un-conservative your claims about steroid use appear to be. Since when do conservatives (under your definition of that term) celebrate unconstrained libidinal desire? You write that "the new male is here to stay. And that is largely because it's hotter. Get used to it." Really? This is the answer? Men want to be shredded, steroids meet that want, and the only solution is simply to acquiesce? In a later post you write, "I'm a libertarian when it comes to doing what one wants with one's own body." Fine – it's one thing to say that the government shouldn't be in the job of prohibiting people from taking risks with one's own body. But is that all there is to say?
Shouldn't a conservative regard attempts to change the basic biological character of the human body – and for fundamentally superficial, rather than medical, reasons – with wariness rather than enthusiasm? Shouldn't a Burkean conservative seek to mitigate potentially destructive desires through existing cultural traditions and norms? Shouldn't conservatives direct us to the well-worn values that can help us safely and gradually adopt and manage the risky technological and social developments of the rapidly changing modern world – values like modesty (don't show off), hard work (come by your physique honestly), and integrity (be the person you are)?
We can. But my point is that I truly do think it's futile given the power of the substance and the impact it has on self-esteem, social power, and vanity. My own view is that a Burkean conservative starts by not deluding himself into thinking the state can stop – or should stop – a technological and social change that is being powered by far stronger forces than the law can throw at it. We do not think of banning the web, for example, because it has ensnared countless people into forms of addiction, pornography, isolation and paranoia – as well, of course, as liberating discourse from its old shackles of legacy media. I take the same approach to steroids. I wouldn't argue for Prohibition as we now have – precisely because so many men want them and use the drugs, with relatively minor repercussions (and none if done right and under medical supervision). The abuse comes largely from the unregulated, unmonitored abuse of the drugs. If we admit that many men want to look like the steroid models we have in much of Hollywood, then we should find a way to have doctors monitor and prescribe. Yes, it's all cosmetics – but who is proposing to shut down the breast implant industry?
Yes, in the end, I find modesty a virtue in a man – as well as hard work and integrity. Women do too. Those values and virtues are worth celebrating and encouraging – and they will endure long past the ripple of delts. And that's also the point: my view as a conservative is that human society is adaptable. We can trust it to get things right … in the end. As we adopt new technologies, we make mistakes and learn. Leaving aside the legitimate medical uses of testosterone – for those with long-term HIV, for example – I think we'll slowly adjust. Even now, the Jersey Shore dudes are mocked for the crudeness of their giant arms. (They remind me of the boy in The Christmas Story who can't put his arms down in his puffy coat.) The cult of the huge bodybuilder in gay culture has also definitely shifted from the 1990s "I Don't Have AIDS" monster into a leaner, smaller but still ripped body – which requires a sophisticated use – and non-use – of steroid cycles in the gym. I have confidence this kind of thing will work its way out, and the virtues that my reader espouses and that I believe in will slowly win out. But can we start from the same understanding that a) this drug is not that dangerous and b) impossible to stop being sold on the black market? Facing reality is the first conservative principle. Making the best of it is the second.
I work out at the same gym you went to in DC (I'd see you there on the weight floor regularly, but was always too shy to say hello and didn't want to interrupt you). I also work out with a trainer at the gym. I asked her months ago how many men at the gym were on steroids, in response to one guy working out near us who had an obvious steriod enhanced body. Her response? Almost all of them.
The bigger guys, the smaller guys who are just incredibly toned and sculpted, and most of the in-between guys to some extent. (She also noted that there are many women at the gym who, while not on steroids, are on human growth hormone.) She's a certified nutritionist, a woman who has made a career out of health and physical training, and with all of her information and advanced degrees fully agrees with your view that it's now hard to pick out a guy who's not on steroids. That doesn't mean that she likes the trend or agrees with its safety; she just can't deny that it's there, and she fully understands the draw of taking steroids among the gym's clientele.
As a straight woman, I second those readers who have said that they don't like the sterotypical steroid look. But I have to admit, the bodies of most of the guys at the gym are pretty nice to look at (which I can do pretty openly, as my 30-something womanhood renders me practically invisible when I'm working out at Vida.) Low body fat, great muscle definition, and no intimidating bulk.
I'm a female in my late twenties, and maybe the "roid-age" look has affected me. Anything from a swimmer's build to an Alistair Overeem turns me on. I told my boyfriend of four years at that time I was leaving if he couldn't drop the gut. (He already had strike one against him since he is a decade older, but you can't have everything you want. He succeeded and two years later we're engaged.)
But I think it's more female empowerment than the media that drives men to try and look hotter. I did sports in middle school, high school college, and now. I've done team sports, individual sports, and weightlifting. Maybe back in the day, when women were judged too weak to run marathons or play five sets of tennis, we were happy with a guy in a nice suit who kept a roof over our heads and food on the table, but nowadays I can do all that myself right down to the suit. Now that I'm an equal everywhere else, I want an equal in the eye candy department.
But don't do steroids. The health risks aren't worth it. The average young guy has more than enough testosterone if they eat right, exercise right, and get sufficient rest/recovery.
(Photo: Man flexing bicep, close-up, by Zoran Milich/Getty Images)