Public Image of the Sport of Bodybuilding: Mass Appeal & Acceptance?

Bodybuilding Image

The Progress of the Sport of Body Building Depends on the Public

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It may come as a surprise to those of you who spend 10 percent of your life in a gym, but the general public places bodybuilding somewhere between professional wrestling and frisbee golf. If most people think of our sport at all, they use it only as the punch line to a joke about wasting time, or narcissism, or low brain-cell counts.

"So what..?" I can hear the refrain.

"Professional bodybuilding should be a freak show. It should represent the ultimate level to which one human can push his or her physique. And that will always - by definition - be shocking, threatening and confusing to the outside world." There seems to be a status quo within the iron community that says energetic attempts at boosting our sport's popularity are futile. "Why bother trying to get bodybuilding into the Olympics or on the network news? Screw the outside world! They'll never accept us anyway."

Indeed ours is a relatively small competitive sport that will not - in any foreseeable future - have the mass appeal of, say, basketball. But this is no argument for complacency. If we want bodybuilding to grow in prestige and visibility we must get more people into gyms. Most of the increased interest in physique competition over the past 20 years has occurred because more people now participate in weight training. Just as viewers of golf or tennis events tend to be players, most readers of this magazine or ticket buyers to the Mr. Olympia are themselves bodybuilders.

Of all the people who do a squat or a curl, a certain percentage will become curious about achieving ultimate results and develop at least a passing interest in competitive bodybuilding. This percentage is small when compared with all the people training with weights, but the point is, the more people .5 weight training, the more bodybuilding fans there will be. Many of those who do not become fans will gain some respect for and appreciation of the rigors of serious bodybuilding. At the very least they will pick up a little gym vocabulary while they experience the sensation of pumping iron, bridging the gap somewhat between themselves and the subculture of bodybuilding.

Greater emphasis on health and fitness, the success of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and publications such as the magazine you are now holding have all helped bring the general population into gyms. We can all do our part. Explain to anyone who will listen, old or young, male or female, that weight training is the best way to sculpt a new body. Millions of women have learned this fact in recent years, and their presence in gyms has helped to expand our sport significantly. Ease everyone's concerns about waking up one day with "too many muscles" (if only it were that easy!) and preach that bodybuilding is the very act of attaining the precise body that a person wants for himself.., or herself.

Okay, you're going to kidnap your friends and family and force them into the gym. But what about the rest of the world? What about all those people who just don't get it, never will get it, don't want to get it? What about the majority of our society who laugh at bodybuilding and always will? Rejoice: Time is on our side. Remember that weight training was considered suspect, even by athletic-team coaches, as recently as 20 years ago. And 50 years ago: Good luck finding a gym. We may hope that the pre-Arnold population can still be educated, but, regardless, nothing lasts forever. Older generations that grew up without weights or protein shakes are fading away, replaced with the more physique-enlightened majority of tomorrow.

No, this isn't the dawn of utopia. However, the simple fact is that children born today grow up in a society that places much more emphasis on healthful eating and exercise than when their grandparents were kids. Today most high schools have a weight room. Today nutritional labeling is mandatory. Today Arnold is the number one box office attraction in the world. Unlike past generations, virtually all of today's children, male and female, will grow up pumping iron at some point in their lives. To return to our original point, as the pool of weight trainers continues to expand, interest in hardcore bodybuilding will likewise grow, gradually but steadily.

Pessimists, it's already happening. We've been expanding for 20 years. Changes in the competitive sport may seem small, but step back and look at the big picture. Two decades ago regional contests were held in high school gyms with lights dangling from basketball hoops! The one professional show had a handful of competitors and four-digit prize money? Essentially women's bodybuilding did not even exist, and wouldn't for another five years! Compare that with today's six-digit prize money, contracts, media coverage, contest promotion, etc. There is no comparison. No other sport has made such dramatic changes in the past two decades.

Granted, the majority opinion of bodybuilding has not altered much in this same time period. Most people are still shocked, threatened and confused. Most people still just don't get it. However, the size of the minority who do get it has increased remarkably. It will continue to grow as more and more people do something as simple as pick up a barbell or reduce the fat content of their diet. Some of these weekend warriors will become bodybuilding fans. The more people we get to take that first step, the more people there will be who learn to run, and the more fans there will be of the race. Educate, cajole and enlighten all to the benefits of the bodybuilding lifestyle. Just as physical gains come from continuous effort, so will the sport of bodybuilding continue to expand with everyone's help.

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