In my previous video, I mentioned my bodybuilding heroes, who I’ve worshipped for years. A good friend asked me who they were.
So, the first answer is abstract. The first image I aspired to was a kind of amalgamation of a hundred different things. When I was a kid in the late 80s and 90s, there were images of muscular men around me.
I knew who Arnold Schwarzenegger was, who Sylvester Stallone was, who Jean Claude van Damme was, but I didn’t aspire to be like any of them. I loved their muscles, cherished the moments when they’d flex, or when their sheer largeness would be particularly apparent. But they weren’t heroes because I didn’t want to be like any one of them, specifically.
I didn’t really follow competitive bodybuilding as a younger person, either. I’d only look at bodybuilding magazines when I thought I was unobserved in a store, always ready to put them back in a hurry and pick up something else if threatened with discovery. I think I had a vague idea who Dorian Yates was, the multiple Mr Olympia winner in the mid 90s who ushered in the era of the “mass monster,” where things like balance, proportion, and beauty were cast aside for blockier and bigger bodies, the freakier the better. But I never really cared that much about bodybuilding as a “sport” (is it actually a sport? Or is “sport” a term that bodybuilding culture attempts to leverage for other reasons? debatable).
So I guess my first idol didn’t have a name. It was an idea. Some amalgamation of images. Arnold as the Terminator striding naked through the misty Los Angeles night. A bodybuilding competition (which? I never knew or cared to know) glimpsed on the television unexpectedly. The old Charles Atlas nerd-to-hunk ads in comic books. Shirtless Eddie Brock / Venom lifting weights and planning his revenge on Peter Parker in the 90’s animated Spiderman cartoon, montage-style, muscles seeming to inflate with each rep. And maybe a hundred other things, all mashed together. I didn’t care about the personalities or histories of these people, real or fictional, what they might be like, what motivated them, what challenges they might have overcome, how they interacted with society. It was all surface, all image, all fantasy.
But now that I’m older and that I engage with bodybuilding in a deeper way, I have a few actual flesh and blood people I might point to as individuals I idolize, or at least deeply respect.
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Craig Golias hasn’t competed in years. He doesn’t need to, or want to. His slogan is “fuck skinny, get huge.” As he has explained it, he doesn’t mean this to be a slight against skinny people, but rather to be a radical celebration of size in a society obsessed with thinness, a push towards embracing freakdom. He’s never crypt-keeper lean like competition-ready bodybuilders (and thus, I suspect, he might be healthier than smaller – though still titanic – men who repeatedly subject themselves to the hell of a contest). Craig adamantly follows his own rules, does things his own way. At 6’3”, he is, at the moment, just shy of 350 lbs. Rich Piana is another “outsider” figure who embodies some of these qualities, but Piana is shouty, in-your-face, full of bluster, full of aggression and performative masculinity. I admire Piana’s radical honesty in an arena where so many lack that (what steroid cycles has Piana used? He’ll tell you, in a youtube video – this is very rare). Golias is more playful and less self-serious, has a tiny puffball of a dog called Princess (versus the oh so butch bulldogs preferred by so many bodybuilder bros), and is generally LGBTQ-friendly. It seems like he’s enjoying himself, like he takes pleasure in what he does, and in sharing that enthusiasm with others – a depressingly rare quality in the public personae of so many bodybuilders, who are always frowning, scowling, looking constipated, etc. Golias just seems like a genuinely great guy who’s doing bodybuilding for the only reason that really matters: to please himself, and no one else. He seems happy.
The first out gay IFBB (international federation of bodybuilding) professional. Very few have followed in his footsteps (Mike Ergas and…. anyone else??). Paris came out in the late 80s or early 90s, when it was a lot riskier and more dangerous than now – and even today, few gay pros have the courage to do what he did (I know for sure of at least one closet case in the professional ranks, and I’m sure there are others). He’s a hero for this reason alone – he didn’t just have big muscles, he was strong in a way that really counts. Bodybuilding fans admire him for his flawless proportions, like Michelangelo’s David dialed up to 11, but that’s less interesting to me – proportions and aesthetics aren’t what excite me so much as mass. But, you know. It’s nice that the first out gay bodybuilder was a superlative success in one of the main categories of the sport/”sport.”
There have been very few out gay bodybuilders, an impossible to discern number of closeted ones, and then a small army who have done gay-for-pay porn (soft-core or hard-core or escort work, take your pick). Kai Greene doing an office strip-tease and eventually sticking his dick into a grapefruit on a webvideo early on is a moment that has haunted his should-have-won-the-Mr-Olympia career. To his credit, he does not respond to this with a reactionary performance of hyper-normativity. Kai Greene is, to be blunt, an artsy weirdo, and I love him for it. Earlier this decade, he was the perpetual runner-up to multiple Olympia winner Phil Heath. He is the antithesis of Heath. Heath is bodybuilding as a sport, an arrogant college jock who never surprises you. Greene is bodybuilding as art, nothing but surprises, turning his posing routines into strange and challenging displays, making inscrutable statements. And he actually is an artist in the more typical sense of things, painting enormous canvases as well as transforming his actual body into a walking piece of performance art.
Molnar is my phone’s current wallpaper, for purely inspirational purposes. Molnar is from Hungary and I don’t know all that much about him beyond the fact that he used to play a lot of World of Warcraft (a lot of bodybuilders are basically nerds, underneath the muscles). But the way his musculature just hangs off his frame. God. If I could snap my fingers and have anyone’s build, it would be Molnar’s. It’s impossible, the genetics just aren’t there (part of what makes his look so striking is the lucky combination of genetics). But my god, I want it I want it I want it.