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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) ” 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 .. I do not give a — ” But they’ve absorbed his ideology. “Well, Zyzz, he told me that life’s way better when you’re aesthetic as .” 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.

As found on Youtube

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