I have strong, albeit mixed, feelings on the topic of ‘celebrity steroid usage’. I’m not entirely sold on the idea that actors should be expected to divulge precisely what PEDs they’re using, and I’m even less convinced that the media has a ‘duty of care’ to share this information.
On the one hand, I firmly believe that truth, openness and candour gives us all much firmer ground to stand on. When we’re in possession of all the facts, we come much closer to seeing reality as it is and can make better, more informed decisions.
On the other hand, in a hypothetical world where athletes, celebrities and influencers are completely transparent about their PED usage, it’s not hard to envisage those admissions, especially if they include specific details, being viewed as prescriptions — particularly in the eyes of impressionable young men.
As the Liver King’s (ridiculously comprehensive) performance enhancing ‘stack’ was unceremoniously plastered across the internet, garnering millions of views, I couldn’t help but wonder how many would see it not as the shocking indictment of a fraud, but as a shopping list.
Just to be clear, that’s not me arguing for a clandestine approach to steroids. Without at least some awareness that we’re all on a possibly uneven playing field, those same impressionable young men I mentioned would be unable to properly calibrate their aspirational radar. This in turn, sets them up with unrealistic expectations, which, when unmet, could rapidly result in burnout and disillusionment. This is the oft championed argument for transparency on the subject. It’s one I don’t disagree with.
However, given everything we know about the relationship between exercise, longevity and disease prevention, a case could also be made that, in the long run, quitting exercise wholesale could be just as dangerous as dabbling in the odd Dianobol or two. In this thought experiment, the one in which I find myself stuck, you’re forced to consider which is the lesser of two evils — complete transparency, which could lead to a normalisation of, and subsequent uptick in steroid abuse. Or, the unsure and secretive territory we currently find ourselves in, which can lead to misaligned and ultimately harmful expectations of what’s achievable.
Do celebrities, and subsequently the media, really have to choose between doing harm to the mental well-being of their fans and readers or possibly inciting them to do physical harm to themselves? Do they even have the right to make that call?
I think, as ever, the middle path is probably much more valuable. One where we’re fully aware of the existence and ubiquity of performance enhancing drugs, but are also equipped with the skills to ask much better questions on the topic. These questions should get away from the morality of the matter, avoiding outrage and finger pointing, and cut to the core of how this subject relates directly to us.
After all, whether or not the actor portraying your favourite superhero juiced up for the role has zero actual bearing whatsoever on your progress in the gym, unless you allow it to. And, drugs aside, there are a lot of factors at play, up and beyond chemical usage, that mean you should be very careful when drawing up your expectations and aspirations.
You may well be ascending the same muscle-building mountain as your favourite celeb, but there’s every likelihood that they have much better erm… gear.
That’s why I think it’s so important to go one step further than pointing fingers, and ask questions that directly relate to your situation.
Instead of ‘Did this actor take steroids to play this superhero?’ ask yourself ‘do I believe that his physique is achievable naturally?' The answer to the latter question is much more applicable to you, your training and the decisions you make in life. If you believe that you couldn’t achieve that physique naturally, and you don’t plan on dabbling in the anabolic sauce, then you can simply remove the superhero picture from your goal setting vision board. No harm done.
No amount of ill will towards anyone will help you to achieve a six-pack, but a realistic redefining of your ambitions could help you manage your expectations, which will go a long way towards keeping you in the game long enough to reach your best physique. And who knows, that may turn out to be more superhero than you envisaged from the outset.
There are many trusted resources online that can help you to determine just how much size you can realistically expect to add to your frame, naturally — taking into account factors such as your age, height, training history etc. One such place is ‘More Plates More Dates’ YouTube channel – the very channel that blew the lid on the whole Liver King debacle. This is the information you should be seeking out when it comes time to set your muscle-building expectations. This is the information that can provide you with that ‘firm ground’ I spoke of earlier, on which you can stride confidently towards our goals.
Of course, the implications of PED usage warrants many far-reaching conversations. Many of which Men’s Health has had in the past. The stickiest of these is around the morality of peddling products — be they supplements, training programmes or diets — where the very strong, even if its unsaid assertion is: ‘this will help you to look like me!’.
But here’s the rub: we’re probably never going to stem the tide of celebrities, influencers and athletes using these compounds, so wouldn’t it be far more practical (and beneficial to your mental health) to simply become better at spotting what’s realistically achievable for you?
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