In Praise of Meatheads

After almost eight years of consistent weight-training, from bodybuilding to powerlifting–even a little bit of that detestable fad we call CrossFit–I have only recently come to wear my meathead badge with pride. Meathead is synonymous with douchebag. I am bookish, but also a douchebag. It’s easier to be publicly bookish than publicly douchey. Well, not necessarily easier, but to go up to somebody at a party and talk about Franzen’s latest is a lot more socially acceptable than to go up and say, “yo dawg, your rear delts are fucking sick. You focus on the eccentric portion of your reverse dumbbell flies?” I’m also beginning to realize that it’s difficult to be a douchebag without being publicly douchey, even when you attempt to stifle your latent bro-ish dudery. Take a meathead out of the gym and he’ll probably still tip his body-image obsessed hand. Might as well own it.

As a limp-wristed 16 year old, I’d walk into Planet Fitness and curl the 20s, thinking I was Adonis, the hottest fucking shit there ever was, veins popping out of my biceps, snaking up into my shoulders, striations exposed in my green, mesh Pentucket Lacrosse pinny. Kanye (“We found bravery in my bravado”), Lil Wayne and Eminem (“I pick the world up and i’mma drop it on your fuckin’ head!”) blasting in my headphones, a typical suburban white-boy soundtrack. I walked around the gym thinking I was a fucking house (a whopping 150 at the time), swagger on a hundred thousand million. I wasn’t. Swagger was on like a soft forty seven. I laugh in retrospect.

For the first few years of my lifting career I neglected everything but my biceps, my pecs, and my traps. The glory muscles, the show muscles, the joy-boy muscles–these were my only areas of concern, and after dedicating twenty minutes of every workout to three variations of heavy shrugs, I had traps that would’ve had Tom Wolfe cumming in his pinstriped pants (descriptions of trapezius muscles abound in his work). I became famous in my circle of meatheads as the kid with the big traps and the strong deadlift.

The lifting habit started out of a desire that could more or less be boiled down to me wanting to build a set of python-esque arms and woo a girl from high school. I’ve always had some form of body dysmorphia–whatever–and lifting seemed like a healthy way to cope with whatever issues pranced around my head like me and my scrawny tool-bag friends pranced around the dumbbell rack, flexing our triceps inches away from the mirror, grunting and dropping weights like the gym-goers I’d come to loathe.

But back to the girl–like most high school crushes, she remained out of reach. The realization hit that there was more to wooing women than filling out your shirtsleeves (who would’ve thought!). This is a common plot-element in the mythological journey of the young meathead.

Skinny dude lifts to impress girl. Skinny dude realizes that girl doesn’t give a shit about his biceps/triceps. Skinny dude is mildly enraged, discouraged. Skinny dude continues to lift, though now with more fervor–channelling said rage/discouragement. Skinny dude begins to look good, healthy, athletically built. Skinny dude doesn’t care. The thing about lifting weights is that you always want to be bigger, regardless of whether or not you already look fine. Skinny dude progressively becomes “yoked.” The more “yoked” one grows, the less one cares about lifting for the approbation of the fairer sex, but for the approbation of other bros. One could call it “app-bro-bation.” Necks give way to rising Wolfe-ian trapezius muscles. Scrotums chafe against bulging quadriceps. Jeans are no longer an option. Nipples begin to point sideways as the pecs are strained on the bench press. This is a badge of honor: side-nips. The involuntary “bouncing” of pec muscles (titty-dance a la Terry Crews–see below) as a reflexive assertion of meathead masculinity becomes normal and expected. Arms look less like arms and more like the mythical erections of Zeus and Poseidon, veiny and red and angry and more or less obsolete in any rational capacity–nobody ever needed to curl a 60 lb dumbbell in any setting outside of the gym.

Food becomes secondary to various powders, mixed in shaker cups emblazoned with words like “Beyond RAW” or “ANIMAL nutrition.” Aforementioned powders result in chronic IBS–the price you pay to be juicy as fuck. An inevitable addiction to Monster Energy drinks contributes to the IBS. Google search bars are filled with queries such as “trenbolone safe?” and “clenbuterol side-effects.” Meals are not cooked or enjoyed, but prepped. Squat, bench and deadlift stats are not measured in pounds but in “plates,” meaning in the number of 45 lb plates loaded on each side of the barbell. E.g. to deadlift 405 is to deadlift four plates. In the video below, the author is seen pulling five plates. Asking somebody what they deadlift is not as cool as asking somebody what they “pull.” I could go on. I was very much–still am very much–immersed and in love with this culture.

The meathead is who I am. My father, years ago, accused me of becoming a “one-dimensional meathead.” I do not think I am one-dimensional, but for many years if I’d been forced to constrain myself to one dimension, it would be the dimension of the jacked-as-fuck rage-boner that I was. The dimension of the meathead.

I’ve written before about my obsession with violent sports, with my love for the archaic. There are times where I do not consider myself of this time. I’m okay with this. Meatheads are okay with this. I can say things to meatheads, express my anxieties, and they understand.

Why is it a bad thing that I want to come in here and swagger around like a douche? Why can’t I strive to be intelligent and also drink “EXPLOSIVE” pre-workout powders and take vasodilator pills? Why do these things seem to be mutually exclusive? 

I don’t know, bro. It’s your set.

Meatheads don’t ask questions. Gym buddies just want to go in there, get a solid pump, hit a PR (personal record), bitch about their puny sorrows and quell them with big-ass deadlifts. It’s a hassle-free, lowbrow pleasure that satisfies an animal instinct, and it’s damn important. It’s easy to shit on the meathead, yes. I shit on other meatheads, that’s part of what it is to be a meathead. You form meathead tribes and you have rival tribes within your gyms–these rivals are given nicknames. I can still name all my rivals from my college gym: Squid Voice, Hardo Kid, Titty Boi, That girl’s hardo ex-boyfriend, That girl’s hardo ex-boyfriend’s best-friend, fat Asian, Fuckwad, Captain America and Gimli. These were staples in my daily diet of douchebaggery.

I am now 23 and don’t have nearly as much time to spend in the gym, eating, drinking powder, etc. But I still make a concerted effort to do these things, and I am always, always, always in a better mood after I do.

So, I guess this is a sort of declaration. Consider the Meathead. He’s a human too. He’s a bro, he wears cutoff tee-shirts, but he’s happy with who he is, he  knows who he is, he knows what he loves to do and he does so without shame. He’s universally laughed at, but he owns it–and I think we can all learn a bit from that.


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