I am a bodybuilder. I am an academic.
A socially constructed juxtaposition forces these statements apart. There are expectations and prohibitions regarding what these identities can and cannot be. This phenomenology is accepted as absolute, unquestioned and bolstered, as we seek examples to support our presumptions. As such, we are personally invested in our perceptions. Perhaps, then, our conceptualizations have more to do with what we want/need bodybuilding and academia to be, than with a more objective reflection of identity. I am a bodybuilder. I am an academic. It seems as though these identities must be structurally separated by a period, as though coalescence would contaminate the statement, the speaker even.
The visual often predicates our initial opinion of someone. Our brains have a complex structure to compartmentalize external stimuli. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to avoid pegging someone based on appearances. That makes me the bodybuilder: the meathead, the muscle head, and perhaps, thanks to MTV’s The Jersey Shore, a gorilla juicehead. The derogatory nicknames reflect this idea that in the acquisition of muscularity the head has lost its role as the location of the brain or the capacity for higher cognition.
I am a meathead – at least until I speak. But what am I at that point? A “bodybuilder who is smart” rather than just a “bodybuilder?” People that I meet are often surprised that I am articulate and well-educated. I’ve lost count of how many times someone has told me: “You are a contradiction.” Am I? Is this even a compliment? If I am a contradiction, is this a ‘good’ thing, to deny definition, to exist outside the realm of stereotype? Don’t all of us reflect certain stereotypes and contradict others? All of us want to be unique; we want to break barriers, to be indefinable… to an extent.
Am I a contradiction? Do I contradict a seemingly accepted social stigma? Yes. Am I a unique case? Absolutely not. For me it’s not so enigmatic. When someone views me as a contradiction I tend to assume that they don’t know many dedicated athletes, let alone bodybuilders. The serious and successful bodybuilders (including competitors in physique, female bodybuilding, figure, and bikini) that I know are intelligent people. Period. A bodybuilder should be knowledgeable in physical health muscular function, proper weight training and cardiovascular exercise, nutrition, and supplementation. Furthermore, (s)he must be in-tune with the nuances of their own body and alter the previous factors accordingly.
Society has severed the connection between the mind and the body. Furthermore, social constructs prohibit us from considering the possibility that a person could possess strong attributes of each. We have polarized the ‘intellectual’ and the ‘jock,’ as though identity isn’t complex and fluid. Both the academic and the bodybuilder are stigmatized in their own right. Being a bodybuilder or an academic can undoubtedly bring about jokes, assumptions, and prejudices. Stereotypes always contain a kernel of truth, but become dangerous in their generalization and normalization.
These obstructions and abstractions are deeply engrained in the social fabric. Yet, it is the duty of academia to seek knowledge and truth, to redefine knowledge and truth by vigorously pursuing new modes of thinking. This occurs in the perpetual process of asking fresh questions and taking new perspective in the approach to intellectual inquiry. Perhaps it is time for the intellectual to explore the phenomenon of bodybuilding with new purpose.
This is my venture. I am a bodybuilder and an academic.