One of the aspects that draws me to bodybuilding is the very fact that it is an “individual sport.” My successes are my own, as are my shortcomings.
I wonder how my physique would be different if trained alone in some hypothetical corner of the world, removed entirely from human interaction and access to the outside world. Could I even conceive of the image of the bodybuilder? What would motivate me? Would I be satisfied?
First, from a theoretical standpoint, by defining myself as a bodybuilder I presuppose my relationship to its conceptualization, I presuppose a coordinate within the constellation of signification. There is, thus, always some referential element from which I am constituted. If I may speak in a psychoanalytic language, I am constituted in reference to the Other.
Let us now shift from the metaphysical and speak plainly. In my own experience my identity as a bodybuilder is, in part, defined by/through other people, whom I will polarize for the sake of simplicity into the following: “allies” and “adversaries.”
Friends who train and educated sources (professionals or experts) provide many benefits to a bodybuilder like myself. Obtaining information regarding training, nutrition, supplementation, and overall lifestyle is crucial for success. The responsibility to think critically on these issues and implement them into my regimen is mine alone. Yet, having the presence of positivity improves efficacy. Support and encouragement are invaluable, especially for any athlete in contest preparation. Furthermore, many people train with a partner for help not only with spotting or technical aspects, but also to provide encouragement. Often times it is the mere presence of someone else that stimulates our drive to perform or compete.
For the last few years I’ve trained without a workout partner (in the traditional sense). But having other bodybuilders in the gym while I’m training is certainly a motivating factor, particularly if I find their physiques impressive.
Bodybuilding is also defined through identification with ‘adversaries.’ The adversary could simply be an aspect of the competitive nature of a relationship with an “ally.” Perhaps they are the bearers of false knowledge, ‘information,’ which is presented as gospel, common knowledge, subjective learning, or even science. To some extent, these ideas may simply be outdated – science is never science, as they say. Maybe it’s the “you can’t grow from high reps” believers, or anyone with a formula, for that matter. Whatever the case may be truly, educated allies are hard to come by, which leaves a lot of adversaries.
Often times an adversary evokes jealousy. Perhaps one defines one’s physique in reference to that which creates envy. People certainly tap these issues and harness them as motivating factors, or simply, as with a friend or idol, use them as a template to establish weak areas…
Let’s not beat a dead horse. I could go on forever with specific examples of “allies” and “adversaries.”
Bodybuilders are sculptors. We need an image to create, that is, we create images through images. Be it ‘positive’ or ‘negative,’ the subject is established through the identification with the Other. In acknowledging the image I can reconstitute myself. I can question. “Bodybulding” needs an eye.