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"Pumping Iron"

Social media and steroids

The Econ Extra Credit Team Jan 28, 2023
Heard on:
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When you think about steroids, perhaps the first thing to come to mind may be names like Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones and Barry Bonds, all elite athletes who were embroiled in sensational doping scandals. But since the 1980s, steroid use has expanded way beyond competitive athletes.

It’s being driven by a cultural belief that bigger muscles are better, one that has grown more pervasive in recent decades. GI Joe action figures, for example, went from proportional muscles in 1964 to biceps that would measure 27 inches in circumference at human scale around 2000. (For context, that’s bigger than Arnold Schwarzenegger at peak physique.)  Nowadays, kids eschew action figures for video games, but most avatars also embody the “buff hero” archetype, portrayed by unrealistically muscular builds.

One study found that about a quarter of males ages 18 to 25 were concerned about the size of their muscles. About 11% of teens, mostly males, say they have used a growth hormone, steroid or other performance-enhancing drug to improve their physical appearance or gain an athletic advantage over their peers. 

At its most extreme, obsessiveness over not feeling muscular enough can lead to muscle dysmorphia disorder, colloquially called “bigorexia.”

“I think it’s important to let people know that you don’t have to engage in self-loathing to motivate behavior to be healthy,” said Stephen Mayville, a licensed psychologist based in Reno, who’s done work centered on muscle dysmorphia and steroid misuse. 

He said a lot of these false ideas come from social media, where many fitness influencers use steroids but don’t disclose their use to followers. 

“There’s a lot that’s riding on perpetuating that myth that these extreme physiques that you see are completely natural,” Mayville said. 

Listen to an extended version of Mayville’s interview on “Marketplace Morning Report.”

How to watch “Pumping Iron”

For January, Econ Extra Credit has selected the film “Pumping Iron,” which is available to watch for free on YouTube as well as Tubi, Plex, and Vudu. It also available to stream without ads on Kanopy and Hoopla for many library card holders.  

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