Narcissism in Bodybuilding

By Gary Walsh BA (Hons), Freelance Writer & Lifestyle consultant
July 2012

Narcissism: Excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one's physical appearance; Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection.

One accusation constantly levelled at bodybuilders is that they are narcissistic. This, I am assuming to actually be a revelation, must mean they are accused of being more narcissistic than is found in 'normal' human beings. From my own point of view, whilst having a healthy respect for my body and appearance and being very proud of my achievements in developing my 51 year old body – remembering that bodybuilding is a sport in which the body is the celebration, not scoring a goal or exhibiting skill and abilities of the sport – I would say for myself that I celebrate my body conservatively considering the work I have put in to what I consider to be an art form.

Most bodybuilders, competitive or not, are modest enough, whilst you do get the odd abnormally conceited individuals, I see more of those in an average day at University, the supermarket or pubs and clubs than I have ever come across in the bodybuilding community. Most of the bodybuilders I know do not spend time on beauty products or hair products, they are interested in their project which is their body which they feel needs constant work. Normal behaviour is a full body shave and maybe tanning, but maybe only close to a show. Posing is necessary and a sign of pride in their work and generally would be performed reasonably privately, not in the street; that has more to do with self respect, though. If you were a dancer you wouldn't spend all your time dancing in public; modesty would dictate different behaviour. I would say here that a top physique is a responsibility and I would be the first to admit it can go to many young guys' heads at times: they may have changed, transformed – virtually overnight – from a body they are not happy with to a body that are ecstatic about. They want to show the world. Have you ever seen a woman recently having had plastic surgery not exhibit cleavage, or a new hairdo wearing a hat? There are numerous comparative situations in life. New cars, new clothes any physical change or perceived improvement will illicit pride from the owner, sometimes overly, because the change was deemed necessary, looked at as a need, maybe even thought to be the answer to a happy life.

Why then, is one more acceptable and considered normal and one is not? Unfair! Yes, because it is the majority that ultimately decides what is normal. We live in a society where being obese and lazy is acceptable but being fit and muscular is not. Majority rule. I am glad I am in the minority; I feel it is a far more righteous place to live from. A place where fellow non-conformists are taking responsibility for what they do and not looking to blame or attack any other groups, Why? Because we are busy doing our thing, living our lives. To be honest, I would say this attitude bodybuilders are accused of is more prevalent in those trainers with lesser bodies than the more self assured bodybuilders. A physique is something you need to get comfortable with and that sometimes takes time. I would hazard a guess at this label being more to do with a lack of understanding of competitive bodybuilding than a real case of mass narcissism. Labels, once again, my favorite subject. Sartre once commented that 'hell is other people'; I absolutely see what he means. Where there are others, there is conflict. I am thinking that stereotypes and labels are far more to do with a total lack of understanding between different groups of people than any major reality issues. And, yes, that includes academics, maybe more than any other they are charged with the responsibility of understanding. Are they up to the job? Maybe too much time is spent showing off academically than looking for any real truth. Any journal I have read, and I have yet to find any real exceptions – but I do live in hope – seems blinkered to the overall climate in favour of looking for any eccentric exceptions or behaviour that they can label and pass off as synonymous with the lifestyle choice of bodybuilding, which fits the falsely constructed stereotype that, for some reason, seems to suit others' emotional well being.