Immoral Surplus

Everything is going my way these days, and I am finally at the competition of my dreams. This time, however, my partner is on stage, showing off his stuff, while I am in the audience, shouting encouragement. ‘Work it baby! You’ve got this!’ All that dieting, shaving, and shining is about to pay off, here, at the ‘Arnold Classic World’s Most Beautiful Balls Contest.’ That’s Arnold Palmer by the way. Who knew the sheer breadth of his talents? It goes without saying that the Nicest Nutsack title is coveted. Still, I am pretty sure that my partner—with his impressively tight package—can bring home the trophy, along with a lifetime supply of Handsome Smooths Performance Golf Underwear. You know that I don’t like to brag, but in this case I cannot help myself. Heading up to the rooftop of my condo building with my trusty bullhorn, I announce that my partner has finally been recognized for having the loveliest testicles in the universe. I am bursting with pride. 

First let me apologize; it has been a slow week. Slow in terms of blog inspiration, that is. Busy in terms of administrative work, course preparation, and meetings. So when MW told me that his 40-something business associate had developed a secret method for maintaining young looking Cracker Jacks, I was all over it. ‘Give me the recipe’  I demanded. ‘I am short on blog content.’ Yet the details were vague, involving something like Ponds cold cream slathered beneath extra snug tighty-whiteys. Still, this guy was fascinatingly concerned with the appearance of his manjigglies. And here I thought that genital beauty was a relatively new phenomenon, relating mostly to lady parts. Labioplasty—the surgical alteration of the labia majora and/or minora—is now widely advertised for treating asymmetry and other ‘problems,’ allowing accursed women to wear form-fitting pants once again while supposedly increasing their self-esteem and sexual pleasure. Really? All that time and money to achieve a more attractive camel toe? Huh. Back to the main topic: I am intrigued by what men discuss when they are together doing man things. Whenever my partner returns from a day of man-golf, a night of man-pool, or a weekend of Las-Vegas-man-poker, I request a story. ‘Tell me what you guys talk about. Just one thing,’ I practically beg. Now I know that the main topic of conversation is balls, balls, balls. No surprise there. That poor fellow, you might be thinking, and with good reason. I tease my long-suffering partner incessantly. ‘Why hide your man-lights under a bushel?’ I inquire. ‘You should enter the San Diego Golden Nuggets Invitational, or at least start training for the Sydney Ripe Plums Annual Challenge.’ He simply sighs. ‘Why do you stay?’ I routinely ask him, laughing but serious at the same time. I believe you know, feckless and adorable readers, that once again I am not making this shit up. I fill my days inventing creative ways to describe my man’s cojones, and will never tire of jokes about the tea bag Olympia. Love spuds are just so damned funny.

The previous two paragraphs are classic FFG, and will likely be used in my appeal to have this blog count towards the annual tallying of my professional productivity. Fingers crossed! This writing is at once self-indulgent and relevant to my ongoing concern with fitness. [Aside: it also reveals my slightly disturbing and perhaps fetishistic interest in testicles, but I suggest that we collectively agree to repress that knowledge. Thanks!]. I have been reading voraciously, trying to synthesize everything written about bodybuilding during the last twenty years or so. Not the kabillion articles about how to grow great guns or get jacked, but the studies of bodybuilding as a cultural practice. While primarily interested in accounts of the troubling, conformist, and gender-bending nature of ripped female muscle, I am finding that most of this literature concerns men and is in effect about contemporary forms of masculinity. Some of these books and articles are insightful, but others are just plain silly, written by pompous academics—you know what they are like!—who couldn’t distinguish a dead lift from an unsweaty arm pit. This lack does not stop them from blathering on about the rhetoric of the bodybuilding pose or the self-abnegating attempt to thwart Lacan’s mirror stage inside the heavily mirrored gym setting and what not. Clearly I do not respect such authors. Anyone who analyzes bodybuilding should have experienced the physical thrill of pumping iron at least once or twice in their skinny-fat lives. Plus they should struggle to comprehend the sheer brilliance of much post-structural theory instead of showering shame upon it. In any case, one of the most superficial interpretations of bodybuilding that I have encountered so far is by Gary Day, entitled ‘Pose For Thought: Bodybuilding and Other Matters,’ in Readings in Popular Culture (Macmillan, 1990). Among other things, he argues that weight lifting mirrors consumerism by striving to standardize all bodies, transferring subjectivity from the inner mind to the outer body, and insisting on human presence in a world dominated by technology. What claptrap. Day nevertheless makes a few interesting observations, despite himself. Pointing out that the large muscles of bodybuilders are created for aesthetic display rather than strength, he claims that such bodies can offer an ironic commentary on the often selfish and useless excesses of capitalism. Though most muscled men and women do not aim to transform themselves into walking billboards of social critique—their personal intentions do not control or shape the wide ranging responses to their bodies—this possibility is worth considering.  

Any signs of aging down there?

Earlier this month I was enjoying the masterfully restrained live music of Cake. Referring to the privileged lives of both himself and his audience, the lead singer complimented his fans, noting that we ‘clearly still had a lot of protein in our diets.’ Oh how we laughed as we consumed the sensual pleasure that was so justly and rightfully ours, not enjoyed at the expense of invisible others. This pithy remark reminded me of the niggling doubts I had had while training for my figure competition in June, spending large amounts of cash on bison steaks and chicken breasts. Growing muscle is indeed expensive, and difficult to defend in practical terms. Bodybuilding  is an indulgence that is impossible and unthinkable in impoverished countries. This summer a certain African-born reporter was especially baffled by my FFG project, wondering why anyone would deliberately try to become skinny. Okay, so the goal was to be lean, but you see what he meant. The ability to say no to carbs and yes to protein is based on a largely unprecedented degree of freedom and wealth. The prospect of growing muscles for no real reason might be the height of selfishness, epitomizing the lack of moderation required in capitalistic consumer societies. Perhaps that is why bodybuilders are easily associated with stereotypical characteristics: selfishness, intemperance, and even criminality. Maybe that is why they are also regularly compared with obese people in much of the literature I have been reading. Though it might seem counter-intuitive at first, several authors contend that these cases feature excessive bodies consuming more than they need. Built and fat bodies are both incredibly huge, signifying the kind of surplus that is currently of great moral concern in western culture, especially North America. Just reconsider the reality television programs focused on people who eat too much, own too many things, take too many drugs, or think too highly of themselves. Combined with other factors, today’s shaky economy works to make the bodybuilder a key figure who is ‘good to think with’ as we grudgingly question our cultural myths and norms.

At this juncture I am rethinking this post, wondering if it is funny enough, clever enough, and has enough pictures. Probably not. ‘Hey snugs,’ I call out to my partner, currently lying in bed with the slumpy Endora, ‘can I take a picture of your balls for my blog site?’ Almost immediately I hear a deadpan ‘no’ echo from the bedroom. It is not the first time I have made this request, but rest assured, cherished readers, that I am blessed with perseverance, and one day it will happen.

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About feministfiguregirl

I am a 51-year-old professor named Lianne McTavish who receives as much satisfaction from working out at the gym as from publishing my academic research. About eight years ago, I decided to combine my two primary identities (scholar/gym rat) to create "Feminist Figure Girl," a fictional character who both analyzes and participates in bodybuilding. I competed in my first figure show in June of 2011, and then wrote a book inspired by the process, published by SUNY Press in February 2015. In this blog I will write about and consider my ongoing research on the body, while regularly making fun of myself. I recommend that you start reading my first post from August 2010 (available on the home page), instead of backwards from the most recent one, in order to get the full FFG effect.

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