#6 – CUT THE CRAP! – Narcissism or Vanity

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“I don’t care what you think unless it is about me.”
― Kurt Cobain

Narcissism is excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance. The term comes from Narcissus, a young man in Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection.

It should be noted that all people are somewhat narcissistic, as it helps with one’s survival instinct if you put yourself first at least some of the time. Pathological narcissists are not aware of others. Their whole reality is based on themselves or their group. Often when they use the term narcissistic, people are more likely meaning vanity. This may be the case here.

One accusation constantly levelled at bodybuilders in many research papers is that they are narcissistic. I am assuming that to actually be a revelation, this must mean they are accused of being more narcissistic than most “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 60-year-old body, I do not consider myself any more or less narcissistic than would be considered healthy in mainstream society. Remember that bodybuilding is a sport in which the body is the celebration, not scoring a goal or touchdown or exhibiting skill and abilities of the sport. Possibly the sport could be a reflection on society being more narcissistic than is considered normal. However, normal society is equal to bodybuilding when it comes to narcissism and I would agree that society, in general, maybe more narcissistic than is healthy for the future of mankind.

I would say for myself that I celebrate my body conservatively, considering the work I have put into what I consider to be the ultimate challenge and 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, and it needs constant work. Normal behaviour is a full-body shave and often tanning, but this is usually only close to a show.

Posing is necessary and a sign of pride in their work. It 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 they are ecstatic about. They want to show the world. Have you ever seen a woman who has just had plastic surgery not exhibit cleavage, or one with a new hairdo wearing a hat? There are numerous comparative situations in life. New cars, new clothes, and any physical change or perceived improvement will elicit pride from the owner – sometimes overly, because the change was deemed necessary. It was 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 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. The majority rules, whether it is reasonable or not. As is often the case, I am glad I am in the minority; I feel it is a far more righteous place to live from. It’s 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 accusation against weight trainers is more prevalent in those trainers with lesser bodies than with 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 has more to do with a lack of understanding of competitive bodybuilding than a real case of mass narcissism. Labels once again – my favourite subject!

Sartre once commented that hell is other people, I absolutely see what he meant. Where there are others, there is conflict. I am thinking that stereotypes and labels have 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 rather than looking for any real truth. Any journal I have read, or academic I have spoken with – 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. This fits the falsely constructed stereotype that, for some reason, seems to suit others’ emotional well-being. I will keep smiling through and think of myself as a goodwill ambassador for bodybuilders, although I refuse to accept responsibility for all of their behaviours. Bodybuilding is a variable project, different for every person, and should be accepted as such. There is no single object, “the bodybuilder”. I am proud not to fit too well into any category. I am a square peg in a society full of round holes. I urge you all to join me.

Narcissism is a major threat to society but should not be confused with the vanity that is rife in our society thanks mainly to the capitalist system

Narcissists need control and they like and love things that make them feel superior to and central to others. They want things to make them feel they are favoured, in charge, greatly admired and respected, or more important than others. Is that not common to many of us? At times and among different narcissists, these things may take any number or maybe even all of these forms:

  • Power
    • Admiration
    • Sympathy
    • Attention
    • Prestige
    • Money
    • Popularity
    • Pity
    • Control
    • Influence
    • Status
    • Service
    • Praise
    • Obedience
    • Possessions
    • Recognition
    • Entitlement
    • Righteousness
    • Good Impressions
    • Unquestioning Loyalty

These are expected as birth right with no gratitude. As you can see this is a little more than vanity. Involvement with a person suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder or indeed living in a society with an increasing number of such people is a recipe for disaster. There is little hope of cure as narcissists do not feel they need a cure as they are the centre of the universe. There are some great books available on NPD. If your curiosity is aroused, please explore it further.

One final comment here is that the list above could be argued to be the ideal goals for the 21st century individual. Are we then creating a narcissistic society by teaching our young people that the above are values that will create the perfect life? This is indeed a worrying thought as we already have the seven deadly sins as the recipe for success. If this comes to pass and maybe it is too late, but if it does continue then authentic love will cease to exist if it hasn’t already vanished from our consciousness. Do we live in a society where the seven deadly sins and the list above are already normal values for human beings?

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