Updated: Feb 21, 2019
Reading the French sports review Sport Et Vie recently I noticed an interview with a the Spanish sociologist Victor Agullo Calatayud, who lectures at the University of Valencia.
Calatayud has written a relatively famous thesis entitled Recreative consumption of steroids and anabolisants.
As a result of his paper the topic of doping has reached a much wider audience beyond those directly involved in sports studies, including those who exercise for their own pleasure or health.
At the beginning Calatayud’s studies were focussed on bodybuilders, but then Calatayud realised that doping was taking place in other sports and was much more widespread than initially thought.
Calatayud has also highlighted how clubbers in the 90s started using such drugs to continue partying without sleeping over a 3-4 day period. This behaviour that spread to other, new consumers, who became interested in steroids for aesthetic reasons. There then followed a socialisation period, when the so-called benefits of steroid use extended even further to those who wanted a be able to wear a particular wardrobe or to highlight a certain musculation.
Concerning the social background of such drug use, here again Calatayud was surprised that doping is also increasingly being undertaken by those who provide security for others in society (police officers, military personnel, club doorman and women, firefighters, etc).
The argument Calatayud makes is that the appeal of steroids to such individuals lies in the belief that steroid use can offer a strong and intimidating physique to others when it is needed.
Which may or may not be the case, though the problem is that we know from the research that steroid use can also affect the behaviour and mood of those who take such drugs.
I have written before about the pressures felt by those who want to optimise their physique, and particularly about the pressure that is felt by young men today (see my previous post, Smart tortoise, insecure hare).
Calatayud, after asking consumers about their use of steroids, came to the conclusion that there is a common factor that unites the people who have taken steroids that he spoke to; an absence of what we in France call “d amour propre” or, to put it another way, a common low self-image that is shared by those who have taken steroids, and in certain cases a commonly shared complicated family life, or loss of a parental (and particularly a father) figure in the lives of those that have taken the drug(s).
But, whatever the underlying reasons, are those who take steroids or similar drugs aware of the dangers involved in doing so?
According to the studies there reappears to be a form of hedonism, or a sense of living day by day without worrying about tomorrow involved on the part of those who take the drugs concerned.
Instead of being concerned about the future or broader picture of health, such consumers who so partake of steroids tended to think that doing so was their right, if they felt that it suited them, and that they needed to do so, regardless of how others judged them.
Or, to put it another way, those who so consumed such drugs viewed their behaviour in a similar as those who take prescribed medication.
When asked how he came about the qualitative evidence to support his findings, Calatayud claimed that it is difficult to ascertain such feedback form those who currently take steroids (in fact many tend to deny their use of steroids). Rather, Calatayud's qualitative evidence comes mainly from former users.
What was interesting in the Sport Et Vie interview was Calatayud’s views on who or what was to blame for the current situation.
And his argument is squarely that the media is responsible for how steroid users behave.
In fact Calatayud argues that the root of the problem lies in the way that the mass media covers sporting events and performance, with its emphasis on record-breaking individuals (such as Usain Bolt, for example) as opposed to the coverage which is given to those athletes who perform without headline-grabbing merits, but who do so for the pleasure of so competing.
In Calatayud’s eyes it is the media which bigs up the concept of the potential Superman (or indeed Superwoman) in the minds of those who consume news media (and which today can be so many of us due to the proliferation of news content and apps on smartphones and tablets). As a direct result, a lot of (young) people have been inspirited to dance forever, to be the better looking on the beach, to be the hot employee in the office and to camera-friendly for social media.
And don’t get me started on he pernicious influence of social media on our modern lives!
It is both a collective and individual situation which has changed behaviour, attitudes and individual objectives, in many cases for the worse where steroid use is concerned.
This is because over time the use of anabolic steroids tends to isolate the individual consumers that take them. So, to maximise the impact of steroids, the lifestyle of such users typically needs to be very strict. Such individuals need to eat every 3 to 4 hours and you also need to sleep a lot, all of which can isolate such users from family, friends and colleagues.
I see a lot of that kind of behaviour around me nowadays.
But what is the perspective of a sociologist such as Calatayud on this situation and its potential future development?
Well, he is particularly pessimistic in his outlook, as he points out that for the first time ever it is very easy to get such drugs socially and the potential for individual (and also collective) damage against this backdrop is very great indeed.
His is an interesting and dramatic warning.
At least when I read features such as this it reinforces my faith in what I do - which is to give my best to help my clients and associates to understand the balance of the internal and external, and the important of striving for realistic objectives in our fitness programmes.
There are many ways to succeed in life. Everything does not have to be pivoted towards winning Gold at the Olympics (as wonderful as this achievement is for those who so do).
Nor is looking like a Mr Universe winner the only motivation for weight-training.
Such physical heroics can be fine, but they are not the be-all or end-all of what we do in the gym, or indeed with our bodies.
I know this from my experience as a Personal Trainer, and from the achievements of my clients, friends and colleagues. In my personal life I have also learned through the love and support of my parents how happiness can come from hard work, moral character and a dedication to meaningful, nurturing relationships.
Which are heroic qualities all in themselves.