T Nation

Great Book on Bodybuilding

 One of the best books that was ever written about the California bodybuilding scene is called Little Big Men: Bodybuilding Subculture and Gender Construction, by Alan Klein. It carefully explores controversial subjects such as pharmacology, hustling, the lives of top professionals and amateurs, IFBB competitions, the Weider monopoly, sex, hypermasculinity, narcissism, muscle magazines, hard-core gyms, homophobia, elite female bodybuilders and everything else that you always wanted to know about, but were afraid to ask. I would like to get some feedback from the T-men that have read this eye-opening, intellectual masterpiece. 

I have read a portion of the book at Barnes & Nobles, and found it pretty eye opening myself. However, I do believe that you have to be careful when reading a piece like that, wether it covers bodybuilding, basketball, football, big business, etc. A journalist usually is not totally fair or unbiased on any one subject, and can tend to give their subject any ‘flavor’ that pleases them and the publishers. Bodybuilding is a shady sport, and so is the vitamin/supplement aspect, the magazines, the drugs, sex…but you WILL find negative behavior anywhere you look in the world. Yes, most people lift weights, at least initially, out of some sort of insecurity…but so do businessmen seek wealth and prestige out of some sort of insecurity! Yes, bodybuilding magazines are ‘in it for the money’ (just like the supplements and shows), but so are other magazines, like Forbes, Sports Illustrated, People, Time, U.S.News and World Report, Architecture (?), The New Yorker, National Geographic, etc, etc…Every business that exists on this planet is ‘in it for the money’. And in every business you will find sleaziness, drugs (cocaine and Prozac for the wealthy and stressed!), sex (men with power and money are granted instant access to ‘pussy-ville’). Anyhow, just my two cents worth.

Well said, Maclar.

I read it and found that it presented a very negative view of the subculture of bodybuilding. The author always used extreme examples to make his point. He did not seem to spend much time focusing on the average lifter who does not compete(if i remember correctly in the book he refers to them as gymrats) but i guess he couldn’t do that because nobody reads/buys books about average people (sarcasm). It also seems that he went out of his way to sensationalize all the negative aspects of bodybuilding. Do hustling, drug use, narcissm, etc. exist? Yes. but IMO not to the degree that Klein suggests

I thought the book was brilliant on one level. It was utter bullshit on the other. The author was obviously a post modernist. What he sought to do was “deconstruct” bodybuilding. In so doing he hoped to show that bodybuilding was a result of a culture. That is, our culture encourages masculinity. Some people then, either because of rejection or feelings of inadquacies towards mainstream culture, have an “I’ll show society attitude.” Thus they seek out bodybuilding, in hopes to attain a state of hypermasculinity. In order to become “hypermasculine” we have to then objectify our body, view it was an object to mold. For example, “I must build these calves.” In this way, we view our bodies as distinct from ourselves. This can cause us to lose touch with feelings (our subjective natures).

His whole stance is that this is a bad thing. The man is a feminist, as you can see. I think every bodybuilder would enjoy reading this book. It makes some causual connections that really make you think. Also, some things he critises us for, are things that might makes us smile. Sorta an attitude of "Yes, I am a bigger cultural misfit than I had thought. I like it!" After all, who says rejecting mainstream culture is a bad thing?

If you liked that book, you might want to check out the following:
“Gorilla Suit” - Bob Paris,
“Muscle, Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder” - Samuel Fussell