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The Demonization of Anabolic Steroids - PART 2 Articles Database Articles by Writer The Demonization of Anabolic Steroids - PART 2

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The Demonization of Anabolic Steroids - PART 2

"It is not from the strongest that harm comes 
to the strong, but from the weakest."

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900)



The class of illicit drugs known as anabolic steroids, or more accurately referred to as anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), is subject to a general "catch-all" definition. Although the laws of prohibition specifically name certain steroids, this general definition specifically excludes certain steroids from the scope of those laws. The single characteristic of a steroid which allows it to be classified as an illicit drug is not a chemical one, but rather, a reference to its physical effect: that it promotes muscle growth. It would seem, then, that muscle growth is a bad thing! Can it be said that modern American society treats strength and muscle as a social evil?

Are Strength and Muscle Considered Dysfunctional in Modern Society?

Historically, strength and muscle have been the stuff from which legend was made. From the biblical stories of Samson1 to the legendary Charles Atlas,2 strength and muscle had always been a source of respect and admiration. But as we stand at the brink of a new millennium, it appears that an overzealous pursuit of social inclusiveness and a reliance on technology have denigrated strength and muscle to little more than a primitive dysfunction.

  • Women and Muscle

Those of us who grew to maturity in the 1970s remember the phenomenon known as "Women's Liberation," as well as the crown jewel of that early feminist movement, the Equal Rights Amendment.3 Although the goals of modern equity feminism have not been reached, we have grown accustomed to seeing women in positions as executives and skilled professionals, and in jobs traditionally reserved for men: construction workers, police officers, and firefighters. Nevertheless, society's regard for strong and muscular women has changed very little since Victorian times.

Mesomorphosis author Krista Scott-Dixon, a doctoral candidate in women's studies, has written:

"Proper" femininity, for example, does not include muscles, strength, bulk, or physical power. *** The actual physical presence of muscular women is a challenge to rigidly gendered ideologies. In a society that prefers to function with an orderly demarcation of "normal" gender, female bodybuilders are constituted as deviant.4

George Whyte, a competitive bodybuilder from London, offered this view of bodybuilding in general, and women's bodybuilding in particular:

[I]t's always been seen as a freak show, and it will never be accepted. I personally don't give a shit if the public accept bodybuilding. We can sustain ourselves. The fact that the bodybuilding public don't have much interest in going to female bodybuilding shows that female bodybuilding is in a bad state. You can't force people to buy tickets.5

In one university study, male and female students where shown photographs of male and female bodybuilders, as well as photographs of non-bodybuilders of each sex, and they were asked to attribute personality traits and sex-role behaviors to the persons shown in the photographs; both males and females attributed more masculine and less feminine tendencies to the female bodybuilders, despite the fact that they did not perceive any difference in such tendencies between bodybuilding and non-bodybuilding males.6 Perceptions such as these send the message that muscle makes a woman less of a woman.

It seems clear that, not only in the United States, but throughout all modern culture, strength and muscle in women is odd at best, and at worst, an outright abomination. Despite the advances which women have made in social equity, muscular strength is still not considered to be a proper goal for the "gentler sex." But are these traits universally accepted amongst men?

  • Muscle and Older Men

As a male over the age of 40 years, this author has experienced mainstream society's curious perception of aging men who pursue strength training on more than a casual level: "Why not golf? Or racquetball? Or maybe enter some 10K races? Why would an older guy want to lift great big weights?"

It is true, of course, that a decrease in strength and muscle should be expected amongst older adults. As we age, the cross-sectional size and the number of muscle fibers in skeletal muscles decrease, and the relative strength of those muscles also decreases.7 However, heavy resistance training can minimize and even reverse that effect.8 In fact, substantial gains in muscle size (hypertrophy) have been observed as a result of heavy resistance training, not only in middle-aged adults, but also in the elderly.9 Nevertheless, the fact that muscular hypertrophy can be achieved by older men does not change social expectations.

Oddly enough, the most negative response to strength and muscle in older men appears to come from their peer age group. While younger adults, both male and female, may appreciate the muscularity of an aging male, those in his own age group will likely view that trait less favorably. A study involving 500 subjects, ranging in age from six to 60, showed that nearly all subjects attributed more favorable traits to mesomorphs (muscular types) than to ectomorphs (slender types) or endomorphs (obese types), but that mesomorphs were rated more negatively as the age of the group members increased.10

  • Marginalization of the Strength and Muscle Culture

The culture of strength and muscle are best characterized by two types of competition: powerlifting and bodybuilding. While powerlifting is the ultimate expression of pure strength in athletic competition, bodybuilding expresses the aesthetics of muscular hypertrophy in physical appearance. Yet neither of these competitive events enjoy any substantial public support.

In its "Guidelines for Organising a World Championship" the International Powerlifting Federation suggests that "[t]he venue should provide seating for a minimum of 500 spectators."11 Five hundred spectators at a world championship? Bodybuilding fares better in attendance, but not by much. In 1998, Joe Weider's Mr. Olympia, the most prestigious contest in bodybuilding, was held at New York's Madison Square Garden with a sold-out crowd of less than 6,000.12 Compare this to basketball, for instance, where the venue in smaller cities, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers' 20,000-seat Gund Arena, can boast annual attendance of more than 800,000 during a single season.13 Despite the enthusiastic support of die-hard fans, strength and muscle competitions are of minimal interest to the mainstream American public.

  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder: The Deviance of Strength and Muscle

The attitude of many newcomers to strength training are revealed in Usenet's most prolific weight training newsgroup,

"What I want to do is get stronger and have more tone without getting big. I really have a fear of getting huge."14

"I don't wanna get all huge and buff. Just solid and well toned."15

"I'm not interested in getting big (just toned well.)"16

While these comments aptly demonstrate the ubiquitous use of the misnomer "tone" and the naïveté of the writers as to what is really involved in achieving the desired results, they also exhibit an attitude toward strength and muscle that has become quite prevalent: one should avoid getting too big or too strong. Does this attitude have an underlying source?

The answer is an emphatic "Yes!" As if strength and muscle were not already subject to sufficient social criticism, some in the medical community have recently decided to designate them as deviant. Coining the word "bigorexia" from a more familiar term, anorexia nervosa, health commentators have begun a campaign to designate muscular hypertrophy as a new version of body dysmorphic disorder, an obsessive-compulsive psychological illness. Describing the symptoms of this alleged disorder, one commentator stated that "men with the disorder think they are too small, and they exercise excessively or take steroids to bulk up."17 Does an active effort to become stronger and more muscular make one mentally ill?

Commenting upon the recent recognition of this medical phenomenon, Mesomorphosis author J. Kevin Thompson, a professor of clinical psychology, cautions:

Certainly, the decision to engage in bodybuilding to improve ones appearance or to meet a personal goal of physical development should not be judged, either positively or negatively, by the professional or lay person. It is a personal and private matter. Indeed, there is no doubt that physical activity in its many and diverse forms may greatly contribute to enhanced self-esteem.18

Thompson further observes that "work in this area is just emerging and much of the research has the 'pathologizing' flavor of so much of mental health research (i.e., researchers focus on the psychological problems vs. the positive health associations)."19 Nevertheless, it appears that the popular news media has already seized upon this diagnosis and, fueled by its preexisting prejudice towards strength and muscle, is well on its way to labeling bodybuilders as psychologically deviant.

  • Strength, Muscle and Criminality

The most jaundiced view of strength and muscle may come from the perception of its relationship to criminal behavior. Quite simply, people tend to fear those who are strong and muscular. Because some violent criminals are, indeed, strong and muscular, this fear is not completely unfounded; however, it has become so deeply ingrained in our social consciousness that many people distrust anyone who has these characteristics, regardless of other facts and circumstances.

In 1949, William H. Sheldon, the father of "somatotyping," examined the relationship of body types to juvenile delinquency, and in his rating of 200 delinquent boys, he found a strong association between mesomorphy (muscularity) and "assertiveness and uninhibited action" amongst the boys.20 Later studies of adult males in state penitentiaries, particularly the most violent criminals, also found a high incidence of mesomorphic body types.21 These findings merely confirm a fallacy in public perception known as "affirming the consequent": bad guys are big and strong, so big, strong guys must be bad.

In recent years, the fear of strong, muscular criminals has manifested itself in the legislative action to remove weight-training facilities from correctional institutions. Over the objections of corrections officials, including guards who deal directly with weightlifting prisoners, state and federal legislators have responded to public demand for prohibition of weight-training equipment in jails and prisons. In the State of Ohio, all weight-training equipment has been banned in local jails and regional correctional facilities, and free weights have been prohibited in state penal facilities, allowing only the use of selectorized strength-training equipment for limited periods.22 In federal correctional institutions, this trend has moved more slowly; however, the No Frills Prison Act seeks to ban "training equipment for any martial art or bodybuilding or weightlifting equipment" from all federal correctional facilities, and that bill has been referred to the Subcommittee on Crime of the House Judiciary Committee.23

Some concerned citizens argue that weight training will allow prisoners to overpower and intimidate guards, and that it serves to release stronger criminals back into society; they also argue that weight training equipment can be used as weapons against guards and as tools for escape.24 Although these concerns are not unfounded, the public appears to harbor serious misconceptions about the true results to prison weightlifting programs, and many of the suggested alternatives are not as effective as critics might believe.

Suggestions have been made that weightlifting equipment provides deadly weapons to inmates, and that adequate exercise can be provided through other recreational activities that do not involve such inherently dangerous instrumentalities.25 Although weightlifting equipment has been used as weapons in correctional settings, this answer is not as simple as it seems. On August 14, 1986, an inmate at the Wayne County Jail in Wooster, Ohio, staged an escape with four other inmates where a jail guard received near-fatal injuries after being beaten with a dumbbell and a "tension bar" exercise device.26 Ironically enough, on April 23, 1993, immediately before the end of the nationally-televised siege at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, that same inmate was beaten to death with a baseball bat which had been removed from the prison recreational supplies.27 The simple truth is that if prisoners wish to fashion deadly weapons, they will find something that works. So much for the safety of other recreational equipment.

Contrary to popular belief, many corrections officials, including guards, strongly support weightlifting in prisons. It can be used as a privilege which may be withdrawn as a punishment for negative behavior, and it can teach discipline and improve self esteem; furthermore, it occupies inmates' leisure time, which might be devoted to more nefarious activities.28 Nevertheless, state and federal legislators are more interested in the public's fear of bigger, stronger criminals, and legislative action continues.

Society's negative attitude toward strength and muscle appears to be the combined effect of many factors, including the publics distaste for women with muscle; its curious regard for muscular older men; its shunning of the strength culture; and its ever-increasing view of muscle as deviant and criminal. Given these social pressures, why would anyone want to be strong and muscular, and more to the point, why would they want to risk the use of anabolic steroids in reaching that goal? Perhaps the answer lies in the unspoken expression of society's more primitive desires and needs.

Does Modern Society Send Conflicting Messages on Strength and Muscle?

Despite open disdain for the culture of muscle, there exists an underlying appreciation and demand for the same. Popular sports require substantial degrees of strength at all levels: professional, collegiate, and adolescent. Furthermore, physical appearance is important. The sexual attraction inherent in the human mating process favors strength and muscle, not only with respect to men, but also to a lesser extent, as to women. Contrary to the conventional belief that these primitive traits are irrelevant in a modern civilized society, our attraction to strength and muscle is inherent in our nature, and it still serves as a very powerful motivator in our social transactions.

  • Strength and Muscle in Sports

America's appreciation for sports has not waned as we move into the new millennium. Professional sports heroes are still receiving contracts and salaries in sums which are far beyond the wildest dreams of the average person, and professional sports franchises have become the most prized possessions of our wealthiest citizens. Of course, the public's demand for excellence in sporting competition is not without a price; those who participate in these sports are expected to win, and obtaining the "winning edge" often involves the use of AAS.

Steve Courson, a former offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is now suing the NFL players' benefit fund for disability benefits due to his enlarged heart, which he claims was the result of AAS use, a professional necessity during his NFL career.29 Courson has said that he recalls thinking, "If I don't take them, I'm risking my job security."30 Strength is essential to a professional offensive lineman, and the exercise of that superior strength is demanded by the fans.

Olympic athletes face the same pressures. National attention is directed at their achievements, and they are expected to win, not only on their behalf and that of their team, but on behalf of their nation. Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal after the 1988 Olympic Games when he tested positive for the use of anabolic steroids.31 However, as observed by Meso-Rx author Brent Allen, it is interesting to note the comment of his competitor, Carl Lewis, before the Senate hearings on the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990:

The steroids made that much of an impact over a 7-year period in his [Ben Johnson's] career. We are talking about someone who went from possibly 50th or 60th in the world to No. 1 in the world, setting world records.32

It seems clear that Johnson's success was the result of AAS use. But was that AAS use fueled only by a personal desire to succeed, or was it the product of national expectations? Would athletes such as Courson and Johnson, with the advantage of hindsight, choose to sacrifice Super Bowl rings and Olympic gold medals in exchange for athletic mediocrity? It's doubtful, very doubtful.

Expectations of athletic excellence are not limited to professional and Olympic athletes. Statistics accumulated by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service have shown that, in 1993, 1.2% of high school seniors had used AAS within the last twelve months.33 The United States Justice Department found that figure to have increased to 1.7% by 1998.34 By 1984, 20% of college athletes were using steroids.35 While these figures may alarm some, they are indicative of the expectations placed on high school and college athletes; the use of AAS may be a small sacrifice when sports scholarships and professional draft choices are at stake.

  • Strength and Muscle in Physical Appearance

While mainstream American society may exhibit disdain for the culture of muscle, we are as obsessed as ever with physical appearance. The presence of substantial muscle is an essential element of physical appearance for men, and to a large extent, for women, too. But most of us know that the exercise devices touted on late-night infomercials do not provide the muscular look which we desire and which most of society secretly craves. AAS do.

Muscularity at its most extreme is exemplified by bodybuilding competitions. Some competitions, such as the AAU Mr. USA, demand that competitors be drug free for extended periods of time; however, the most elite professional competitions, such as the IFBB Mr. Olympia, do not test for AAS use, nor do they require that competitors be free of the same.36 While "all natural" bodybuilding is growing in popularity, it seems that the "best of the best" still use AAS.

Mainstream ideals of physical attractiveness also stress mesomorphic builds. In one study involving men's and women's ideals of attractive male somatotypes, women emphasized lean/broad-shouldered and average/balanced male types, while men showed more appreciation for the muscular bulk male type; however, both groups perceived that the media promoted stereotypic male muscularity.37 Although this study indicates gender differences in self-reported personal preferences, the more revealing truth may be found in the unified belief regarding media-promoted somatotypes.

Market success depends on well-targeted advertising, and the advertising which is best directed at the buyer's ego is that which will sell the product, often without regard to the products quality. With regard to muscularity and men's egos, this seems to be of great importance in underwear advertisements. One need look no further than the advertisements for Jockey underwear to see that muscularity is important.38 Although the models for underwear advertisements do not usually exhibit the type of muscle associated with competitive bodybuilders, they do show a level of mesomorphy well beyond that of the normal man.

While many women claim to favor men of average builds, an examination of what they find to be sexually titillating belies that notion. A good indicator of those secret cravings is the appearance of male exotic dancers, i.e., strippers. Promotional photographs of male dancer Jeff DeCosta,39 former-Chippendale Robert Lopez,40 and Exoticomm male dancers "GQ" and "Maverick"41 tell the tale. While male dancers such as these would not qualify for the Mr. Olympia competition, they are far more muscular than the average male which many women claim to prefer. For women to deny their sexual attraction to these muscular male dancers is like men denying that they prefer buxom female strippers: the truth is told by what really sells. And let's all face facts: the average man sees what type of physique turns the heads of wives and girlfriends when they are together in public.

It is unquestionable that the physiques of many male models and exotic dancers, like the performance of many elite athletes, are enhanced by the use of AAS. It is also clear that a strong athletic performance and muscular appearance is expected, if not mandated, of those who engage in these activities as their livelihood. Does it not follow that these social expectations continue to influence the use of the same drugs which society condemns?


As a civilized society, we seek to ignore or deny our more primitive side. Yet that side of our individual personalities is alive and well, and an essential component of that Freudian id is our attraction to strength and muscle. This undeniable aspect of our personalities conflicts with our more civilized goals of intelligence and reason over brute strength, and of discouraging disdain for the physically unattractive. So as a society, what are we to do?

We live in an age where notions of personal accountability and expectations of personal excellence have been exchanged for compassion and inclusiveness. We also live in a society where the people look to government for legislation which relieves our social discomfort. Conflicts in our outlook on many social issues have led to the demonization of inanimate objects related to those issues, including firearms, pornography, the Internet, and of course, drugs. And when it comes to our ambivalent attitude toward strength and muscle, drugs are the perfect scapegoat.

Strength and muscle make many people uncomfortable. Anabolic-androgenic steroids, by definition, promote strength and muscle. And despite blatant deficiencies in the popular belief that even limited AAS use is dangerous, we have been told by our government and the medical community that these drugs are "bad." Thus, in 1990, the criminalization process began, and the demonization of AAS was complete. Nevertheless, we are still besieged with news of positive drug tests amongst athletes, hearings before Congress, and new myths of how AAS caused the death of every strong and muscular celebrity who passes on. While it appears that the use of AAS may still be on the rise, the criminalization of these drugs has done little to prevent that; it merely changes users into criminals. The solution is flawed ... but don't expect it to change.

Article by John Williams JD

*A special thanks to for allowing us to reproduce this article*



1 Judges 13-16.

2 Brooks JR; The pecs that launched a thousand gyms [] The Globe and Mail. 11 Jan 2000.

3 U.S. CONST. amend. XXVII [proposed]. The proposed 27th Amendment, which guaranteed equal treatment under the law on the basis of sex, was passed by Congress and submitted to the States on March 22, 1972. However, after ten years, it still fell at least three short of the required ratifications by 38 states legislatures.

4 Scott-Dixon, K. The bodybuilding grotesque: the female bodybuilder, gender transgressions, and designations of deviance. [] Mesomorphosis. 15 Dec. 1998.

5 Whyte, G. Ms Olympia cancelled - thoughts? [] 10 Sep 1999.

6 Ryckman RM; Dill DA; Dyer NL; Sanborn JW; Gold JA. Social perceptions of male and female extreme mesomorphs. J Soc Psychol. 1992 Oct;132(5):615-27.

7 Kirkendall DT; Garrett WE Jr. The effects of aging and training on skeletal muscle. Am J Sports Med. 1998 Jul-Aug;26(4):598-602.

8 Id.

9 Häkkinen K; Kallinen M; Linnamo V; Pastinen UM; Newton RU; Kraemer WJ. Neuromuscular adaptations during bilateral versus unilateral strength training in middle-aged and elderly men and women. Acta Physiol Scand. 1996 Sep;158(1):77-88.

10 Kirkpatrick SW; Sanders DM. Body image stereotypes: a developmental comparison. J Genet Psychol. 1978 Mar;132(1st Half):87-95.

11 Hosting a world championship: a contest promoters guide and contract. [] IPF Newsletter. 23 Sep 1999.

12 Mr. Olympia contest winners. [Mr. Olympia Contest Results] Joe Weider's Olympia. 1999.

13 Gund Arena: attendance history 1994-1995. [" target="_blank">
ClevelandCavaliers/index.htm] Arenas by Muncey & Suppes. 18 Jul 1999.

14 Ong, DT. Please advise a new guy. [[ST_rn=ps]/getdoc.xp?AN=555639043&fmt=text" target="_blank">[ST_rn=ps]/getdoc.xp?AN=555639043&fmt=text] 2 Dec 1999.

15 Anonymous (strat81). Wanna get started lifting... [[ST_rn=ps]/getdoc.xp?AN=461011467&fmt=text" target="_blank">[ST_rn=ps]/getdoc.xp?AN=461011467&fmt=text] 30 Mar 1999.

16 Anonymous (KaptenKman). Starting on the right foot. [[ST_rn=ps]/getdoc.xp?AN=353425193&fmt=text" target="_blank">[ST_rn=ps]/getdoc.xp?AN=353425193&fmt=text] 15 May 1998.

17 Gordon S. Bigger isnt always better. [" target="_blank">
0C50008S200UN200RG/] HealthSCOUT. 11 Jan 2000.

18 Thompson JK. Body image, bodybuilding, and cultural ideals of muscularity. [" target="_blank">] Mesomorphosis. 30 Aug 1999.

19 Id.

20 Carter JEL; Heath BH. Somatotyping: Developments and Applications. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press,1990.

21 Id.

22 Ohio Revised Code §341.41, 753.31 and 5145.30.

23 H.R. 370, 106th Cong., 1st Sess., 2 (1999).

24 Polson G. List of issues concerning weightlifting in prisons. [" target="_blank">] Strength Tech. 27 Feb 1999.

25 Id.

26 State v. Sommers (Aug.26, 1987), Wayne App. No. 2242, unreported.

27 State v. Robb (Apr.30, 1998), Franklin App. Nos. 95AP08-1003 and 95AP08-1108, unreported.

28 Polson G. List of issues concerning weightlifting in prisons, supra.

29 Willing R. Courson fights steroid ruling. [" target="_blank">] USA Today. 6 Jun 1999.

30 The explosion of 300-lbers: burgers, barbells, and genetics ... or modern chemistry? [" target="_blank">] All Natural Muscular Development. 1998.

31 Bilder R. Drug testing in sport. [" target="_blank">] Gemini Biopages. 1995.

32 Allen, B. A "bizarre" look at steroid contradictions. [" target="_blank">] Mesomorphosis. 30 Aug 1999.

33 Drug and crime facts, 1994. [" target="_blank">] NCJRS. 1994.

34 Bureau of Justice Statistics drug and crime facts: drug use in the general population. [" target="_blank">] USDOJ-BJS. 14 Oct 1999.

35 Smith DA, Perry PJ. The efficacy of ergogenic agents in athletic competition. Part I: androgenic-anabolic steroids. Ann Pharmacother. 1992;26:520-528.

36 Kidwell S. Bodybuilding competition FAQ version 1.0. [" target="_blank">] Natural Physique Systems. 2 Sep 1998.

37 Salusso-Deonier CJ; Markee NL; Pedersen EL. Gender differences in the evaluation of physical attractiveness ideals for male and female body builds. Percept Mot Skills. 1993 Jun;76(3 Pt 2):1155-67.

38 Mens underwear. [" target="_blank">] Jockey®. (Date unknown).

39 Jeff DeCosta. [" target="_blank">] Muscle Web. 1999.

40 Robert Lopez. [" target="_blank">] Muscle Web. 1999.

41 GQ. [" target="_blank">]; Maverick. [" target="_blank">] Exoticomm. 29 Nov 1999.

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