Working out, politics, and the internet

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

You are once again privileged to read one of my hot takes. Where I get the energy to write these, nobody knows — all I can say is that this is where I earn my writing chops before I pivot into a YouTube video essay channel, the success of which I will leverage into becoming a cult leader. But until such time, here are my thoughts on fitness culture.

I go to the gym, but I don't want to be a fascist. This is quite the irreconcilable conundrum for many social media algorithms, which frequently encourage me to consume very fashy content. "Oh, you watched Jeff Nippard's video on the ideal push/pull/legs split? You seem like just the guy to watch a video titled Reject Modernity, Embrace Masculinity, Reject Weakness, Embrace Strength, where we belittle young men who dress alternatively."

See, my point is that I'm not like the other boys. Unlike everybody else who goes to the gym, I'm actually super woke and leftist, and I know terms like "gender performance.”

Gender performance is the idea that your behavior and personality are defined by a desire to fulfill a particular construction of masculinity or femininity. To be clear, "performing masculinity" does not necessarily mean you're being toxically masculine. This idea tells us that the social concept of gender is ingrained so deeply that you may feel the need to perform it even when nobody's looking because gender performance permeates our sense of self. I often wonder how much of my decision to lift is wrapped up in a desire to perform masculinity. I'd like to believe I work out for better reasons, but I think anybody who lifts should scrutinize their reasoning.

If you watched the “embracing masculinity” video I referenced earlier (which has 1.1 million views and very positive engagement in the comments), the author strongly implies that they're speaking truth to an overwhelming tide of anti-lifter sentiment. As someone who frequently spends time with libs, communist sympathizers, and pronoun-havers, I can confidently say that this is a fictional strawman. Nobody has ever discouraged me from going to the gym, and I suspect that any true anti-lifter advocates are much smaller in number than this video would have you believe.

But this is merely a common element of fascist rhetoric. There needs to be some nebulous enemy attacking your way of life to justify your measures. By supposing that feminists are overwhelmingly anti-lifter, you can easily refute this (non-existent) argument by pointing out the benefits of exercise — as many comments on that video do. Thus, you can safely ignore any arguments from these people — especially those that might challenge your conception of gender — and fall deeper into the YouTube redpill-manosphere ecosystem.

I've observed that a large portion of gym-related content online skews in a very right-wing direction. Such content is a unique flavor of fashy, usually originating with standard conservative traditionalism, with forays into new-age health and wellness pseudoscience, dashes of Proud Boy-adjacent ideas like NoFap (don't ask), and sometimes even touching on incel rhetoric about women and relationships. It's disheartening, especially considering that often, new lifters are insecure teenage boys who are susceptible to content that affirms their masculinity. It's devious but unsurprising; if you can hook that audience in with some video about "embracing strength,” you can probably hold their attention longer by suggesting increasingly extreme content.

In a media ecosystem where male actors dehydrate themselves so their bicep veins are still visible underneath their superhero costume, I think many young men go to the gym simply because of body insecurity. As common as this may be, I think it's an inherently unsustainable reason to go. As said by the philosopher Casually Explained, "Lifting is not just a hobby, it's a journey. And that journey often begins with feelings of inadequacy, and ends with feelings of inadequacy but now you can't wear jeans.” This mindset — and the culture that surrounds it — is why right-wing gym content does so well in these circles.

In conclusion, don't watch these kinds of videos on YouTube. Read my articles instead, because I have great opinions. Maybe even come to the gym with me. We can talk about Andrew Tate's harmful rhetoric while we do squats, and perhaps we can all learn something.