Why Debating Whether Celebs Use Steroids ('Natty Or Not?') Is Misguided
A couple of months ago, comedian and star of the upcoming Eternals movie (so named because "eternal" is how long it's taking to be released), Kumail Nanjiani, posted this picture of himself and, in the process, sent the entire internet spiraling:
You'll notice that Nanjiani looks a little buff here, and by "a little buff," I mean, my dudes' muscles look so swole that you might expect them to lift him off the ground and take him on a trip around the world in 30 days. Nanjiani did not always look like this. This is a man who's comedic persona could once be described as "uber-nerd" and now, he looks like, well, a Marvel character (duh). As such, it didn't take long for anyone with a working modem to lambast him with accusations of steroid use:
Then, just as quickly, the other half of the internet came rushing to Nanjiani's defense:
Suddenly, we had the makings of a classic internet war, but instead of both sides debating whether a dress was blue or green or whatever, the point of battle was an actual human's body with both sides tearing Nanjiani apart to find out if his increased mass was fueled by the use of steroids or other PEDs. Nanjiani isn't the first super buff Hollywood dude to be accused of taking something a bit extra. It's been a trend for a while now that whenever any actor shows up on-screen with a sculpted bod, some goon in a bodybuilding forum is going to post a picture captioned "natty or not" (as in, is their muscle growth natural or through the use of steroids or other means) or some other goon is going to directly accuse them of juicing on their socials. There are entire Youtube channels dedicated to this:
It's gotten to the point where the internet seems obsessed with answering the "natty or not" question, and I think it's kind of shitty. I mean, at its base, I think it can be well-intentioned. If celebrities take steroids, then it promotes an unrealistic body standard for men and puts pressure on other men to take them too. If celebrities take steroids and act like they're not taking steroids, then that unrealistic body standard is made even worse. Also, anabolic steroid use can be bad for you, so whenever possible, we want to be not promoting the thing that is bad for your body.
But if our goal is to promote realistic body standards in men, then I think asking "natty or not" of celebrities is asking the wrong question. We all accept that celebrities have vastly different lives than our own and have access to resources that the majority of us don't. It feels weird to me to make a distinction between getting jacked by taking steroids and getting jacked because a studio is giving you an unlimited budget for personal trainers, organic supplements, etc. This illustrates what I'm talking about perfectly:
Here's Rob McElhenney's quote on the subject one more time, in case, like me, the sight of an Instagram post immediately causes your eyes to fog over:
"Look, it's not that hard. All you need to do is lift weights six days a week, stop drinking alcohol, don't eat anything after 7pm, don't eat any carbs or sugar at all, in fact just don't eat anything you like, get the personal trainer from Magic Mike, sleep nine hours a night, run three miles a day, and have a studio pay for the whole thing over a six to seven month span. I don't know why everyone's not doing this. It's a super realistic lifestyle and an appropriate body image to compare oneself to."
Instead of asking "natty or not," perhaps we should be asking, "How the hell can I get a studio to pay me to do lat pulldowns?" Better yet, maybe we should just be asking why? Remember, Hollywood didn't always have this body standard for male action stars. Here's Sean Connery looking positively dad-bodded as James Bond:
There is no glistening six-pack. There are no rippling veins or bulging muscles that suggest superhuman strength or any conditions from having been bit by a radioactive spider. This just looks like a guy that is perfectly capable of shooting other guys with a pistol, and he looks fine. Then compare that to Chris Pratt's Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Star-Lord is beyond yoked, and he also looks fine, but there's no reason for it other than staging this one promo shot for the trailer. I mean Star-Lord is supposed to be a character who shoots guns and talks wise, so why would he need to be so buff? Chris Pratt's training regiment for Guardians was said to be comparable to that of the NFL combine, but it seems silly for him to do this for a role when it's hard to imagine Star-Lord finding the time and motivation to do the same thing.
My point is that rather than prying at individual actor's bodies and asking if they are natural, we should be asking why these body transformations are happening in the first place and if it's good that the actors on our screens look like they're gearing up for a powerlifting competition. I don't know the answer to this. Maybe it's fine. Maybe it's not. Maybe Kumail Nanjiani would take whatever excuse he could get for a studio to help transform his body into chiseled marble. Maybe the studio pressured him to do it. Again, I don't know. All I know is that there was once a time where a decidedly unbuffed comedian named Michael Keaton could tell you "I'm Batman" ...
... and you'd believe him without question. And that felt good enough for me.
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Top Image: United Artists