I’m insecure about a few things. I think most guys are to a degree.
Some are insecure about their careers. Others are insecure about their relationships, or lack thereof.
But there’s something about physical insecurities. They’re deep seeded and debilitating. And they’re easily exploited by snipers armed with the oldest, yet most accurate of weaponry.
In the wake of the usual “liberals versus NRA” rhetoric-fest following the recent mass shooting in California, my colleague James Fell wrote an interesting indictment of the whole “Alpha Male” trend.
Fell calls it a marketing gimmick. I’m inclined to agree, though I’m also sympathetic to some on the Alpha side. Last year my friends John Romaniello and Adam Bornstein published an edgy fitness and lifestyle book called Engineering the Alpha. I was never crazy about the title. I told them as much while they were writing it. From a marketing standpoint, the phrase “Alpha Male” was too “loaded” for me, and the fact that it excluded half the population didn’t seem wise either.
Still, the book is very well written and helped a lot of guys. I’m glad it did well.
Shortly thereafter, another fitness guy, Mike Campbell, published his book, Unleash the Alpha. I know this book front to back – I was the editor on the project. It’s also an excellent book. Still, I’d encouraged Mike to consider a different name. Not just to avoid confusion with Adam and Roman’s book, but again to strike a more fitness, less asshole-ish chord. But Mike politely declined my advice.
It’s also an excellent book. Still, I’d encouraged Mike to consider a different name. Not just to avoid confusion with Adam and Roman’s book, but again to strike a more fitness, less asshole-ish chord. But Mike politely declined my advice.
The authors stuck to their guns because their vision of an Alpha Male isn’t a bully or a tough guy. It’s someone who’s confident and secure, skilled and successful, generous and compassionate. It’s someone with considerable power but uses it to pick people up, not pin them down.
Sure he gets laid a lot along the way, though that can easily mean lots of sex with one (happy) partner.
Although they sold me, I had reservations.
Because not everyone is as nuanced as my friends about what it means to be Alpha. Some interpret it as being the archetypal “man’s man” — at least the one they always wanted to be: a dominating, ass-kicking, pickup artist.
Now there’s a new Alpha or manhood themed page popping up online every week. Most are basic personal training sales pages, but some are more disturbing.
One promises 5 Guaranteed Ways to Get More Girls Phone Numbers.
Another featured tips on What Alphas Should Do When a Guy Stares You Down at the Club.
I don’t know. Maybe make sure you’re not out clubbing in the Village with your shirt off?
As I read the marketing copy I always ask myself, “Is anyone really this insecure?”
An editor once asked me to rewrite a fitness article. It contained way too many “leftie” jokes that he felt would alienate the readers. “The young guys in this industry are generally insecure and attracted to over-the-top manliness.”
And it holds true. You’ve seen the ads: “You’re three months behind on rent but the freezer is full of chicken.”
Wow, is that ever hardcore. Have fun grilling your precious poultry with a Bic lighter after you get evicted.
As for the treatment of women, for every well-meaning article about introducing your girlfriend to the gym there are about 50 supplement ads featuring more excessively tanned silicon than front row at the Adult Video Awards.
I even know some smart female fitness writers who were encouraged by editors to submit sexier bio pictures.
After all, magazines don’t run the same tired photos of girls doing squats in G-strings and torn-up wife beaters to point out warm weather options in workout attire. There’s a lowest common denominator being catered to, and it has the IQ of a toaster oven.
So young men are insecure. They’re insecure about their bodies. They’re insecure about their game with women. They’re insecure about other men, too, and how they rank in the pecking order.
And insecurity almost single-handedly supports the fitness industry. It has ever since Charles Atlas brushed sand from a kid’s face and helped him pack on 20 pounds of bully beating muscle — in only 15 minutes a day.
Insecurity is the lifeblood of the supplement business too, a testament to how it can best intelligence every time.
For nearly a century supplement companies have run ads with bodybuilders in contest shape chugging weird workout drinks and weight gain powders and popping random fat burners.
Everybody knows they don’t actually use 90% of the stuff; at least they didn’t before their endorsement deals, when they were building their contest winning physiques.
Yet the shit sells. Not just to 17 year-old kids racking miles on Dad’s credit card — every day seemingly smart, educated, old-enough-to-know-better men leave GNC and Vitamin Shoppe with bags full of powders, pills, and promises, and very little muscle to show for it.
The predators in the industry perpetuate an unattainable physical mythos and then push your psychological “hot buttons” to feed off it, either by selling you snake oil or “manhood mentorship.”
So, how do you stay sane in an industry where you’re either a swindler or a mark?
1. Be On Guard
First, understand that you’re being targeted.
Specifically, your physical insecurities are being targeted. You wouldn’t have set foot in a gym or supplement store or logged onto a fitness page if you didn’t want to improve your body in the eyes of other people.
Gyms love insecurity. They especially love the New Years Resolution crowd — they sign up on January 2nd and by March have all but disappeared. Until next January.
Supplement companies also love insecurity. For example, they want young guys to feel skinny or inadequate compared to an airbrushed photo of Mr. Whatever, as it will help them sell weight gainers. When they pack on 30 pounds of sugar-bloat and fat, they have a fat burner for that.
Of course, targeting a need isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s the hallmark of any business — you wouldn’t have walked into a car dealership if you didn’t want a new car. And some people online sincerely want to help you.
For others, however, “Helping you reach your true potential” is simply trolling your insecurities to find the path of least resistance to your bank account.
2. Know who you are
You have 20 pounds that you’d give anything to lose. But you’re more than that. Maybe you’re also a student and a camp counsellor and an artist and a really good friend?
I’m not an expert on depression but I know how debilitating it can be. The happiest people I’ve met are the ones whose identity and sense of self worth aren’t determined solely by their physical form.
They’re usually into their families or careers or music or writing or travelling or perfecting the classic pour-over. Their physique may matter but it’s rarely number one.
So take inventory of who you are. If you need help, ask a good friend, one you’ve had since you were a kid. I can guarantee that they haven’t been your wing man for so long cause you can bench 315 or have a perfect set of pecs.
3. Believe in Something Bigger
Finally — and this is for the internet Alpha men — while you’re busy puffing out your chest and making sure you finish first, try putting something ahead of you. Maybe your spouse, your family, or better yet, a cause that speaks to you. A cause that’s bigger than you.
Try, in some way, to be in servitude of making the world a better place. See how it feels.
My guess is it will make you feel more empowered than any pseudo-manhood mentor ever could.
Because that guy who knows what’s really important, and has the confidence to notneed to finish first all the time? He’s special. In fact, he’s dangerous. His motivations don’t compute. The snipers don’t know where to aim.
Become that guy and you’ll be like Thomas Anderson in The Matrix, reborn as the indestructible Neo. You’ll see everything the Agents fire long before they reach you, all the predictable attacks against your self-esteem. And you won’t even need to dodge their bullets.
Cause when you’re ready, you won’t have to.