Steroids may be Hollywood’s dirty secret – but they’re a symptom of a bigger problem

WWe live in the era of superheroes. There is no escape. Our popular culture is obsessed with these numbers: go to the movies every week and you’re bound to find scenes of muscle-bound superhumans saving the world. Many of these films explicitly address this; others, like James Bond or Fast & Furious, are superhero fiction in all but the name. As Hollywood flooded the market with these stories, performers have had to bow to the whims of this new paradigm. What does that mean exactly? glutes. pectorals. Paragraph “Body transformations.” Normal bodies are no longer enough.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see why so many in the film industry suspect a steroid problem. Over the past decade, we’ve seen countless regular men carving themselves into sinewy hunks for this or that blockbuster role. On his podcast this week, Joe Rogan — a man who, it must be said, has a checkered history when it comes to journalistic rigor — accused Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson of using steroids. (Johnson has admitted to dabbling with performance-enhancing drugs in his youth, but has hinted that this is a thing of the past.) Rogan made a similar allegation against Chris Hemsworth, whose role as the Norse god Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe prompted the actor to transforms into a true human Hulk. (Hemsworth’s trainers have denied the suggestion that he used steroids to aid in this transformation.) If some experts are to be believed – see for example: vox‘s 2021 play about “the open secret of looking like a superhero” — steroid use is rampant among actors.

We can safely assume that “Juicing” takes place in Hollywood. When there’s easy access to drugs, a lack of accountability, and financial motivation — as is certainly the case with multimillion-dollar movie deals — it would be naïve to think steroids are off the table. (Similarly, we all know it would be silly to assume that cocaine is still not circulating at Hollywood parties just because the film industry has gotten better at keeping its hedonism under wraps.) However, it doesn’t make sense to quibble about it speculate such things, as Rogan did on a case-by-case basis, from mere hunches or vibes about a particular actor’s earnings. Whether Johnson juiced is ultimately immaterial. Steroids are just a symptom of a larger problem facing Hollywood: a nagging lack of physique diversity on screen.

There have always been actors who have been known for their angular physiques – such as Arnold Schwarzenegger (who admitted to using steroids during his bodybuilding days when his appearance could be described as shockingly portly). But Arnie was always the exception to the rule, a man whose physicality was so unusual that people eagerly accepted him as a robotic killing machine. Put him in an everyone role like Jingle all the way and the audience scratched their heads. But in today’s climate? Every A-list man is Schwarzenegger in it Jingle all the waywith his bumpy physique considered the movie star norm.

When actors actually use steroids, there are a number of well-documented health risks, from an increased chance of stroke to potential cardiovascular problems. But the damage done to his audience can be just as worrisome. Hollywood’s body image issues are often discussed from a primarily female perspective, and with good reason. But the desire to be a stooge—and to devote large chunks of free time to lifting weights and gulping down protein powders—biases males.

There’s a lot to be said about the abject lack of body diversity in mainstream cinema. Fat actors are rarely allowed to become stars and never get the chance to host big blockbusters. It’s basically always been like this. But the window of what constitutes an “acceptable” height for an action star has narrowed even further over the past decade. What we’re left with is an A-list populated by men who look identical from the neck down, a mafia of indistinct mesomorphs. Part of the reason the whole “Hollywood is only a dozen white guys named Chris” narrative took off so well is that all of these actors – Chrises Hemsworth, Evans, Pratt and Pine – obey the same smooth, uniform body superiority.

Dwayne Johnson, here in Black Adam, was accused by Joe Rogan of using steroids

(Warner Bros)

Ultimately, even if Hollywood were completely steroid-free, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Actors already have a wealth of other performance-enhancing benefits available, from personal trainers and professional nutritionists to luxury gym memberships. Sure, with enough discipline and time, anyone can be jacked. But if you want to become a full blown vascular behemoth, money and resources will make all the difference.

Additionally, Hollywood’s bombing of beefcakes offers an insidious life lesson for the kids and teens who still form the core audience of modern superhero films. Moral virtue is fused with physical perfection: strength reigns supreme. It’s a pretty bad way of seeing the world if you ask me. Steroids may be Hollywood’s dirty secret – but they’re a symptom of a bigger problem


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