One subject that continues to be in the headlines whether Tiger Woods, home run records or the Tour de France is performance enhancing drugs. No matter what the competition, we seem to always be looking for another way to use and abuse technology to eek every ounce of performance out of our bodies. While I somewhat understand the pressure on elite athletes to use performance enhancers for the reward of fame and fortune when they are so close to the top, elite star performers aren’t the only ones looking for an edge. Increasingly, high school and middle schoolers are feeling the pressure to perform. That pressure is causing them to use performance enhancing drugs to better their performance with very little payoff except maybe a mention in the local paper and possibly a hot girlfriend or boyfriend in exchange for possibly many body and life altering negative consequences.
So why do adolescents or even adults really use performance enhancers? I believe the answer lies in two related observations.
The first is that our culture doesn’t value the way we are individually. You can see this in many ways, but some of the most blatant ways are visible in youth culture. Just look at a high school and you generally see a bunch of kids that want to look the same. Whether A&F, hip hop or goth culture, almost everyone seems to fit into only a handful of styles; everyone is trying to be different by looking the same. Even outside of youth culture, all you see on magazines these days is smooth-skinned, muscular, fat-less people with tans. It’s rare to see a man with hair on his legs and chest (which, by the way, is really normal for men).
I’ll go ahead and admit it. I’m a pretty hairy guy, especially on my legs. As a runner, I didn’t seem to notice as much, but when I started training for the Silverman triathlon, all of a sudden I was self-conscious about my leg hair. It turns out that swimmers and bikers are normally shavers. Their goal is to “shave off” every possible millisecond from their times and since hair is such a huge drag, they take it literally. Maybe that’s worth it for elite athletes, but I’m pretty sure even my hairy legs wouldn’t have noticeably slowed me down for the Silverman especially with buffeting waves on the swim and huge climbs on the bike. But contrary to what I knew reality was, I decided to start shaving my legs because of this self-imposed pressure. Now, I look back and I’m embarrassed that I was embarrassed about my hairy legs. I am who I am and I want compete with the body I have. Maybe that will slow me down and possibly look odd (bushy leg hair coupled with spandex is a sexy combo), but I don’t care.
But of course, you’re asking what all that has to do with performance enhancers? The answer lies in having that “screw you” attitude that says, “I don’t care if you’re faster or different than me…I am who I am and I want to see what I can do as me” as a part of our culture. Performance enhancers are inherently “not you”. You change yourself in artificial ways to become something you aspire to.
But through enhancement in any way, we are missing the joy of seeing our bodies work as they are. Whether shaving our legs or pumping steroids, both miss the inherent value about you…and that is that you are you and no one else is.
The second reason I believe performance enhancers are in such wide use in our society is that it’s so fuzzy what a performance enhancer really is. In fact, as I researched this a little lately it just muddied the waters. For one, what is classified as a performance enhancer is really murky. Here are the main classes:
- lean mass builders
When I saw the “painkiller” category I was sure that I had broken rules by using buffered aspirin when I did the Pikes Peak Marathon and the Silverman because it is classified as a painkiller (it also affects your blood). But I dug deeper and looked it up in the Anti-Doping Agency’s directory; it was safe to use (at least in triathlon events). WTF?! According to the Wikipedia article about performance enhancing drugs, “painkillers mask athletes’ pain so they can continue to compete and perform beyond their usual pain thresholds.” Yep. That’s what aspirin did for me, no question. So why is it OK to use aspirin, but not some other painkiller? I guess it must be somewhere in the fine print.
Of course, this just points out that the line between “normal” and performance enhancement is extremely blurry. This just causes confusion. We think if one type of pill is OK and helps us, then another type might help even more…who cares about the rules? As long as I don’t get caught…the rules are just arbitrary anyway, right? At least it seems so with painkillers.
This is the myth: some athletes use performance enhancers and others don’t. This is the reality: all athletes use performance enhancers. Some do it legally and others don’t.
The truth is that we use technology all over the place to enhance our performances and it seems very arbitrary to limit some enhancers but not others. From shoes to aspirin, shaved legs to steroids, it’s just embedded in our culture to figure out how we can do more without actually working for it. So for me, enough is enough. I may not be able to ever completely know that it is “all me all the time until I cross the finish line”, but I’m going to do my best to find out how close I can get. That’s what being a barBAREyun is all about.
Shoes are cheating…and so is shaving your legs