What The Life Of Rich Piana Taught Us About Male Body Image Issues
Even though I’m a little ‘late to the party’ with this post, I always wanted to touch upon the life of Rich Piana when I heard the sad news that he lost his life last month.
It’s pretty clear from my usual posts that I am far from a fan of bodybuilding, but nonetheless I was sad to hear Rich had passed. Why would someone who disapproves of a world where your sole value is dependent on being bigger, and looking better, than anyone/everyone else be affected by yet another life lost to the ruthless nature of the beast that is bodybuilding?
The answer is one simple word: Honesty.
Rich Piana was always very transparent from what I saw about his issues with self image. In fact, it was Rich that I first started hearing the term ‘bigorexia’ from. Rich was never satisfied with how he looked. As big as he was – and he was HUGE – he would say when he looked in a mirror, he saw a man that was too small.
The life of Rich poignantly highlights just how the image everyone else has can be so opposed to the image in our own heads. No matter how many times our loved ones tell us we’re Ok and we’re good enough, if we don’t buy the idea ourselves, we’ll still suffer the pain of self-dissatisfaction.
Rich couldn’t blot out the pain like millions of other men can’t in the world today. The pain can be so strong it drives people to extreme efforts to alter what they see in the mirror. Steroid abuse, gym obsessions, plastic surgery, self harm, depression and constant approval seeking through social media are all devilish products of an unhealthy body image.
What Rich Piana did was show it’s not a negative to talk about how you feel. I don’t want this post become too centred around men, but I will say I believe it’s harder for men to talk about this stuff in today’s world. Men and boys are conditioned not to show emotion. “Man up!” We’re told. “Stop complaining and suck it up”, they say……..
What if we can’t? What if we need to talk to someone about what we’re going through? What if it’s too tough to keep a stiff upper lip?
If someone as big as Rich (both physically & figuratively) was comfortable letting the world see just how hard he found it to accept the way he looks, why can’t anyone else?
Even though Rich was open about his issues, he still struggled to overcome them. He was never free. He sought to get bigger and bigger, in the form of steroids and even site enhancement (implants into certain muscles). But admission of the issue is always the first step to the overcoming of any problem.
And of course, the irony of all this is, guys assume girls will only date or fall in love with big, muscular guys who bodybuild. If you spend any time around average women – not physique competitors or fame whores that want a man for his status, you’ll realise what attracts a woman is far more than biceps, chest and your body fat percentage.
If you’re a young man reading this, by all means seek to improve your body; make it strong, make it functional, make it healthier and strive to be a better version of yourself. But your looks aren’t the legacy you’ll leave. When do you ever see ‘here lies a handsome, ripped, massive man’ on a gravestone? The world we live in hasn’t got to the level of superficial sickness that we’re remembering people by their looks instead of anything else. Let’s pray it stays that way.
Let Rich Piana’s life be a lesson that even those who seem to have it ‘all’ are still affected by social media and the modern world’s suffocating pull to look perfect and be the biggest, most tanned and most followed person around.
It’s Ok to tell someone you’re unhappy with your image. If anything, it will most likely encourage them to open up more to you too, and you’ll find more people feel how you do. You’re not alone.
Remember fellas, you’re a multi talented and unique person that has so many more layers behind the initial ‘look’ you may not like. Develop your intelligence, your communication skills, your skills and talents. Don’t turn to surgery, steroids and approval seeking.
May Rich Piana rest in peace.
JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All
The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.
This was a great reflection of what isn’t talked about often. Most articles tend to focus on women’s body image issue, but never men. My husband enjoys bodybuilding and has done a couple shows and never thought he was big enough. It’s rough because people who don’t bodybuild or strength train, don’t understand. We enjoyed watching some of Rich’s videos because he was so honest.
Great post and RIP Rich 🙁
Thank you for the nice words, Tori.
Some people will never be convinced they’re big enough. What I like to remind people is: you may look smaller than someone else but if you’re quite a bit leaner, who is the most muscular really? I find that’s a good thought process to wane off the thoughts of being forever not big enough.
Thanks again for the comment, and yes, RIP Rich; let’s hope he finds self contentment up there.
Isn’t it interesting how gay men are pathologized with body image issues when the bodybuilding industry never speaks to them; instead bodybuilding bombards heterosexual men with images and messages that muscles will make them more attractive and that will lead to more sex.
Exactly, it’s all marketing and money orientated. Play on men’s insecurities and make them buy stuff to look better. That’s the nature of the world we live in nowadays; looks over function and performance. Sad really.
I’m sorry but you have no idea what you’re talking about. Yes Rich was honest and I think we can all respect him for that. But he clearly said in one of his videos that he was very satisfied with his size. He said around 260-270 is where he feels most comfortable, and he only pushed himself to get even bigger because he wanted to prove to all the doubters that they can put on 30 and then plateau without losing anything. He said a few times that he lived a great life and had a lot of fun, ‘having a blast’. He said he lost his mind and he’s a little crazy but that he was loving life and wouldn’t have it any other way and that he would keep on doing what he was doing because he loved it. There was no sense of lacking or dissatisfaction. He loved every minute of it. He did say at one point that he accepted that he probably had body-image dysmorphia but that’s just cause he was really passionate about body building. He just loved the sport so much that people thought he had dysmorphia and Rich even started to think that may be true, but it was really just a passion and a love for the sport of bodybuilding and fitness.
When I wrote this post I went with the impression of Rich I saw at that time. I will admit I haven’t watched lots of interviews with him so could well be wrong on a few things.
Thanks for your comment and let’s hope Rich rests in peace!