Why do men deride buff guys?

Why do we commonly perceive well-built men as somehow less intelligent? // True Blood actor Joe Manganiello(Startraks-Rex Features)
Why do we commonly perceive well-built men as somehow less intelligent?
One actor claims his buff physique has worked against him, and some men don’t like to admit how long they spend in the gym. What’s our problem with buff guys?
The July issue of Men's Health magazine features an interview with True Blood actor and all-round buff guy Joe Manganiello.
Now let's lay it down straight. Joe is toned. Joe has biceps like Zeppelins. Joe has the sort of six-pack that men without six-packs dream of.
And on top of that, he has - or at least had - a problem. Manganiello says that, for a long time, he was considered too buff for Hollywood.
"I got to LA in 2000, when we were coming off the 90s: women looked like men and the men all looked like women," he tells the magazine. "I was constantly being told, 'you're too healthy,' so there were four years where I essentially didn't work as an actor."
Can he be right? Is there prejudice against muscly men? Is there a stigma against the super-fit?
Certainly, there's a seam of comedy - even away from Hollywood - that equates an abundance of muscle with an absence of brains. There's also a sense that men who work out too much can't have very much else going on in their lives.
But is any of that fair? And if not, why do we deride buff guys so much? We take a look at the evidence.
Are muscles out?
The extent of the problem is perhaps suggested by Joe Manganiello's own experience. For a while, he tried to change. He stopped working out so much and started smoking more. "But I hated it," he admits. "I was happier going back to my roots: training like men do in my hometown of Pittsburgh."
He's not the only one who has tried to hide his exercise habit. In the real world beyond Hollywood, being buff can still cause derision. Simon, 38, from London, won't even tell his friends how often he goes to the gym.
"There's a stigma about going too much," he says. "I go on average five times a week but I only ever admit to three. People think if you go too much, especially if you do weights and resistance work rather than just plod along on the treadmill, it's all about looking like David Beckham."
Bright guys work out
But Simon is a high-flying media manager. He has the brains as well as the body and a full life away from the gym. He doesn't fit the male gym bunny stereotype at all.
Charlene Hutsebaut , a certified strength-and-conditioning specialist, agrees that "very fit men can be intelligent as well as have a good sense of self."
"In my personal training practice in London I see high-level executives who are already fit as well as those who choose to become fit," she adds. "Both groups recognise the need to feel better at work in order to perform and get results."
In other words, these men are lifting, running and pumping to look good, yes, but also because they realise that working out gives them another advantage over other men. Contrary to the 'all muscle, no brains' stereotype, being fit can make you smarter.
"Some studies show that exercise can improve memory, increase the number of brain cells which in turn improves cognitive function, and boost problem-solving, planning and attention capabilities," says Hutsebaut.
It stands to reason that super-fit, uber-toned men get more of these benefits than anyone else. Are we wrong to deride buff men as brainless? It would seem so.
Why do men equate buff with brainless?
So if working out, or taking regular exercise of any kind, improves mental function, and everyone from students to City high-fliers do it, why do buff, burly guys sometimes get such a hard time?
Partly, it could be a vestige of the old idea that women take care of themselves, and men don't. To spend too long in front of a mirror, or too long in pursuits that are solely designed to make us look good, is to take vanity to an unmanly level.
In fact, it's true that men are becoming fixated by their bodies. A study published in January found that more men than women worry about their body shape and appearance, and that a compulsion to exercise is one of the consequences of that obsession. Meanwhile, research by the University of the West of England found that 38% of men would sacrifice at least a year of their life for the perfect body.
So part of the problem many of us have with muscly or athletic men is that we see them as both vain and in some way mentally weak. They work out so much because they have body image problems, and body image problems are best left to the girls.
Are we jealous of buff blokes?
But even if some of these uber-fit men have body image problems, at least they are doing something positive about it, rather than sitting on the sofa with a bucket of chicken and moaning about their man boobs.
Charlene Hutsebaut thinks one of the problems we have with fit men is that they are and we're not. Frankly, we might be a little bit jealous.
"As a personal trainer and someone who keeps fit herself, I know how much effort it takes to get and stay fit," she says. "This shift in outlook to a healthier way of living can be very scary to some, causing them to manifest their feelings towards those who choose to do it in perhaps negative ways."
Could it be that we deride buff guys because we secretly want to be like them, but can't be bothered putting in the considerable effort?
Bodybuilding stigma
Of course, in one or two cases muscly men have been their own worst enemies. The 1970s and 80s saw the implementation of an extreme bodybuilding craze. Many of the top guys back then seemed to be single-handedly striving for muscle above anything else.
It wasn't particularly healthy, and it was an obsession. These men weren't toned and honed because they were fit and healthy. They were muscly because they wanted to be big.
"I suppose yes, a stigma about male bodybuilding and super fit men may have stemmed from the 70s and 80s," says Hutsebaut. "These men came across as very single-minded, striving for the perfect 'big' male physique."
Continued
Page 1 of 2Next