The book’s conclusion attempts to weave together the various themes that dominate the work, cohering around three undergirding sections: Why use IPEDs?; Potsford’s local closed market structure; and market trajectory: commercialization and SNS supply. Chapters 4 to 7 are drawn upon to present a multi-layered theorization as to why the men under study were drawn towards image and performance enhancing drugs. Building out from a psychoanalytical account of bodily desire, to include meso and macro factors such as sporting and occupational context, the role of pleasure and lifestyle, and will-to-recognition on social media, the chapter offers some much-needed nuance to the question of motivation. Potsford’s offline market is then summarized, drawing heavily on Chapter 9. This is then woven into the final section, which reiterates the growth and development of the IPED market, bringing together Chapters 9, 10, and 11 to present a dual space of traditional offline, culturally embedded supply, alongside a burgeoning online market catering to an evolving consumer base. The chapter, and book, are drawn to a close with a number of recommendations for future research and policy implementation.
The health and fitness industry has experienced a meteoric rise over the past two decades, yet its slick exterior conceals a darker side: image and performance enhancing drugs (IPEDs). Using ethnographic data from gyms, interviews, and social media platforms, this book investigates the growing use and supply of IPEDs in a UK context. Various levels of user motivation are explored, from the psychoanalytic processes of desire and bodily dissatisfaction to the instrumental and pleasurable aspects of consumption, and their relationship to social media. The gym is also critically examined as a space of deviant leisure, applying cutting edge criminological theory to build links between gym culture, masculinity, and consumption. Tracking the intricate relationship between supply and demand, The Muscle Trade then studies the local offline IPED market in the city of ‘Potsford’, before tracking the commercialization, normalization, and digitization of supply. Within this, particular attention is paid to the social media platforms Facebook and Instagram as spaces of self-representation and illicit commerce. Ultimately, this book serves as a guide to the muscle trade, its infrastructure, the various key actors, and the motivations behind chasing masculine bodily perfection.
Chapter 4 is the first of four chapters unpacking the motivation to consume IPEDs. Serving as the theoretical base onto which analysis of the compulsion to engage in excessive bodywork and IPED consumption stands, this chapter draws on advanced psychoanalytic theory to make a case for the role of lack and desire as the key driving forces for the sample. First, the pivotal role of lack in human subjectivity is laid out, before an argument that the body, for the book’s subjects, represents the objet petit a is offered. This stance is then mobilized to interrogate the corporeal suffering and jouissance taken on by hardcore gym users, before the cyclical, psychically appealing nature of bodywork is explored. The notion that fitness is a never-ending journey is then leant upon to argue that IPED consumption is essentially a means to prolong bodily dissatisfaction, allowing subjects to suspend themselves in a state of corporeal desire. Finally, the relationship between IPED addiction and desire is explored, taking in both the chemical and psychic aspects of dependence present in the men under study.
Building out from Chapter 4’s psychoanalytic foundations, this chapter examines the instrumental reasons why the sample used IPEDs to build their bodies. First, the role of competitive sporting activity is considered as a driver of consumption, and the underlying competitive individualist mindset present among the men under study is interrogated. Following this, the utility of attaining a muscular enhanced body for professionals working in the health and fitness industry, particularly personal training and online coaching, is investigated. This analysis is contextualized within the post-industrial political economy of Potsford and an argument is advanced that IPED consumption ought to be viewed as a means of hyper-conformity to the edicts of late-capitalist accumulation, particularly given the precarious nature of many roles in the sector. Ultimately, the chapter concludes that both the sporting context of consumption and the insecure local health and fitness economy represent ‘dopogenic environments’.
This chapter serves to introduce the book. First, the scene is set with a background to the consumption of image and performance enhancing drugs (IPEDs), including a working definition and brief overview of existing research. A note on methodology is then offered, which describes the author’s ‘connective’ ethnographic journey into the murky world of IPED use and supply, and innovative means of data collection. The structure and content of the book are then mapped in order to signpost the reader to what is to follow.
Chapter 10 seeks to track some recent shifts in the IPED market, centring on the interconnected processes of commercialization, normalization, and digitization. First, the increased profitability of UGL ownership, propelled by new-found direct-to-end user sales, is explored. Evidence of increased animosity and intra-lab rivalries is presented in a formerly amicable marketplace. This change is contextualized in relation to an influx of ‘market-oriented’ profit-driven dealers, intent on cashing in on the burgeoning customer base. Following this, the mainstreaming of the IPED market, stimulated by an increase in lifestyle use as well as the removal of many cultural barriers to supply, is examined. The chapter argues that this development has allowed many less culturally embedded users, who would otherwise lack the necessary peer networks, to purchase AAS and other substances. Ultimately, the chapter presents something of a chicken and egg problem, as it remains unclear whether an increase in lifestyle use has fed the expansion of the online market, or whether the ease with which substances can be purchased has encouraged consumption in a wider demographic of users.
The health and fitness industry has experienced a meteoric rise over the past two decades, yet its slick exterior conceals a darker side. Using ethnographic data from gyms, interviews, and social media platforms, this book investigates the growing consumption of image and performance enhancing drugs (IPEDs), the motivations behind their use, and their role in masculine body image.
Addressing a gap in the literature, Nick Gibbs also interrogates both the offline and digital drug supply chains with important insights for IPED harm reduction practitioners, law makers and policy advisors.
Chapter 9 offers an analysis of the local IPED market in Potsford. First, the sanctity of peer networks and informal contacts in the hardcore fitness community for those seeking to purchase IPEDs is highlighted, as the traditional ‘partial’ market is conceptualized as a space that requires a requisite amount of bodily and cultural capital to enter. As such, the chapter identifies the barriers that are deliberately erected to preclude those who lack the cultural embeddedness required to engage in the local market, which typically takes place in gyms, users’ and sellers’ homes, and through mutual acquaintances. This dynamic is exemplified through a case study of an amateur bodybuilder named Dom and the underground laboratory Astra. Dom’s connection to this UGL ultimately facilitated a number of other men’s purchasing, and the chapter argues that such a relationship is highly mutually beneficial for user and supplier alike.
Chapter 11 explores the online IPED market, predominantly focusing on the social media sites Facebook and Instagram. The chapter examines retail-level sellers operating on each platform, drawing a crude typology of underground laboratory representatives and online resellers. UGL representatives, it contends, mainly operate on private or semi-private groups on Facebook and only sell on behalf of a specific UGL brand.
Independent resellers, on the other hand, embody the indiscriminate nature of the social media market, proactively soliciting for business on Instagram and using hashtags and recommended follows to target prospective customers. The chapter draws upon digital ethnographic screenshots and interviews to highlight the modus operandi of these seller types, exploring their means of communication, transactions, product delivery, and strategies to avoid detection. Ultimately, connections are drawn between the IPED market as a whole, and the emergent nature of this aspect of online supply is emphasized.
Chapter 6 considers the role of pleasure and lifestyle in IPED consumption, drawing on a case study of the book’s oldest subject, Phillip. A sprawling interview conducted with Phillip in a coffee shop in Potsford is utilized to first introduce this notable participant, before unpacking his initially instrumental motivations to use IPEDs. However, although first rooted in sporting aspiration, Phillip’s consumption exemplified the age-defying, lifestyle-enhancing experiences of consuming IPEDs and his use is therefore explored in relation to medicalization, the liberal tenet of a mastery over nature, and testosterone as a gateway to ‘perma-adolescence’. Though a unique case study, this exploration serves to highlight the role of pleasure and lifestyle within the broader IPED-using population.