There’s a lot of misinformation out there about fitness – a lot. Plenty of sources claiming to have the secrets to burning fat, building muscle, and generally maintaining fitness aren’t really reliable. This is one reason we’ve posted before about the myths and reality of different types of exercise and fitness goals. But not all shabby fitness information comes in the form of specific tips or workout myths. Sometimes, it’s simply pop culture that can reshape our expectations and warp our perspectives such that we develop unrealistic or even harmful attitudes about physical health.
Here, I won’t suggest that the seemingly invincible superhero trend in film and pop culture is in anyone nefarious or directly harmful. But I will suggest that at least in subtle ways it may be shifting our views in unproductive ways.
The Heroes Are Everywhere
It would be easy to dismiss superhero influence as something that only affects certain demographics who see and enjoy the films. But this is faulty logic for two reasons: first, a ton of people across all demographics go to superhero films, and second, the hero imagery isn’t limited just to the cinema. Comic books themselves are having a resurgence, and some heroes appear on TV also. Console and mobile games based on the same heroes are thriving, and the themes and characters are spreading online as well. Playtech, one of the biggest developers in online gaming, signed a deal with Warner Bros. just last year to bring about a whole new line of slot-themed superhero games. In all of these areas, we’re exposed to lovable, popular superhero figures with bulging muscles and almost impossibly defined physique.
We Watch Them Work Out
It might not seem like it, but we’ve actually watched superhero characters work out a lot. Multiple Spider-Man films have shown Peter Parker essentially practicing his practicing and wall-crawling, and watching himself growing more muscular in the process. Christian Bale’s Batman woke up from a long night out saving Gotham to do shirtless push-ups on camera. And these are just a few examples from so many superhero films over the years. This is not insignificant. It makes the aforementioned impossible physique of superheroes seem like something that’s obtained through practical, ordinary means. This is not to say that no one can be as buff as Bale’s Batman or as fit as Peter Parker – but again, these characters generally represent an extraordinarily high ideal, and we’re almost conditioned to think it’s one we can reach just by doing a few extra workouts.
The Actors’ Routines Are Unattainable
Every now and then, we hear about an actor’s fitness routine that seems oddly reasonable. For instance, there’s been a lot in the news about what Gal Gadot did to get in shape for Wonder Woman, and it was all fairly simple: quick arm workouts, a focus on veggies, plenty of water each day, and even cheat days! But more commonly, actors getting fit for superhero roles spend months dedicated almost solely to nutrition and exercise. They have access to gyms, excellent trainers, and professional nutritionists, and they’re paid to focus on the task at hand. Most of us don’t have those luxuries. So, while a dedicated wellness routine can have incredible results, it’s a little bit much to expect to reach the same results as a paid actor in most cases.
The Less Super The Better
There are some superheroes that are fictional enough not to factor into this conversation. For instance, characters like Thor and Superman are essentially god-like, and we can separate them from human ideals. However, looking at rankings of Marvel movies by aggregated critic scores, we can see that usually it’s the less “super” heroes that are the most popular. Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America… these are basically humans taking advantage of single powers. We related to them because they seem just like us – which, again, makes us strive (even subconsciously) to be more like them.
None of this is meant to suggest it’s wrong to strive for the highest possible level of fitness. Usually, that’s a good thing! But it’s important not to be disappointed with or discouraged by results. You can hit the gym regularly for a year and not look like Captain America, whether on screen, in comics, or in a game you saw somewhere. Given the sheer scope of this genre in pop culture, this is beginning to feel like an important reminder for people to heed.