You’ve come here to Superhero Jacked for at least one of the following reasons: curiosity, dissatisfaction, and inspiration.
Dissatisfaction: Maybe you’ve fallen out of shape, or had never made it onto any sports teams in high school. Perhaps you’ve always been uncomfortable with the way your body looks and feels. But you’re no longer happy with your current state of being. I want to emphasize that this should not be confused with any psychological disorders affecting your quality of life; if you’re binge-eating, restricting, cutting yourself off from friends and family, or partaking in self-destructive behaviors, then I strongly recommend you seek professional help. Otherwise, it’s completely normal to have insecurities and frustrations with your body, provided they do not lead to you spiraling down into legitimately life-threatening, debilitating habits.
Inspiration: Those characters you’ve seen on screen, played through in video, or read in graphic novels, have always represented something you’d like to become. While you may never have the power to lift an entire building over your shoulders or run past the speed of sound, you could at least look the part.
Like an astonishing Big Bang, something goes off in your mind. You’re ready to break free of the old, and get started on making the new. You’re had enough of looking in the mirror and not liking what you see. You’re tired of sitting on the couch and watching those modern Titans fight and live a life you’ve always dreamt of emulating.
It’s time to start over, and create something new.
An ultimate reset.
And that’s what I’m going to talk about with you guys today:
Fantasy as Catalyst for Change
Let me set this reminder again: this is not about body shaming or promoting eating disorders.
This is about getting healthy and fit, and how fictional characters and cosplay help us to get started towards these goals.
I know what it’s like to want something more from yourself, particularly on a physical level.
It’s always an internal game of tug-o-war between wanting to look a certain way and embracing my own uniqueness.
Blame it on society, or pop culture.
For me, I’ve always been self aware of my height, and the fact that I could never completely rock a skin-tight suit like Halle Berry’s Catwoman without looking like a little girl trying to sit at the adult’s table. Growing up, I used to be bullied for being not only tiny but also scrawny, much like Peter Parker. I knew a classmate of mine who never got picked to play kickball because he was overweight and horrible at running from base to base. He reminded me of the Bruce Banner; in the classroom, he was one of the top kids to get perfect scores on exams, leaving everyone to eat his mathematical dust. But at recess, he’d get into fights with the top athletes on the field, who’d always criticize his weight.
I don’t know what happened to him, but I’d like to think that like me, there was another side of him, angry at the status quo, and ready to make a change.
For myself, I discovered early on that my heroes had muscle.
They weren’t frail supermodels curling pink dumbbells. They were lean, mean, fighting machines. So I started researching how to strengthen my body, as well as make peace with my inner conflict. Both of which led me to strength training and yoga.
Now, I’m not perfect, nor do I think I look like the embodiment of heroism. However, I will say that the heroes gracing the pages of my favorite graphic novels inspired me on a path for self-improvement.
And that’s what I think is a powerful upside to using heroes and cosplay as a tool for personal growth.
Before Luke Skywalker became a Jedi (check out our Jedi Path!), he was just a geeky kid on a desert planet wishing he could live a life of adventure. The original Power Rangers were just a group of ordinary teens before being thrust into a battle between good and evil. What would have happened if Luke refused to walk the path of a Jedi? What if the Rangers in Angel Grove were fine with being “normal” and backed away from Zordon?
OK, we can’t quite put our lives on the same level as those from fiction.
But what we both have in common is that at some point we’ve had to make a pivotal choice in whether or not we choose to stay the same.
Our Matrix Moment
Let’s call this our Matrix moment; that famous scene when Neo must ultimately decide his fate.
“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.”
Time to accept defeat, and give in to a reality of impossibility. There’s no way you’ll ever have ripped muscles like Jason Mamoa. The world is right: you’ll always be you- broken, wrong, incomplete. This is your prison.
“You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
Every thought, every action, comes either from a place of fear or love. Fear in that you’re stuck in the illusion of the Matrix- your own mindset-, and love from the sense that you are passionate and hopeful in the truth that you can- and will– defy the odds.
But if your willingness to change is firmly rooted in the strongest of convictions, then it will carry you through even the most arduous of tasks. People will try to discourage you from walking the path. Life will try to smack you upside of the head. Your own conscience will betray you.
A radioactive spider may have bitten Peter Parker, but he did not become Spider Man overnight; the death of someone dear forced him into a deep introspection that ultimately led him realize his purpose. For Bruce Wayne, the seed of greatness was planted in tragedy, as he was just a boy when his parents died. It took all of his early years for him to become Batman; determination, and purpose, carried him along the way.
That’s why I’m always awestruck by the cosplayers out there who use their own personal heroes as a means for change.
Through inspiration, they not only physically transformed their bodies; they changed their whole outlook on life.
Yes, they’re embodying the characters, but they’re also recognizing the importance of physical health. There’s a certain respect that comes from sculpting your body. You realize that mentally, you’re capable of more than you know, and that you should never underestimate how far your body can go when it’s treated right.
This kind of transformation can only be a product of our time. In the past, hardly anyone knew what cosplay was. If you dressed up in tights and donned a mask as a teen or adult, people thought you’d fallen off the face of the Earth.
(“Hey buddy, Halloween is over!”)
You were a major nerd, a creep.
(“Why don’t you go back to your mom’s basement?”)
Now, it’s a cultural norm. Yes, some people still find it strange. I’m sure the bullying continues to go on behind closed doors. But cosplay has evolved into a bigger movement now to the point that I think it’s managed to integrate pretty well into our society. But I digress.
The beauty in this is that by taking inspiration from fantasy, we start to realize that there’s a bigger picture worth seeing beyond just looking a certain way. We start to look deeper into why these things that amaze us have such a major impact on how we choose to live. Suddenly, we go beyond just wanting to change our physique; we reconnect with our emotions and thoughts.
Don’t Believe Me…? For Example:
Why do we relate with the X-Men? We know what it’s like to be an outsider. It’s our empathy that affects how we decide to treat others.
How can we, in our own, small way, become a true hero?
I’m sure you know where this is going- helping others, donating to or joining charitable organizations, volunteering our time to help someone else, creating opportunities for people to achieve their goals in a skill you’ve already mastered. You get the picture. But what a wonderful picture it is!
It’s the point I’m trying to make- fantasy is also more than just entertainment and escape. It’s something that changes us the moment the story ends. We may not see it yet, but we feel it. Something inside of us has been stirred up, and it’s radically changing the way we choose to live our life. Almost like developing a hyper-awareness for how we choose to live internally through our thoughts and externally through our choices.
Do we see ourselves trapped in some prison where no hope exists, that no one is special enough to do something really great?
Do we believe in limitless possibility? That we do have the power to change our own lives and help others do the same?
This is just my musing on the potential of transformation, and just how powerful fantasy can be. It’s potent stuff.
Many aspiring archaeologists have looked up to Indiana Jones. Star Trek has lit up both the light and ambition of many astronauts, engineers, and writers. Window washers dress up as superheroes to entertain hospital-bound children. There’s even Cosplay for a Cause, whose mission takes the power of cosplay and uses it to raise money to donate to charities such as the Red Cross and Wildlife Conservation Society.
Heroes have also helped people to take charge of their mental health, fight cancer, and survive dark, challenging moments of their lives (even during the Great Depression superheroes were a form of escapism)
And because this is a fitness site, I will point out that on a pure physical level, cosplay has definitely helped people stay in shape.
Here are a few examples of people who continue to, or have, used cosplay as a way to regain their health and fitness:
Some of the most talented cosplayers know that having the right physique just helps to elevate the character to another level.
Even though cosplay is, and should be, for fun, there’s no crime in going the extra mile to portray the character as accurately as you can.
So if becoming the Man of the Steel is what sets you on a path towards better fitness, then more power to you, and to Superman, for helping someone focus on their health.
As an adjunct for those of you who want to change, and feel compelled to embark on a fitness quest of their own, but don’t know where to begin, let your own inner nerd guide you. Out of all the characters out there- comics, video games, movies, television shows, books- let the one who you identify with the most guide you.
At the moment, we don’t have the medical technology to turn a person into a Naavi or turn them into a super soldier. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t mirror them in some way! Of course, there’s cosplay- makeup, prosthetics, and costumes go a long way. But then you have your body.
Set some personal records in the weight room, or beat your current score at finishing a mile as quickly as possible. Really sit down and study the physicality of the character(s) you hope to embody.
If you’re lucky, you may be able to do it with a good deal of accuracy if they’re a film or TV character. At some point the actor and/or their trainer will have shown some transparency by sharing how they got whipped into shape. (SuperheroJacked already has an archive for you to explore!) Personal trainers like Luke Zocchi, Chris Hemsworth’s go-to guy, even have a social media presence on platforms like Instagram, where they reveal some behind-the-scenes secrets of how they helped their clients transform into their characters, in addition to their own training tips, diet advice, and accessible at-home programs. If you’ve ever wanted to train like Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Sebastian Stan, Liev Schreiber, or David Harbour, then look no further than the man behind all of their physiques: Don Saladino.
(Side note: if anyone saw Logan Lucky this year, watch it again to see if you can spot Saladino’s little cameo in the scene when he’s training Sebastian Stan’s character!)
But wait…there’s more!
Hobbit star and future (at the time of this writing) Wasp Evangeline Lilly goes out of her way to share her own experiences in regards to physically preparing for a role (use the hashtag #waspworkout for some awesome inspiration!). Josh Brolin has also given us a look into how he works out to become the massive machine that is Cable.
Thanks to the Internet, there’s a ton of resources for us to use when it comes to fitness. Before then, you’d be lucky to find some honest, no holds-barred accounts on what it really took for actors to get into shape. To my knowledge, there was Bruce Lee’s the Tao of Jeet Kune Do, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, but there was very little we could work with outside of talking to a trainer at a gym or the occasional magazine column. Sometimes there’d be an interview on TV- but you’d have to catch it in time (remember the days before DVR?). Today, we have the Internet, which is just a virtual library right at our fingertips. Some celebrities continue to impart some information through publications of their own; True Blood star Joe Manganiello’s Evolution and Rocky IV’s Dolph Lundgren’s Train Like an Action Hero.
So who- or what- you aspire to become is only limited by your imagination. Let your desire to undergo a fantastic transformation of your own affect all of your being; mind, body, and spirit. Remember, anyone can put on a cape. Very few know how to fly, and not get caught doing so. (As the Incredibles Edna Mode would be quick to remind us all.) It’s not just about fitting into the costume; it’s about making the costume become an extension of who you are.
So tell me, are you ready for a change?
– SHJ Contributor,
Sam (aka, The Dragon)
Join The Superhero Academy and start unleashing your inner SuperHuman.