First aired on Q
Paul Solotaroff entered Stony Brook University in 1975 as a skinny freshman weighing a mere 147 pounds. By the end of the school year, he had changed so much his own father didn't recognize him. In a matter of months, Solotaroff had put on around 50 pounds of rippling muscle. He bore more of a resemblance to the comic book heroes of his youth than his own family.
The path Solotaroff took to get there, and where it would lead him in the future, is the subject of his memoir, The Body Shop: Parties, Pills, and Pumping Iron — or, My Life in the Age of Muscle.
There are no surprises here. Solotaroff had some chemical help getting such a remarkable physique in such a short period of time. During the six months he was pumping iron, he was also pumping his body full of steroids — Deca-Durabolin, to be exact.
What followed was an introduction to the world of gym addicts and body builders. Fairly underground at the time, it was brought to the world's attention in 1977 by the film Pumping Iron, complete with a young man named Arnold Schwarzenegger. A new physique, a new confidence and a wild new craze called disco brought the previously isolated Solotaroff out of his shell.
It was exactly the result he wanted.
"I wanted to look like anybody but me," Solotaroff said in a recent interview on Q. "I wanted to look like my polar opposite and would have done just about anything to escape this little box that my genetics had set me up in."
But the drugs, partying and excessive working out took their toll. Solotaroff began to lose his appetite and developed severe anxiety and insomnia. One day, during a 2 a.m. workout, he had a heart attack. Alone, at the bottom of a field house, with no one to call, it was a scare that stopped him in his tracks.
Solotaroff's memoir is also an examination of body culture — from its insider's perspective on the early days of gym culture to its musings on today's multiplicity of body ideals. In a day and age when the skinny-jeaned hipsters of Brooklyn's Williamsburg thrive alongside their fake-tanned neighbours on the Jersey Shore, getting dangerously big, dangerously fast is no longer the only way to drastically change your appearance.
The ideal body isn't the only thing that's changed. Gym culture has changed, too. No longer dingy basement rooms filled exclusively with men, Solotaroff believes gyms have replaced bars as a popular post-work destination. And he would know. He still visits one at least four times a week, for maintenance. Like Arnold, he may have given up the drugs, but that doesn't mean he gave up the physique.
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