A review of literature as it relates to web based communities is limited to a very narrow band of the literary spectrum. In the context of time, no historical document describes the evolution of societies of interest into closely knit communities of like minded intellects interacting non-physically in a virtual environment. Even Nostradamus, for all the arguable foresight attributed to this controversial seer, failed to pen a description of this very significant social medium. Other historically noteworthy topics would afford the reviewer literally thousands of years of documentation from which to gain insight and draw conclusions. Depending on ones definition of web based communities, the time frame spans less than forty years. There are those who would suggest that a responded to email represents a form of online community. Others would not be so loose in their interpretation insisting that the word community implies a greater plurality of individuals and that relevancy of social exchange as it relates to a common goal or interest is germane to the definition.
Many educated and informed writers have attempted to define what an online community is, and yet a common definition which could be considered a definitive standard remains elusive as of yet. Perhaps this is because the environment and technology in which cyber communities exist is still in a state of rapid evolution. One might argue that the evolutionary arrow which transformed email into bulletin boards, and bulletin boards into chat rooms, is comparable to punctuated equilibria in a physical sense and only marvel at what is yet to come. In consideration of the above therefore, a review of literature as it relates to the bodybuilding community, and web based communities in general, could not be considered complete unless it attempts to extrapolate a cohesive definition, or at a minimum, classify the types of online communities that currently exist.
The Bodybuilding Community
It would be difficult to explain the mentality of a bodybuilder to a layperson. The extremes that competitive physique athletes subject themselves to in the pursuit of a physical ideal are difficult, painful, and occasionally life threatening. In preparation for a competitive event, bodybuilders endure a period of self denial which boarders on monasticism. Diet and routine dominate every moment of the bodybuilder’s life. In an attempt to explain this mindset to potential bodybuilders, the author of this study once wrote an article called “Expect Pain”. This article, along with many others by the writer, have been published throughout the internet and copied to various bulletin boards. The author quotes from his own article stating “Until you can come to grips with the sacred truth that all successful bodybuilders, enhanced or not, embrace pain like a lover, than you will wash out like so much sand on an empty beach. In a week, no one will even remember that you were coming to the gym.” (liftforlife.com, Expect Pain).
This mentality has caused many to question the sanity of those who choose to participate in the sport of bodybuilding. A friend of the writers once described the average gym as “cesspools of social pathology”. He is not along in his opinion. Present day psychologists have recognized a condition known as “muscle dysmorphia” which is best described as anorexia in reverse. A person with muscle dysmorphia, also known as “Bigorexia”, suffers from a psychological condition in which they feel small or inadequate, regardless of their actual physical size. While many in the bodybuilding community suffer form this condition, the goal of size for its own sake is elusive at best, regardless of ones mental frame of reference.
With the introduction of performance enhancing drugs in the 1940’s, the bodybuilding community became fragmented into two distinct groups which are commonly referred to as Natural and Enhanced. Rumors of the new wonder drugs that could reduce workout recovery time while increasing size and definition spread with viral swiftness. Little was known at the time of the health risk and potential side effects of steroid use and legalities were not an issue. It was a time of experimental innocence with the piper who would one day claim payment no where in sight. Bodybuilders were getting bigger, which to a bodybuilder, is a goal unto itself. It is a passion, it is an obsession, and it is the root of the problem. Professional bodybuilders today can hit the stage carrying nearly 300 lbs of mass with extremely low levels of body fat, chemical behemoths whose comic book proportions are rivaled only by the hidden cost of their achievement. In comparison, Natural Bodybuilders share the same obsession, train just as hard, and diet just as methodically as their enhanced counterparts, yet without compromising their values and health to the perils of steroid abuse. The pursuit of a competitive physique, to become a walking anatomy lesson in the light of a cheering crowd requires a level of commitment and discipline that few will understand.
Because bodybuilders represent a unique and narrow band of the psychological spectrum, they are best understood by other bodybuilders. The average armchair athlete will never understand what it means to be a bodybuilder, or the overwhelming obsession that drives them. For this reason, many bodybuilders flock to the internet for community, for fellowship and for understanding. As this study will show however, the bodybuilder in search of an online community will most likely be greeted in the home of enhanced athletes, steroid information, and perpetuation of the scenario which has made steroids synonymous with bodybuilding.
Definition of Community
Before attempting to define what a web based community is, it may be helpful to explore the word community itself as well as the definition of community in a physical sense. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines community as:
"1. a unified body of individuals: as a unified body of individuals: as
a : STATE, COMMONWEALTH b : the people with common interests living in a particular area; broadly : the area itself c : an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location d : a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society e : a group linked by a common policy f : a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests g : a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society
2 : society at large"
One may note in the above that the word “community” itself is subject to multiple definitions. From the strict and exclusive “people with common interest living in a particular area”, to the broad and inclusive “society at large”, it is clear that a common definition of “community” can only be rendered in the context of the environment in which it exist. Rather than surrender to the complex issues of environment however, it is imperative for the continuation of this research that a standardized meaning of the word community be established before we can grasp how it relates to a proper understanding of web based communities. When striped of the hyperbole of environment and social agenda, the word community has two elements as its root. Based on the Latin word “communitas”, community is the melding of the words common and united into one word. In the Merriam-Webster definition of community, the word common was used no less than seven times. Also in the Merriam-Webster definition, the words “unified”, “people”, “persons”, “group” and “population” imply a plurality of individuals. Therefore, when broken down into its simplest components, the word community may simply be defined as a group of individuals united about a common cause, interest or concern.