I guess the first case of what I think was stereotyping I ever encountered was as a child. New to a neighbourhood I looked to the local kids to fill me in on the angles. Good playing areas, best sweetshops and any local characters. "The woman at number 12 is a witch" I was told. I was fascinated to see the house where she lived with its overgrown garden and dark curtains and think it may contain some malevolent force of supernatural. Of course it just contained a private, somewhat reclusive old lady and I later discovered that almost everywhere in the country there was a similar situation and similar suspicions-all groundless of course but fuel to young and foolish minds. I was to discover moving into adulthood that this was just the tip of the iceberg as far as asinine prejudices were concerned.
Stereotypes are qualities assigned to groups of people related to their race, nationality and sexual orientation, to name a few. Because they generalize groups of people in manners that lead to discrimination and ignore the diversity within groups, stereotypes should be avoided.
We all should know every Muslim is not a potential terrorist. Every Catholic priest is not necessarily a paedophile anymore than every blonde woman in a short skirt is a dumb bimbo. Every person who wears spectacles isn't an intellectual either despite the beliefs of Pol pot and the Khmer rouge that perpetuated stereotyping a la social engineering. I remember my Mother didn't want me to join a rock band when I was a young teenager because she believed all of them were alcoholic junkies-the list goes on and on. However the prejudice that I personally experienced the most and so little expected was the belief that all large, muscular men were thick. This wasn't helped as I grew up in a time when the cinemas were prolifically showing action movies with Messer's Stallone and Schwarzenegger, one of whom had a speech affectation that lent itself to slurring and thus a perceived lack of articulation and the other a very thick accent. It didn't seem to occur to most that these men made millions of dollars and also wrote, produced and directed, activities pursued by pretty acute minds. One even successfully went into politics for a while and so on-but no, the muscles showed us what they were really all about. They couldn't possibly visit a library very often what with so obviously spending all that time in the gymnasium! Surely they had gravitated to that environment because very little is required intellectually to lift weights? Logic tells us if we see anyone with a developed physique they must at least be a student of Anatomy and Physiology? Great physical strength isn't always an indicator of brutish ignorance (see Stereotype exhibit a. Frankenstein's Monster) but even after my first book was published and I was attending signing sessions in bookshops promoting it dressed in a albeit large fitted suit I would still catch people gazing at me and smirking condescendingly as if looking to see if the bolt had fallen out of my neck! Heck, they not only couldn't see how I could possibly write but seemed amazed to hear me speak as if I was afraid to open my mouth to talk in case meat fell out!
Many people in show business promote outrageous clichés about themselves if it suits their commercial agenda however strange it may seem to the rest of us (see exhibit b. Miley Cyrus) yet still I myself, like many of you I suspect don't need someone in media or anywhere else telling me who to love and who to be angry with, who is sexy and who is potentially nasty and needs to be vilified based on a physicality even before any real evidence of reprehensible behaviour is provided. It is nowadays completely inappropriate in civilised society to speak out against homosexuality, skin colour, religion etc and so it should be but prejudice will always rear its ugly visage somewhere and as the socially acceptable areas narrow the more discerning bigot is finding old dogma quite attractive. Now we're being told not to use the 'F' word to describe fat people anymore surely excessively muscled people become fair game don't they? After all they obviously have the ego to take the critique. So excessive eating and lazing around is not to be sneered at now but going to the gym regularly should be?
To believe every muscular man is intellectually restricted comes about I suppose because we mostly encounter them as doormen and the like. In fact while dining with a very famous rock star personal training client of mine someone who knew him approached our table and after a few opening pleasantries asked if he often dined with his bodyguard-I kid you not!
In any case I leave you with the following image which was somewhat ironically contrived by a Vitamin company I worked for as consultant to promote a series of lectures on Health and Wellness that I undertook for them. They convinced me that my physique was an important USP in their plans.They were using the Rodin's Thinker image in a ironic take on muscles and intelligence. (The anatomy book was my idea and was meant to be tongue in cheek but now I'm not so sure) In any case; trying to make exercise, physical excellence and healthy eating sexy and attractive to the masses-now
that's a real challenge.
Picture of Rob Blakeman supplied by Nadia Bailey/BodyZone Images Internation