Welcome to the age of the buff billionaire
Is it because they know a lot of people hate them? Are they worried that a revolution is coming? Are they preparing for an apocalyptic future where AI goes rogue and they have to fight robots with their bare hands? Is that why billionaires have become so obsessed with being buff?
A number of billionaires, you may have noticed, can’t stop showing off their muscles. I have seen Jeff Bezos’s bare chest far more times than I would like (which is zero times) because the Amazon founder always seems to be shirtless on a yacht. OK, Jeff, we get it. You have a six pack. You look like you can crush walnuts with your buttocks. Very impressive. Now how about paying some more tax?
Bezos’s transformation from a weedy e-commerce nerd to dollar-store Vin Diesel seems to have inspired his peers. Mark Zuckerberg has certainly been hitting the gym: last week the Facebook founder marked Memorial Day by doing “the Murph Challenge”, an intense workout that involves putting on a 20lbs vest and doing 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats and a mile-long run. He did it in just under 40 minutes, an elite time. A couple of weeks before boasting about his Murph time, Zuckerberg revealed that he had won gold and silver in a Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournament. Apparently he got into jiu-jitsu during the pandemic, while us lesser mortals were baking bread and bingeing Netflix.
It’s not just Zuck and Bezos getting swole. We are in “the era of the buff mogul”, the New York Post declared last year. “Ripped abs are the new power trip for CEOs,” El País has stated. “Billionaires these days are buff,” the Guardian recently observed. The size of your biceps has become as much a status symbol these days as the size of your bank balance.
There are numerous reasons for this, including the tech world’s obsession with biohacking and treating the human body like it’s a machine that can be optimized. More generally, we live in an image-obsessed culture that has spawned an increase in body image issues in boys and young men. Muscles have always been associated with masculinity, but there has been a shift in male beauty ideals over the last few decades: the ideal male figure has become a lot bulkier and difficult to achieve.
A 2006 study, for example, found that action figures have become more muscular over the last 25 years. “The increase in action figure dimensions may contribute to the multifactorial development of an idealized body type that focuses on a lean, muscular physique,” the researchers wrote. Related research from 2018 found that both boys and girls “prefer hyper-muscular male action figures over normally-muscular action figures: [e]vidence that children have internalized the muscular male body ideal”.
Superheroes have also become bigger. As the health writer Sarah Berry has pointed out, Hugh Jackman’s 2000 Wolverine was a lot less ripped than his most recent portrayal of the character: “Over the years Jackman’s physique changed so much that his original Wolverine seems nothing short of doughy now.”
All of this isn’t to say that Bezos and Zuckerberg have body image issues – just that the rise of buff billionaires should be seen in the broader context of a more muscle-centric definition of masculinity. Even tech titans seem to have internalized the idea that bigger is always better. At least when it comes to everything except the size of your tax bill.
If you want to lower deaths among women and young children, give them money
A new study published in Nature has discovered … wait for it … that if you give poor people money then their lives tend to improve. An analysis of the effects of cash grants in 37 countries found that cash transfer programs led to deaths among women falling by 20%, and deaths among children younger than five declining by 8%.
Blind women are helping detect breast cancer in India
A program is training women with impaired vision to become medical tactile examiners and bring routine breast cancer screenings to more women in India.
US women more likely than men to skip or delay medications due to cost
An annual survey by the CDC found that about one in 10 Americans didn’t take prescribed medication in 2021 in order to save money. More women than men skipped their meds: 9.1% versus 7%.
Fox wants to protect kids from gay Pride, but not abusers in the Catholic church
An analysis from Media Matters found Fox news devoted over two hours of coverage to the fact Target was selling some LGBTQ+ merchandise for Pride month. “In comparison, Fox reported for just 22 seconds on the Illinois attorney general’s recent report that Catholic Church clergy members and lay religious brothers had abused nearly 2,000 children in the state since 1950.”
China is seeing a boom in AI-generated fashion models
No prizes for guessing that these digital models tend to have tiny waists and massive breasts. “Many Chinese women say they find the images disturbing – and worry that AI fashion will reinforce toxic, unrealistic beauty standards,” reports the English-language Chinese media outlet Sixth Tone. “The ‘male gaze’ for AI models is definitely a problem,” one expert notes.
Ghanaian writer and academic Ama Ata Aidoo dies aged 81
Ata Aidoo was a trailblazer but not a household name. “I think really that one of the reasons that she isn’t as well known as she should be in my opinion is because she’s female,” said author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on a Guardian books podcast. “And a lot of her work is very much about women … Not only does she write about women, but she writes about women truthfully … when you have people who are the tastemakers of literature, and if they can’t absorb what you’re talking about, it then makes it difficult for you to be well known.”
The week in potatoarchy
Scandi noir fans have a weird new Nordic mystery to sink their teeth into: the case of the spilled potatoes. A truck driver has been detained after loads of potatoes were scattered over an important bridge linking two Danish islands. Was it an accident? Was it a protest over new trucking laws? Nobody knows. “It looks weird,” said a police spokesman. No doubt they’ll get to the root of it soon.