It was 1998.
I’ll never forget that year, or, specifically, that summer. It was the point in my life when, as a boy-man, the existence of a thing called muscles had recently presented itself. There was a strong sense that these “muscles” were a “good” thing to have. And beyond simply having muscles, there were things one could do to make them larger and more prominent, both of which were, again, considered “good.”
That summer, most of my lingering prepubescence had disappeared, giving way to the full glory that is puberty. And with puberty came a new hierarchy of what was important. One of the clear new additions to that hierarchy: muscles. And with that, a new routine — one beyond the simple cycle of sports, fitness, endurance, health, Pizza Hut. I didn’t know exactly how to get bigger muscles, but I knew the answer was out there. And if I figured it out, and I worked hard, I could achieve that goal.
The target, for my 11-year-old self: getting swoll.
When I first learned that word — swoll — it sounded like a bad thing. Who wants to be swollen? But swoll was different. Swoll meant you were strong. Swoll was an achievement. Swoll meant you stood for something. Swoll meant you were somebody. And at the beginning of summer ’98, my whole life revolved around the idea of getting swoll.
But then the summer happened. And after three months of playing tennis, doing push-ups and crunches, running, eating Pizza Hut, and lifting a variety of heavy things, the outcome wasn’t swoll. In an odd turn of events, the only noticeable change was that I was more tan. By August, it looked as if swoll wasn’t in the cards. Not at 11. And, in all honesty, maybe never.
Coming out of the public bathroom at tennis camp during the last week of summer, I saw a young man, probably 18 or 19 years old. He wore a sleeveless shirt and basketball shorts and was holding a racket. Also, he was swoll.
Slinking over to the couch in the pro shop, I watched my tennis coach shake his head in disgust as he watched the swoll late-teen walk out of the tennis center.
“Can’t hit a tennis ball to save his life. Just swoll for no reason.”
Swoll for no reason. I couldn’t get the phrase out of my head. Because up until that point, I didn’t even know you needed a reason to be swoll. I thought all settings were ideal for one to be swoll. And I couldn’t believe there was a world in which swoll was a bad thing.
Bad swoll, unnecessary swoll — maybe swoll wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. Sure, I was just telling myself that to feel better, but there was some truth in there, somewhere. And with that my swoll aspirations were no more.
Fast-forward 15 years, to 2013. For years, my body had remained slender, with the occasional bout of what they call “cut.” But even though I had some definition, I was always thin. So very thin. Have you eaten this week? thin. The opposite of swoll. And then the summer of 2013 happened, a summer in which I went on a road trip for four months and ate every single thing in America.
The body that I inhabit two years after that trip is a direct reflection of the 2013 summer. It was a great summer, the first time I learned fa sho that I wasn’t stuck being rail-thin my entire life. This body could, in fact, get swollen. And it did. And for a period of time, I loved it.
Things were looser. Loose was tight. Anyone could stay in shape, but do you know how much work it takes to get supremely out of shape? I’d think to myself, sitting somewhere for an 18th consecutive hour, drinking another Coke. What I was doing was difficult, brave.
Even if the delusion of getting out of shape as a form of martyrdom didn’t hold up forever, for months I was content with it not being “quite time” to begin my inevitable road back to a fit life. Even after a “I might vomit” pick-up basketball game, a shorter-than-normal run, or a long break to pray between the fifth and sixth flight of stairs, I was very much still on Team I Love It Here, Here Being The Place Where I Don’t Go To Gyms.
But then the past seven days happened. And now everything’s complicated again. It all started with Magic Mike XXL:
Yes, the reactions by the people who are attracted to said swoll individuals could make one want to immediately change his lifestyle. But this isn’t a documentary, it’s a fictional movie. And these are actors. And they get paid to look like this. Also, they might be inflatable (ever think about that?). Knowing all that, some little “summer blockbuster” wasn’t going to suddenly get me into a two-a-day routine. It was going to take more than that.
A few days later: the ESPN The Magazine Body Issue.
Wait, being fit looks so much fun. I want to be fit again. Look at how much fun DeAndre is having, I thought. But much like with Magic Mike XXL, I was reminded that these people are professionals. And in this case, professional athletes — it’s their job to be like this. So again, this wasn’t going to cause a lifestyle change. Not even close.
And then, last night, on Instagram, Bieber:
It’s Biebervelli. Oh, the good old days of being naked on a boat in some chemically enhanced, electric-blue sea. I want those days back. I miss those days. Granted, I can have those days right now, because I still have a body and Instagram, but I’m not as excited about doing it until I get fit.
Also, this is Justin Bieber. I’m certainly not making any lifestyle changes based on Justin Bieber. He’s a child. Never that.
I assumed the subliminal messages about my own body were done, but no. Because this morning happened. A photo. Again. On the popular fitness-guilt app Instagram:
Why, Aubrey? Why are you doing this to me? WHY IS EVERYONE DOING THIS TO ME RIGHT NOW? To call back an old phrase, something like this could potentially mess up the curve for the rest of us. Before this, I was just out here, Lil Rembert Browne, trying to write some things, but now I’ve got this newfound added pressure, because Drake decided — out of nowhere — to just get swoll.
None of the other examples really mess with my head. But literally if Aubrey can get swoll, anyone can get swoll.
After I saw that photo, it became clear I had no choice. He was creating too much distance. And I could not allow that. There can never be a world where he can just beat my ass. Oh no. Never that.
So it was settled, I thought. I was to get swoll. But after the photo had been up for a while, I heard some whispers — sentiments of old. That idea of “Why so swoll?”
Was Drake … swoll for no reason?
I don’t want to get swoll and then have people wondering why a guy like me is suddenly swoll. My worst nightmare is someone saying I’m swoll for no reason. My only reason can’t just be, “Well, Drake got swoll, so … ” Or can it? The problem that Drake — and potentially someone like myself — might have is that if people get too used to you as non-swoll, the newfound swoll can be jarring. And while many people are very pro–running through the six with my swolls Drake, the vote of confidence in his Hulk-ish look was not unanimous.
I didn’t know what to do. So I opened it up to the people. A vote, if you will, with a simple prompt: “Should I Get As Swoll As Aubrey?” And for a little over an hour, that vote happened. And then in ended.
Well then. Looks like it’s time for me to get swoll. I really didn’t see this one coming — and really didn’t want to — but here we are. The only thing I have going for me is that my “Why so swoll?” mandate is abundantly clear — 63 percent is more than 37 percent, so I now have to get as swoll as Drake, because data.
As for why Drake is doing this … that’s still a great mystery. But if I were a betting man, I’d say he’s about two Instagram photos away from his secret goal: getting a role in the third Magic Mike. Which is ironic, seeing as how those stripper bastards got me in this mess in the first place.