I’ve had a free subscription to Muscle & Fitness magazine for two years – a professional courtesy. It’s stuffed with pictures of hugely muscular guys screaming, yelling, their muscles veiny and overwrought. A guy dressed as a spartan is on the cover. It’s about as muscle worshiping a magazine as I’ve ever seen.

Everything in the publication is about how to build muscle and get lean naturally or with the help of supplements (and those ads are pretty scary). But in the back, in the classifieds, are text only ads about what look to be illegal ways of getting that same muscle mass. No matter how much Mark McGuire cries for forgiveness about using steroids, he still stacked millions upon millions of dollars for doing so, and guys still want to get big.

Paul Solotroff’s The Body Shop is about the same thing: steroids, but in a far cruder form. He started juicing in 1976 as a college student, using something that was probably mixed up in a guy’s basement sink. As a skinny Jewish guy desperate for girls to pay attention, getting big was a way to get them to look.

“The dockworker arms, with their bell-curve lines and vascular, shrink-wrapped skin; the rounded corners where the pectorals met and stood a little taller by the day–I had to keep checking my own reflection, touching and poking, rejoicing,” he writes. “Even my face broadened, filled its own hollows, looked hand-carved, confident, ready.”

But that’s only the beginning. Throw in a dysfunctional father/son relationship AND mother/son relationship, and Solotroff was an easy mark to get hooked, first on steroids, then on drugs as he took his pumped up self back to New York and started stripping for cash with a shady band who kept sending him down the wrong coke-laced road.

Solotroff is a magazine journalist – unlike me, the the hard hitting kind (I lean toward features, something of which I’m not ashamed). Even though the book seems absurd, the writing is brilliant, vibrant. I can see him trapeezing through crime-rank New York, hitting the Jersey Shore to shake it for society women, losing it s the back alley stuff he’s been shooting into his ass starts to uncoil him. Even though it’s an engaging story, it turns tragic as Solotroff writes about what two years of stupidity did to him, and how it damaged him for life.

I knew a few guys in college who juiced. A roommate dated one of them, and one night after they got into a fight, our door was the victim of his friend’s roid rage. I have never seen someone so completely unhinged. If he had managed to kick down the door, I fear what he would have done to her. It’s scary.

So is The Body Shop, but it’s well worth reading. As long as those shady adds continue to appear in fitness magazines, and kids are still offered the chance to get big fast, it’s a must read.

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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