The incel culture is as multifaceted as it is baffling. The term, short for “involuntarily celibate,” has risen to prominence due to its adoption by a subsection of the manosphere—a collection of movements united by misogyny. These loosely connected subcultures of the worst of masculinity include men’s rights activists, pick-up artists and MGTOW/Vocels (heterosexual men who refuse to have sex with women for political reasons) are sure to give you the ‘ick’… But wait, it gets worse. As if agro gym bro culture wasn’t bad enoug—introducing gymcels. Buckle up and brace yourself for the cringe.
The ‘gymcel’ is yet another group to add to the ever-growing list of misogynistic, mostly online, subcultures. According to Urban Dictionary, a gymcel is “a male who takes the gym way too seriously and normally has nothing to show for it. Cel is associated with the word incel which is someone who isn’t able to get laid. Gymcels will often spend countless hours and weekends in the gym trying to improve their physique in hope of attracting women when in reality the only problem is their face.”
Like incels, gymcels have been subject to ridicule by wider society. Gymcels in particular have been subject to abuse by the bodybuilding community. Bodybuilding.com, the internet’s most popular forum for both amateur and professional bodybuilders has numerous threads discussing the small, yet very real, community of gymcels.
Gymcels are mocked mainly for their misguided attempts to attract women by lifting weights. One user explained that “most gymcels are gymcels because they are awkward, insecure and usually lack personalities,” while another labelled gymcels as “trapped in a prison of narcissism and insecurity.” Some in the bodybuilding community have started referring to gymcels as copecels—men who, despite all their efforts to search for love or sex by improving themselves through fitness, continue to be undermined by their inferior genes (for instance height or bone structure).
The negativity surrounding the gymcel label, and indeed the very concept of a gymcel itself, is problematic for the bodybuilding and fitness industry. Tying the pursuit of female approval or a desperate avoidance of insecurities to gym culture is toxic for genuine and innocent fitness enthusiasts. But it’s happening rapidly. Sam West, a regular user on Bodybuilders.com and a self-proclaimed “former gymcel” told MEL Magazine: “People posting that on these forums and on Reddit might think they’re being funny, but I imagine what they’re saying is damaging, too.”
West goes on to explain how “the forum can be a toxic place. Lots of young guys come here because they want advice on their fitness. Instead, they’re exposed to all this garbage about being weak and pathetic if they haven’t gotten laid.”
The gymcel subreddit, a community that once had around 350 active members, but has since been banned from the platform for breaching community guidelines, was once the breeding ground of gym-fueled incel ideology. Much of the incel community believes that political ideas such as feminism and progressivism have given too much power to women, and consequently, have undermined their ability to date, have sex or marry the opposite sex.
To top it all off, the problematic nature of gymcel culture has repercussions outside of spin class and toxic gym culture, it perpetuates the manosphere narrative that discourse which encourages misogyny and attacks feminism is not only acceptable but should be encouraged. Zoe Williams from The Guardian went as far as to describe the incel ideology as a movement that “targets and terrorises women.”
Williams goes on to highlight that the man accused of carrying out the Toronto van attack, which killed 10 in 2018, had alleged links to incel online communities. She concluded, “The language they use may be absurd, but the threat they pose could be deadly.” Often, online communities can be overlooked in their tangible danger. And that’s understandable, it’s easy to feel like exploring online trends, especially communities like incelism which stereotypically reside on the fringes of society, will have no impact on one’s demeanour. But, as Williams has highlighted, underestimating those exact communities is what makes them so worryingly dangerous.
The gymcel trend is alive and well on TikTok. Creators with Marvel comic-esque proportions and bulging veins post videos documenting their workouts, interspersed with worrisome anti-women (or anti-everyone) messaging. They garner tens, if not hundreds of thousands of views, and comments.
One TikTok gymcel trend is the Sigma Male video. Dictionary.com defines a Sigma Male as “a popular, successful, but highly independent and self-reliant man. Another term for a sigma male is a lone wolf.” Patrick Bateman of American Psycho and Walter White of Breaking Bad are two of the most idolised Sigma Males.
While Bateman and White experienced very different trajectories in their storylines, what they shared was an alarming descent into isolation paired with an increasing rage that came out in disturbing and dangerous ways. So when gymcels edit videos, splicing their own image on top of footage of these deranged men, it’s… unnerving to say the least.
Some gymcels turn the camera away from themselves, including unwilling subjects in their videos. In the content, gymcels film other gym-goers, criticising them for doing their workouts incorrectly, for being overweight, for being ugly, or all of the above.
This behaviour begs the question: what is gym culture supposed to be? For most gym patrons, it’s supposed to be a place where everyone feels supported and cheers each other on for trying to work on themselves. But gymcels are poisoning the waters, fueling body insecurities and worse. If they keep it up, many people will start to bundle gym culture and eating disorders together, or gym culture and bullying—instead of gym culture and health.
In general, people are beginning to feel that gymcels give the gym a bad name and that simply stepping foot in one could earn them the gymcel label. Sadly, these troubled bodybuilders are the reason more and more people feel that gym culture is cringe when it should simply be a place where you focus on being your best self.