25-year-old Kirill Tereshin has been a prominent mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter in Moscow for several years now. At one point of time, however, he started suffering from bigorexia—a body image disorder where individuals, especially bodybuilders, are obsessed with getting as big as possible. In an effort to get jumbo biceps and achieve the “swole” look, Tereshin started injecting oil into his arms.
Now, using site enhancement oil (SEO) for visual appearances has been a common practice for MMA fighters. Dubbed ‘synthol’, the concoction is a petroleum jelly-like substance which is typically composed of 85 per cent oil, 7.5 per cent benzyl alcohol and 7.5 per cent lidocaine—which makes up 100 per cent of the reason why one should never administer this into their body.
What’s even worse, Tereshin took things one step further by brewing the jelly at home and injecting 10 syringes-worth of synthol everyday for an entire month into his arms. Tereshin’s ultimate goal? To make his biceps exactly 27 inches huge.
Garnering the nickname “Russian Popeye,” the MMA fighter currently posts random sketches on TikTok and Instagram, where he has amassed close to 1 million and 300,000 followers respectively. The comment section of both these platforms is quite similar—with users wondering “How is this guy still alive?” and “When will his arms fall off?”
Well, it turns out that Tereshin has been paying the price for his self-administration. Soon after injecting synthol, his arms started flaring up and became oddly discoloured. The fake implants also subjected him to high fever, intense pain and frequent bouts of weakness.
At the time, several doctors warned that he might face paralysis and even have to get his arms amputated if he kept injecting more oil. Tereshin ignored all of the expert recommendations until 2019, when he was forced to undergo surgery to clear his clogged-up triceps, remove the dead muscle and drain his arms of excess fluid triggered by the substance.
In 2021, he was subjected to another operation where doctors removed masses of dead muscle that had been poisoned by his bootleg bulking method. “He will face further operations to extract the substance and the muscle that formed during his quest to achieve beach-ball-like biceps,” The Sun reported on the matter last year.
Currently awaiting his third surgery, Tereshin told the publication that he was “very lucky” to get doctors who were willing to treat him. “I’m only 24, and my immune system is so far coping with this inflammation, but I really do not know what will happen next,” he said back in 2021. “That is why I started the surgeries to get rid of this nightmare.”
Tereshin also acknowledged how he regrets his decision to get DIY implants back when he was 20-years-old. “I did not think about the consequences. I should have thought about this earlier, I know. I blame myself, I know I’m guilty,” he concluded.
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—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 find 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. 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, has undermined their ability to date, have sex or marry the opposite sex.
And the problematic nature of gymcel culture has repercussions outside of spin class, 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.