Why Aren’t There More Buff Asian People in Asia?

Where are all the buff Asian guys?

Where are all the buff Asian guys?

I come from California where we place A LOT of emphasis (far too much, really) on body image.  We tend to work towards the goal of being muscular, lifting more and more weight, and looking as toned as possible come summer, when we trade our jeans for bikinis, board shorts, and surf boards. It is almost impossible to find an empty gym or yoga class around here.  Everyone wants to look as good as possible, and to us, looking good means being lean and muscular.

When I moved to Taipei, I noticed that there were not very many muscular locals.  Most of the local girls were very slender, but tended not to have much muscle mass.  I noticed the same was true of males – very few boasted muscles.   I did notice that a lot of emphasis was placed on being skinny, however, particularly for the women.  Friends and family members were always openly commenting on weight; “you seem to have lost some weight, you seem to be getting fatter.” Yet, I never heard much about “your biceps are getting so much bigger!”

In fact, a pretty big gym ended up going bankrupt during my time there – Alexander Gym.

The way I grew up, we almost idolize those who we feel have the muscular body types.  I’ll use the example of Marisa Miller, who is an American, Californian bikini and lingerie model.  In order to look the way she does, she must work out nearly every single day, using resistance bands and surfing:

Marisa Miller

Marisa Miller


Is a body like this simply unattractive in Asia?  If so, why?  If it is considered attractive, why don’t we see more local men and women pumping iron and developing muscles?

20 comments to Why Aren’t There More Buff Asian People in Asia?

  • Jay K.

    I don’t know about this article, perhaps I tend to disagree a bit. The only thing I can think of while sipping my “Great Wall” wine is northerners and southerners are different.

    Up north guys will tend to be a bit bigger, height, weight, eat mroe meat, etc (although the chinese diet ive noticed has gone to a more western style diet with more protein in their system). Yes theres plenty of guys that dont want to exercise and get “ripped” so they can tell the ladies “Do you have tickets, tickets to the gun show!ooohhh!”  but for everyone of these guys more and mroe are hitting the gym for the very least to be toned (i didnt say slim, but toned, a defined body). northern guys like I stated above will tend to have different body structure, and for that I don’t think some want to just look like a tall bean pole. 

    As a person who has valued fitness all throughout my life(although my body now tells a sad tale of bai jiu, braised fatty pork, and enough body fat to make 10 north koreans envy of my stature), what I’ve noticed are chinese guys are hitting the gym more…from a “man’s perspective” yes get more in shape and check out girls in their fitness clothing…guys dont lie, we all know we took a peak at those yoga and pilate classes with girls in unique “positions”. Having played in 2 beijing basketball summer leagues (tune “Skee-lo: I wish I was a baller, I was a was a lil bit taller.. a six foot baller”..the “I wish” part heavily of want from me) chinese guys who are in this competition and more serious into it, are definitely no longer bean poles, they definitely are defined more so now than perhaps few years ago(for majority i balled with) 

    Granted, I don’t think most want to look like cocked Vin Deisel, but I’d like to think most are looking for more of the toned body you might find in someone like korean guy “Rain” or something of that aspect..didn’t megan fox want a piece of Rain according to a radio talk show or something?

  • That’s interesting.  I actually got trained to be a Pilates instructor stateside and, while cardio is important, there’s a lot of emphasis on the importance of building muscle too in order to avoid injury.  Additionally, I know that starving one’s self to be thin is a temporary fix and ruins the metabolism.

    I think I have another answer to my own question: right or wrong, we tend to value athletes quite a bit in the states.  The sports we love the most are American Football, which requires huge, huge men.  Even our basketball players are quite built (Dwight Howard anyone?) I think this certainly contributes. Kids grow up wanting to be these men, and strive to look like them. This is why our children have so many image problems as well.  It’s not always a good thing!

  • Jason

    It’s not hard to come up with an answer to this question

    Think about it, do people in China really have time to go work out and try to look like the Rock?

    When do Americans start training or lifting weights? High school right? Many High Schools in America have their own gym built into them. Students can just go lift right after school.

    If you’re a High School student in China…would you even have time to go lift weights? Think about it, the most important time in a Chinese person’s Life is maybe his 3 years in High School, where he has to prepare for his college exams. For a lot of Chinese people, this is it. This is your future determined on a piece of paper. You make it good, get into a good university, you might live a good Life. If you don’t make it and you come from a poor family, your ass is toast. Who would even think about go lifting weights at this point?

    In my opinion, it has nothing to do with body image or any of that stuff. Their society is just so skewed they don’t have time for any of that stuff.

    • Jason,

      You make a good point that Chinese and Taiwanese high school students work the hardest that they’re going to work in their academic life during high school.  I used to tutor a few high-school-aged kids in Taipei who confirmed this. I’d say the same is true of Americans as well.  College is very competitive here (unless they look to get an advanced degree such as a Master’s, JD, or any kind of doctoral degree.  That is the most difficult in the US). 

      The biggest difference is American students applying to college are not totally evaluated on classroom abilities and test scores.  U.S.-based colleges want a well-rounded student, so a lot of us participate in physical sports to set ourselves apart from the crowd of applicants (myself included, I did high-jump in high school just for this purpose).

      I don’t think either way is right or wrong.  I just find it interesting, and like to ask these kinds of questions to see what people think.

      • Jason

        Well, in an American High School, the day starts at 7:25AM, and ends around 2:30 PM if I’m not mistaken. And after that, students would have ample time to go workout, or join sports activities and whatnot, this gives them a huge advantage over Chinese students.

        In China, a high school student starts his day at 7:AM, all the way to 5 PM at night. And THEN, along with the piles of homework, they have cram school that goes from 6PM to 10PM at night. And this is 6 days a week, if you’re a student in China. I don’t think there is any room for working out. Of course, unless you drop out of High School and join a gymnastic team, but what are the chances of success in that situation?

  • Mcgee_ulick

    1.  In a society where vast numbers of people actually have to use their muscles to put food on the table,  being muscular is low class. 

    2. It is easier for white men to bulk up.  Black men get ripped eating big macs.  Chinese men get awesome definition but most can’t bulk up until their 30’s.  Although it is changing, in a society where everyone is skinny, being fat is a sign of wealth, success and a high class sit down job.  If all the gym does for you is make you look skinny, there is no pay off in terms of prestige/socio-sexual signaling.3. The American/Anglosphere education system is designed to produce narcissists because narcissists blow all their dough shopping and then blame their poverty on the economy.  “OMG, sweetie, you are the most important person in the whole world!”  “Wow, you managed to go to the bathroom by yourself and not shute yur truzers at age 7, amazing, high five!”. Narcissists care more about how they look physically.  Chinese people have better mental health.4.  Chinese women look for husbands, i.e. providers.  Providers get a wife without needing muscles.  American women look for lovers.  Whores reward gorillas with vage – just ask Snooki.5.  It is speculated that even monogamous American men may feel like bulking up to distinguish themselves from hyper masculine American women.  I don’t really believe this one but male sexual insecurity is commonly mentioned by researchers as an explanation for the massive increase in muscularity amongst men over the years.Personally, I think it all comes down to sex.  The Western sexual market place is a winner-takes-all environment where being a “hot” guy provides a cornucopia of sexual pleasures. So  men bulk up. 

    • You make a valid point with point #1, but I think the rest of what you say just sounds ignorant.  It’s not easier for white nor black men to bulk up because they eat big macs.  That’s just stupid. Also? Snooki is not representative of American women, not in the slightest. 

      You might have a point about narcisissts though, I won’t dispute that.  We are raised to be consumers, but so is the majority of the rest of the world.  There are commercials and ads in China too. 

      • Mcgee_ulick

        Adult white men have higher levels of testosterone than adult Chinese men.  Similarly, black men have higher levels of testosterone than white men.  One of the biggest factors in putting on bulk is abundant T.   Black men of West African descent like most African Americans develop higher muscle mass on average even when they don’t work out.    Hence the facetious comment about black men doing something unhealthy that would make white guys fat but still ending up with a six pack.

        My comments may sound ignorant to a Californian, but with respect to you, your state is so sickeningly PC it leads the world in hypocrisy and bullshit.  I am sure that, like the rest of us, you got great entertainment out of experiencing how un-PC Taiwan is.  After a long time living in Asia, I no longer  five a guck if someone is offended by scientific fact because every one I live and work with calls a spade a spade.
        The gorillas and Snooki comment was to illustrate the undeniable tendency of promiscuous women to value  male secondary sexual characteristics highly. American women are amongst the World’s most promiscuous…fact.  The current epidemic level  STD rates testify to this.  Not judging. For a man like me, this is a wonderful thing.  I have access to girls up to 15 years younger than me for no strings sex that would once upon a time have been in a monogamous relationship with a provider husband, just like in China today. In moments of weakness it can still sadden me to see lonely women my own age with nothing but a soul destroying cubicle job and a herd of cats to fill in for a loving husband and children.  They had fun in their 20’s, not realising that their looks would fall off a cliff in their early 30’s. No one told them, you see, because it is not PC to tell a woman that she can’t have it all.  It sounds ignorant.   Chinese women, on the other hand, have it pounded home to them that they better be married or at least with their future husband by 25.  Muscles become second priority when choosing a partner for life is treated as serious business.

        • Tashkent

          The US is not the most promiscuous, don’t assume based on TV. We, have much more religious and non atheists in this country than many others. Only the Philippines beats us in percentage that believes in God. HIV is high here, but we have a large African ancestry population and aids/HIV is 40 percent more contagious among Africans due to changes in DNA due to malaria. There have been news articles about it.

      • Mcgee_ulick

        I posted a reply to you 24 hours ago  but the comment is either stuck in moderation or has been censored. 

    • blah82

      This is dumbest s**t I’ve ever read.

  • At this point, we’re getting pretty far from actually answering my question, but nonetheless, I’m going to have to dispute with you.

    I didn’t say that your comments are ignorant because they offend me.  If what you said was true, I would not dispute any of it.  However, I cannot find any evidence anywhere to support any of it.  I’m afraid if you’re going to claim something is a “scientific fact” you’ll have to give me the evidence to support it.

    Testosterone varies by age, not ethnicity.  I quite literally searched and searched and can’t find any legitimate sources (ie: a factual study rather than an opinion) to support any other hypothesis.  The only thing I did find in regards to testosterone by ethnicity is this article which sites a study that found there is no difference based on ethnicity: http://www.medwire-news.md/50/62351/Urology/Testosterone_levels_do_not_differ_according_to_ethnicity.html

    I am afraid that I also failed to find any evidence suggesting that the US has the highest STD rate of any other country.  Sure, the US has a legitimate STD rate, but it’s far from highest:

    This list draws its info from the WHO, and notes that North America (of course also including Canada and Mexico) has the lowest rate of STDs behind Asia for certain curable diseases: http://www.avert.org/std-statistics.htm 

    This website also notes that the rates of AIDS are highest among men who have sex with men and drug users. That probably rules out any girls you’d be referencing sleeping with. (hopefully).

    Also, your comments on sleeping with girls who are 15 years younger than you are just disgusting.  By your logic, I would think you’d stay away from such girls given your opinion on their high STD levels.

    Have you no shame?  Apparently not.

    P.S. I think we get branded with having to be “PC” in California because we do have such an ethnically mixed state.  Most other places are homogenous, but here there are so many different ethnicities here, we have to put standards in place to make sure that people don’t have to deal with discrimination (don’t you remember the race riots in LA in the ’90s? Being PC here is necessary in order to avoid that moving forward). 

    I loved living in Asia because everyone is much more upfront about their feelings and opinions, which removes the silly games I’m used to here.  Everyone was so friendly and honest and it’s great to learn about other cultures, which is why I posed this question in the first place.

    • “McGee’s” comments are not just ignorant, but flat out wrong. I’m an NSCA certified personal trainer. It’s the gold standard for personal training in the U.S. and recognized internationally. I’m also black. Eating Big Macs will not make me “ripped and toned;” they will make me fat and unhealthy. 

      You don’t need a degree in Exercise Science to know that a 6-pack is made in the kitchen. As to why there are not enough buff Asians in Asian countries? I would have to say mostly due to the diet. If you want to get big, you have to eat big. From what I understand, most of the young people who are well-to-do want to go to school, study, and get into a good university. 

      From Antonio Graceffo’s series of books on his travels throughout Asia studying martial arts, I noticed a trend– most of the physically active people are poor. Unfortunately they lack access to the proper nutrition and equipment to have those defined bodies like you would see on T.V. or in the magazines. 

      Keep in mind, even to have a body like Rain in Ninja Assassin requires strenuous workouts with a team of trainers doing kettlebells, olympic lifts, and plyometrics. 

  • mark

    doesnt matter what race you are it all depends on your daily nutrition how much carbs protein and fats you consume everyday. im filopino and these are videos of me.. im 100% been going gym for 5 years now.


  • grand master

    body building is kind of a backward thing. even if you look at the american high school, the guys who are body building are usually the more primitive types. traditionally, Chinese people settled problems through reason, whereas westerners tend to fight it out like animals, so you need to be muscular for that. the more savage you are, the more you will work out. just look at the prisons. also, i believe the Chinese like to keep fit by doing things like taichi, kung fu, and things like that. and nowadays, you see that old Chinese ladies dance in groups in parking lots.

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