Building Richard Armitages, for example: Observations on Armitage as weight loss inspiration

Richard Armitage, during the first Hobbit press blitz, December 2012.

Richard Armitage as “normal guy” during the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey press blitz, December 2012.

Continued from here.

This is another directionless post, insofar as I am using the notion of “tulpa” very generally, to mean “a version of Richard Armitage that I build in my mind, a thoughtformed Richard Armitage.” I’m trying to come up with a notion of what it is that fans do that covers the full spectrum of fan activities for those who move beyond casual fandom in whatever direction, with the kind of intense fandom that someone like me experiences at the other end. Be aware that in this description, I am explicitly disregarding notions of “healthy” vs “unhealthy” fandom, which I know may make some readers uncomfortable — but it is my honest opinion that even extreme experiences of fandom are not necessarily “unhealthy” and that fandom itself is not the cause of mental illness. Rather, we do fandom in ways that assist our own development and personal journeys — so I’m looking for a description that avoids pathologizing an extremely common human experience and that has rough parallels going back to the ancient world. I suppose this part of the “me + the richard armitage religion” series can be read as an argument against the normative notion of fandom as an exclusively or primarily parasocial relationship, not least because most fans are entirely aware that their relationships with their crushes are not real and at least somewhat aware that the information they learn about their crushes in the press is not a one-to-one representation of reality. Most fans I have talked to at length realize they do not truly “know” their crush, even if they have a great deal of information about him/her. Finally, in using the notion of tulpa building, I’m trying fence off some of the activities I note in fandom from the problematic notion of “worship” (even if used metaphorically) on one hand and from the notion on the other that fans are primarily involved in collecting and evaluating information that on the whole describes a person (in this case Richard Armitage) who exists.

All of that was inside you

A lot of this thinking goes back to something I saw in a tweet, once, several years ago, from a celebrity actor — it might have been Tom Hiddleston. Someone tweeted the celebrity essentially to say, “You changed my life” and provided a compact list of things that s/he claimed the celeb had done for her. As I remember, it was quite a list. The response was: “You did all of that — all of that was inside of you.” And I thought, Hmm, interesting. Of course. The changes we experience in fandom — which I think some of us may visualize passively, as, for example, in terms of a lightning strike metaphor — are changes that we have the capacity for within ourselves and which we pursue with our own energies. We may say the object of the crush provides motivation, but we, not the object, are the ones who actually demonstrate the motivation. We may not know how to find that motivation on our own, at least initially — but we find it by using our constructed image of the crush as the focal point for doing so. This mechanism of understanding the crush in a way that assists our own activities and desires explains why the tulpa notion of constructing a thoughtform works so well for explaining what is happening for some of us.

Richard Armitage weight loss inspiration

[In this section, I do not attempt to describe the experiences of everyone who has been motivated by Richard Armitage to lose weight or become more physically fit. My account includes things I have heard from some people, as well as some things I hypothesize about. Of course, if this is your fantasy, your journey will be different from these generalizations, perhaps strikingly so. I hope it’s clear that I have every piece of respect for people who have this fantasy and use it.]

An example of the utility of tulpa construction: fans who use constructions of their crushes as motivation for weight loss and physical improvement. I have never done this, but I have witnessed it several times in the Armitage fandom. Sometimes it becomes a really powerful tool. In the minds of fans who have this experience, Richard Armitage becomes the stated motivation for diets, exercise programs, makeovers, and appearance changes. If you ask fans in this mode to talk about it, they may say things like, “I want to meet him some day and I don’t want him to see me looking like this” or “I know I’ll never meet him, but just in case I did, or I met someone like him, I wanted to be ready.” For this purpose, at varying times, Armitage pictures may go on the refrigerator, get laminated and stored in gym bags, be pasted into weight loss journals. Audiobooks may get loaded onto audio players for use while exercising. Especially moving or effective pictures are put in places where they can serve as reminders of the fan’s desire and regularly re-trigger the search of motivation. Anecdotes that keep present Armitage’s commitment to fitness and working physically to occupy his roles may be repeated or posted in places where one can be reminded of them. Meanwhile, the fan continues activities that sustain her fandom and fuel her construction of Armitage, often in a semi-public setting like a forum or a facebook page, now using the support of the people around her who share the crush (even if not the detail of the fantasy itself) to help her toward her goal and cheer her on. I’ve seen impressive versions of this effect happen at least three times to fans I know and in each case the change has been long-term (more than sixty pounds lost and kept off for more than two years), which indicates the power of the initial thought or feeling about Armitage to work as a catalyst, even if that’s not the whole story, and even if the role of the construction of Armitage at work wanes as the person’s resolve gains momentum and the significance of Armitage wears off entirely as the fan realizes that it’s what’s inside her that counts. In other, more common cases, the effect of Armitage as weight loss inspiration is less sudden or perhaps less wide-ranging, but involves starting a diet or signing up for Pilates or simply vowing to eat more salad and less pasta.

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A confession from the Richard Armitage Confessions tumblr.

We all recognize that in these cases, it’s actually not Armitage at work. He’s not doing the exercise, obviously, or passing a conscious message on to a fan. The fan has the idea. The fan builds the construct of Armitage that she needs to support her desires. The fan who does the work and the workouts. We may ceaselessly attribute our own activities to the influence of the crush, but it is, as Hiddleston or whoever recognized, “all inside of us.” In cases like this (and mutatis mutandis, my own, which is about Armitage as muse), as fans we meet a deep internal need by resort to an “other.” But the other is not someone we really know or who really exists in the form that we perceive him, but rather someone we experience in a heavily mediated way and interpret in service of our own ends. There is a real Richard Armitage out there somewhere, but only in my construction can he be the kind of person who (perhaps) gently warns me away from the refrigerator when I’m not really hungry, cooks healthy meals with me, spots while I lift weights, jogs next to me, waits for me somewhere on the red carpet when I appear with my newly perfect body “inspired by Armitage,” or tells me I’m beautiful just the way I am. Armitage the weight loss tulpa only does this in the individual imagination — he’s a construction that is based on a fan’s particular needs and the construction relates to her own internal power — so that not every fan who wishes she were more slender or more physically fit can embrace this particular construction. Indeed, the fan’s construction of Armitage can work in the other direction as well, reminding one of a truly impossible dream that one can’t even really take the time to contemplate realizing in one’s own life. This effect — the fact that we don’t all make the same imaginative responses to the same data — points to the individuated construction of Armitage as a being, a thoughtform, one that lies primarily within the needs and the imaginative capacities of the particular fan creating the picture, and which will be slightly different in every single case. (That these differences in Armitage constructions between fans are slight can turn out to be of crucial importance — see further below.)

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A fan confession from the Richard Armitage Confessions tumblr.

Note the essentially unproven ideas about Richard Armitage these notions might rest on — and please note, if you have an Armitage weight loss tulpa, I’m not attacking you. I’m not saying they are unreasonable ideas about Armitage, simply unproven ones. Probably many of us embrace at least one unprovable idea about Armitage as part of our construction of him that appears reasonable. I certainly do.

In this case, there’s the supposition that Armitage would be more interested in someone who was good-looking, or that in the circles he runs in, physical attractiveness is a base requirement for further interest of the kind the fan seeks, but second, complementing the first (and possibly implicitly fueled by his appearances with Annabel Capper and his role as Harry Kennedy in Vicar of Dibley) that he could be interested in a relationship with someone who didn’t completely fulfill the contemporary conventional beauty ideal for women in every regard, or at least interested in encouraging them. On this view, he’s an average human male, somewhat interested in the attractiveness of a potential partner, but not one with an unreasonable, shallow ideal of perfection that he would apply to such a lover or priotize above everything else. Combined with its irresistible good looks, which provide both pleasure and an incentive for self-improvement, this version of Armitage becomes the perfect man to appreciate and reward someone who’s trying to change her body and love herself for who she is. I would argue that one of the most interesting manifestations of this sort of fan construction is that even those who hold it may grasp that their tulpa — as real and necessary as it may seem at any given time — is just a construction. That is to say — the process of construction is not a fundamentally irrational one in that it necessarily deviates from a simultaneous awareness of reality outside the construct. The point is that the construct has a certain utility for the fan.

Richard Armitage as fitness instructor and cad Lee Preston in Cold Feet. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

Richard Armitage as fitness instructor and cad Lee Preston in Cold Feet. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

It would be interesting to ask, given that in these cases it’s really the fan who decides to buckle down and undertake the fitness program, why a construction of Richard Armitage becomes the projection screen for what is really an internal desire. If a fan has enough self-love and trust of herself to undertake the work of weight loss, which she must in order to embark on such a journey, why does she use (or need to use?) a version of Armitage to provide that love and trust? I think about this a lot in my own case, as well — if I have always wanted to be creative and to write more, why did I or do I need Armitage as muse? If, as the celeb from my account at the top of the post said, “all of this is within” me, why do I need part of it to be outside? In fact, why am I explicitly placing it outside myself as a means of support? Wouldn’t it be easier to eliminate the mediating figure? I want to raise this question and abandon it for now, because I think the answers belong more properly with the discussion of how I see this process of Armitage-construction or tulpa building applying to me. But it’s parallel to Armitage’s own resistance to idolization and his statement that actors do not need to go up on a pedestal; it would not be surprising if he has wondered, too, why so many fans need him to be different things.

Worked out until he vomited to achieve the John Porter look: Richard Armitage as Porter in Strike Back 1.4. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

Worked out until he vomited to achieve the John Porter look: Richard Armitage as Porter in Strike Back 1.4. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

Because this isn’t my particular Armitage fantasy, I can’t fully imagine what other pieces might inform the particular notion of Armitage that supports weight loss, but probably other components go toward filling out this particular construction of the crush. Hypothetically speaking, if we follow this construction to its end, tulpa Armitage may not even be that concerned about the looks of his partner, and as long as the real Richard Armitage doesn’t explicitly contradict the vision with a forceful public statement that comes to the constructing fan’s notice, it’s impossible to keep elaborating on that theme in one’s own mind, at times quite extensively. It’s been interesting to me how many RPF Armitage stories explicitly affirm the RPF character Armitage’s interest in a woman who isn’t slender or gorgeous. And it’s also surprised me how gratifying I find these stories, many of which spiral off into fantasy so intense that even the author will acknowledge it as unrealistic as she posts it. It’s possibly this fundamental tendency to carry on constructing in the absence of evidence which explains the shiver that went through the fandom when Armitage said he would rather shave his head for a role than gain twenty pounds because he wouldn’t want “to be a fat dude.” Now, we could have extrapolated before that interview that as a former dancer, Armitage might well be very body conscious of himself and others or (as the confession above points out) because of the work he does, he obviously takes care of his body and is concerned about how it looks and that this concern extends to others. But he hadn’t explicitly made a statement like the one in the Cinemaxx interview before, and it definitely got some people’s attention.

This question of what happens when the person behind the construct doesn’t speak or behave as expected brings me back to the tulpa. One of the things I like best about this idea is that it explains both why tulpa-builders might be attracted to fandoms, and because it explains what happens when fans fight, and one primary occasion for fan squabbles over Armitage has been the emergency of new data (remember dog vs. cat in the fall of 2013)?

Next: because this is getting long: why our constructions of Richard Armitage tulpas lead to disagreements, or worse.

~ by Servetus on June 3, 2015.

9 Responses to “Building Richard Armitages, for example: Observations on Armitage as weight loss inspiration”

  1. […] Continued from here. […]

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  2. I’m one of these, though I never thought about it in precisely this way, and certainly am not all that fanatical about it. Gained a lot of baby weight after 2 kids and lost none of it until my first was 5 1/2 years old and I had a trip to London planned. Just couldn’t get motivated until London 2014 became a reality that was happening in 3 months. I didn’t want to be the heaviest person in line at that Stage Door! Lost 25 lb in the 3 months prior to London and still may have been among the heaviest, but nevertheless, both Mom and I lost a lot of weight prior to London and felt great about it. Since then I’ve lost another 30 lb and am still dieting. Exercising… not so much, so obviously my tulpa isn’t powerful enough to overcome my aversion to the gym, jogging or anything where I exert myself overly much. I definitely didn’t diet and lose that weight because I thought RA would care or notice, but I did know that I would notice every time I looked at the hoped-for stage door picture. =)

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    • yeah — I’m describing here a situation where not every fan who does this is going to have these features, or do it in the way I describe. I think that if the project succeeds, eventually one of course abandons the significance of Armitage to it (just like writers who start with fanfic and decide to move on to original stories sooner or later no longer need Armitage as writing help of whatever kind.) Probably the fan I know who had the most success with the Armitage weightloss strategy is not much of a fan anymore, if at all — but when I see her on Facebook she’s still very involved in the fitness that she talked herself into with the help of her crush. She just used her image of Armitage as an incentive.

      What I read from your comment is that wanting to look at Armitage made you willing to look (in whatever way) at yourself.

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  3. Interesting. Back when I used to post the RAC, there was weight loss effort going on using RA as our inspiration. We used to do a weekly weigh-in.

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