Why ripped abs are the new power trip for CEOs

Jeff Bezos shows off his six pack on his yacht while Elon Musk apologizes in public for his extra pounds. The era of the buff businessman is here

Pavel Durov, founder of Telegram, Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two, Scooter Braun, recording exec, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, and Jason Oppenheim, owner of Oppenheim Group.
Pavel Durov, founder of Telegram, Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two, Scooter Braun, recording exec, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, and Jason Oppenheim, owner of Oppenheim Group.Imágenes: Instagram / Collage: Blanca López

Nowadays, the image of the average billionaire has little to do with Wall Street yuppies in suspenders. Nor does it have much to do with the more recent black-turtleneck -and-jeans look. Regardless of their origin or provenance, those who have managed to remain on the list of the planet’s greatest fortunes now have one thing in common: their need to present themselves as the “after” image in an ad for a protein shake.

The Bezos effect, as The Wall Street Journal has described it, has touched a whole raft of entrepreneurs and top-level executives who have radically transformed their bodies in recent months to boast ripped abs and bulging biceps on their social media accounts. From the aforementioned founder of Amazon to moguls in the music and video game industries, the 2022 CEO has turned the toned physique into the new status symbol.

“I’ve got to work out and be in shape,” tweeted Elon Musk. Being the richest man on the planet has not been enough for Musk, who founded Tesla and SpaceX; it has not helped him shrug off the criticism received when he was photographed this summer in a swimsuit on a yacht in Mykonos. Like a soccer player pre-season, the entrepreneur was asked to explain himself on his Twitter account after tweeters mocked his torso. “On the advice of a good friend, I’ve been fasting periodically and feel healthier,” Musk wrote.

Conclusion? No one escapes body shaming. Now, as Musk told the podcast Full Send, he aims to work out for 20 minutes first thing in the morning instead of looking at his phone. And even though he added, “I actually don’t really like working out,” his efforts have been rewarded with the loss of close to 10 kilos. In his case, it also didn’t help that the images that triggered the body shaming showed him with Ari Emanuel, a Hollywood talent agent turned media mogul, who at 61 years of age debuted his washboard abs ahead of his marriage to fashion designer Sarah Staudinger, 33.

The radical physical change in Jeff Bezos (below), who lies second on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people, has also coincided with a new romantic phase in his life. After ending 25 years of marriage to Mackenzie Scott in 2019, the Amazon CEO kicked off his relationship with reporter Lauren Sanchez with a new diet and workout routine. Working with trainer Wes Okerson, who has put actors such as Tom Cruise and Gerard Butler through their paces, images of the new buff Bezos have gone viral showing him marking muscle in tight tees.

“There are several macro trends that can explain this phenomenon, such as the greater importance given to looking after our health and the cult of aesthetics in our multiscreen society,” says Pedro Mir, professor of marketing at Navarre University’s ISEM Fashion Business School. “With the pressure to constantly show off our success, exhibitionism on social media has a clear narcissistic component.”

This new era of buff high-flyers could well serve as an advert for what the coach Robin Sharma coined as The Five AM Club in his best-selling book of that name – a method promising that those who set their alarm clock to go off in the early hours of the morning will increase their productivity while improving their health and optimizing their vitality and happiness. “The life of a top executive is linked to high levels of stress and a sedentary lifestyle, but by presenting this image of themselves, they are trying to show the world that they can handle anything; that they can not only do well in business, but also in other aspects of life,” adds Mir. “For some, this may be driven by a mid-life crisis, but it is still being taken to the extreme.”

The phenomenon of bragging on social networks extends to all higher echelons of business. Among those guilty of it are Jason Oppenheim, owner of a real estate group specializing in luxury mansions; Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group who last year traveled into space at the age of 71; Mark Cuban, entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks or Strauss Zelnick, CEO of the video game company Take-Two Interactive. Even the reserved Mark Zuckerberg has allowed himself the luxury of posting a video on his Instagram account fighting professional mixed martial arts (MMA) expert, Khai Wu.

The creator of Facebook has stated that his passion for MMA emerged during the coronavirus lockdown. And he is not alone. “I think the pandemic and work from home really created the opportunity for C-Suite executives to focus on their fitness,” Mark Cuban, entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, told The Wall Street Journal.

Roberto Sánchez, an image coach for executives in Spain, confirmed to this newspaper that more and more men are becoming aware of the importance of their appearance in the workplace. While the relevance of being well-groomed has traditionally been a female issue, it is now also men who are concerned about how they are packaged.

“My recommendation is to be clear about what values we want to convey in our professional environment and to adapt our image so that these are transmitted instantly,” says Sánchez. “According to different studies, a person can get an idea of who you are and what you can contribute within the first 10 seconds of meeting you. And the weight of this assessment lies in our image.”

That good looks are one of the most effective stepping stones to professional success, beyond the world of modeling or acting, is something that professor of Law and Ethics at Stanford University, Deborah Rhode, tackles in her book The Beauty Bias, which provides evidence to support the idea that attractive students are considered smarter, nice-looking teachers get better reviews, appealing workers make more money, and good-looking politicians get more votes.

Unfortunately, the tyranny of aesthetics is real and it targets us all. “The body cult phenomenon is not something that affects only billionaire CEOs,” says Mir.

Meanwhile, according to Sánchez, “Although the result may be more sophisticated in the case of top executives, society increasingly gives more importance to sport, food and beauty treatments. We all want to be liked and successful on a personal level whether it’s with a well-groomed physique or a romantic relationship. In the case of these people, who have nothing to prove as they have achieved everything, much more so. Showing off what they have achieved on their social media is a way of rewarding their effort and ego.”

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