According to recent estimates, the soi-disant beauty industry is worth some $160 billion worldwide per year. Its prospects look good too: current research in the United States indicates that men are becoming increasingly vulnerable to its charms – apparently 38 per cent of them would like bigger pectoral muscles, (while only 34 per cent of American women want bigger breasts). Perhaps they would like to look like Ronnie Coleman as he first appears in Zed Nelson’s Love Me – standing strong, oiled, and improbably wide, muscles and veins bulging. Ronnie was awarded the Mr Olympia title every year from 1998 to 2005. He appears twice in the book; the second time though, he is on his knees, an oxygen mask strapped to his face – exhausted by dehydration, a punishing dietary regime and the rigours of competitive muscle-flexing. It is a devastating reversal of that staple of the body industry – the “before and after” pictures.  

Love Me is the product of Nelson’s wide-ranging and long-term interest in the culture, psychology and industry of body improvement. It assembles pictures taken over the best part of a decade from over 15 countries, including the US, China and the UK, and – less predictably – Haiti, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Iran. As the succession of photographs of surgeons, bodybuilders, “aestheticians”, beauty contestants and trainee models suggests, the culture of bodily improvement is pervasive and entrenched. Besides those with a professional stake in the industry, Nelson has pictured some of its consumers: anorexics, overweight kids on fat camps, a housewife in the gym, a chest waxer, a nose jobber, and so on.