High school is difficult – especially so if there’s something about your physical appearance that sets you apart from the crowd. And that was the case for David Laid from Atlantic City. When he was 14 he was so skinny – at 5’7” he weighed just 98 pounds – that his classmates nicknamed him “chicken legs.” And the taunting had a catastrophic effect on his self-esteem, to the extent that he didn’t even want to wear a bathing suit on the beach like all the other kids. Clearly, something had to be done. But what he did, and the result it had on his physical appearance, will shock you.
By the time Laid made it into education, moreover, his life had already been tinged by tragedy: his father died in a freak accident in Laid’s home country of Estonia when the boy was just two years old. Later, his mother moved the family to America, where she set up a café and sent her son to school.
Naturally, the loss of his father haunted Laid and knocked his self-confidence. And the casual cruelty of high school life didn’t help, either. Indeed, he was not only teased by the other kids on his hockey team but also by, of all people, the coach.
Worse still, at age 14, he found out he had scoliosis – a condition which leads to a noticeable curvature of the spine. Needless to say, this didn’t help his situation. But Laid’s diagnosis meant that he started having to do weight training with physical therapists. And he soon developed a taste for it.
While still enduring taunts at school, meanwhile, Laid started browsing YouTube, looking for advice on how to bulk up. “I went on YouTube and typed in ‘chest workout,’” he recollected to ABC News in August 2016. Of course, he found plenty of videos offering up tips.
According to Laid, moreover, every facet of his life had been affected by the taunts he received. As he told ABC News, “Every aspect of my life was heavily impaired by how insecure I was and how I looked.” Now, however, he felt like he suddenly had a chance to change all that. And, as a consequence, he began working out, tracking his progress with photographs all the while.
And owing to having started out so skinny, Laid quickly began to notice his body improving. So too did the kids at his school, who quickly changed tack. “When you start working out and the compliments begin to pour in, it pushes you even harder,” Laid told magazine MEL in February 2016.
Before too long, then, Laid’s whole life was consumed with training his body to perfection. He stopped playing his favored sport of hockey, neglected his jobs around the house and even ditched fruit and vegetables for calorie-laden foods. In fact, he devoted almost every waking moment to his new passion.
“It was weird, but I knew this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life,” Laid told MEL. “I would watch YouTube fitness videos, eat, go to the gym, go home, watch more videos, go to bed, repeat. That’s all I would do. That, and go to school.”
And his intense dedication paid off immensely. By the time Laid was 17, in fact, he was in a position to release a remarkable video entitled “David Laid 3 Year Natural Transformation 14–17.” At 17 years old, he was now 6’2” and weighed in at 190 pounds.
What’s more, Laid’s achievement gained him no small amount of attention. Before too long, over 17 million people had watched his video and over 258,000 people had followed his Instagram account. The formerly skinny schoolboy was suddenly a rising star in the bodybuilding community.
He was also an inspiration to the millions of young men who had once been in his position. And as a result, every day he was fielding comments from other people desperate to know how he’d done it. “It’s still hard for me to comprehend people actually care enough to watch my videos,” Laid told MEL.
Unfortunately, with the newfound fame came attention from the media – and not all of it was positive. In addition, while many people were impressed with how much Laid had achieved in such a short space of time, there were many who questioned how healthy his methods were.
Clinical physicians and academics in particular weighed in on the story. Some speculated that Laid and his fellow teenage bodybuilders could have body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) – an obsession with physical appearance that most people associate with women but which affects men, too.
It’s certainly not uncommon for bodybuilders to suffer from a form of BDD – and sometimes the desire for bigger muscles and a better body can cause tremendous harm. Both recovering sufferers and their doctors, meanwhile, have pointed the finger at the media portraying an unrealistic expectation of men.
Indeed, just as women can be triggered into anorexia by the feeling that they should look like the slim women so often portrayed in magazines and movies, men can be triggered into muscle dysmorphia – or “bigorexia” – by the idea that they should be big and muscle-bound.
Yet Laid told ABC News that wasn’t the case with him. “I would like to increase my muscle mass, increase my strength and I’m doing that by going to the gym and training consistently,” he said. “I’m by no means ridiculously obsessed with it where it’s taking over my life.”
He’s also adamant that he won’t take steroids, as many bodybuilders his age do. And although he admits he’s been tempted, he won’t try them. His mother, who has supported him throughout his fitness journey, agrees. “I don’t want steroids to be introduced,” she told MEL.
However, Laid does take supplements, as do may of his bodybuilding friends. “A lot of people recommend teenagers don’t take this stuff, but we’re kind of different,” Laid said to MEL. “This is kind of like our life, and we want to become something most teens don’t.”
Really, though, Laid has become that something already. He’s on his way to becoming a professional fitness model: the kind that can rake in millions. However, no matter what his paycheck eventually ends up being, no-one will ever call him “chicken legs” again.