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Body Image in the Gay Community

Content warning: This article discusses body image and has mentions of eating disorders



At some point in our lives, we will have undoubtedly dealt with body image issues. However, a number of studies have shown a more significant link with 'body dissatisfaction' in gay men across the age groups. So, what does the research say?


Why is this?


A study by the Mental Health Foundation found that, compared to their counterparts, gay men are more likely to experience a desire to be thinner or more athletic which may manifest into forms of eating disorders or symptoms of an eating disorder. This is also linked with poorer sexual satisfaction and self-efficacy. Their study found that of adults within the LGBTQ+ community 53% felt anxious and 56% felt depressed about how their bodies looked compared to those who are heterosexual. These worrying figures have led to many looking at why this is the case for so many within the LGBTQ+ community.


When looking at body image standards in the Western world, the standard is based more on lines with heteronormativity. In the media, it is a stereotype that gay men will faun over ripped torsos and rippling muscles. This has led to unrealistic standards not only for individuals to achieve but also for what is deemed attractive. This is, of course, a generalisation as this isn't what attracts every man, but it has a significant presence within the gay community. Studies suggest that a significant number of gay men use their bodies as sexual objects to attract and please others and are also subjected to higher levels of peer pressure to change how their bodies look. A study by Pantea Kuosari-Rad and Suzanne McLaren discusses these issues further and I would highly encourage anyone interested to read what they have found.


The media hasn't helped


There is also a lot of pressure for gay men within the community to fit into some sort of mould or category. There are a whole host of tribes that are fetishised and chastised at the same time. The way that the media targets gay men, pushing the heteronormative body types has only increased self-objectification and lower self-esteem. Social media has had a massive impact on the standards for gay men's health and typical body standards. With the increasing saturation of thirsty gym pics and captions such as "let myself go over the holidays" (whilst still having a six-pack) which as research has shown, increases issues surrounding mental health and eating disorders.


Now I love an episode of drag race as much as the next person, but this is where we see another example of objectification and unrealistic standards. Take a moment to look at how the queens treat the pit crew and how they're viewed. For me at least, it can sometimes be a little uncomfortable. Have you ever seen a plus-sized person be admired and touched like that? I haven't, and it can sometimes feel that in the community, plus-sized people are swept under the rug or dismissed as not being as attractive.


Some personal thoughts:


I'll admit, it's difficult to not look at the shredded men and wish that I looked like them. I have often thought about reducing what I eat and only eating chicken and rice, and going to the gym every waking hour. I have done a lot of work changing the perception of my body to one that I am beginning to love more. Would I like to be thinner and a bit more toned? Sure, but if I'm going to do that, I'm going to do it for me, not so I can fit into some ridiculous standard. Nor am I going to post about it on my socials, telling the world that I crushed leg day.


But, at the end of the day please remember that all bodies are beautiful, including yours. Whether you're tall a shredded with the "dream bod," a short king like me or anything in between, be kind to yourself.

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