Health Queer News

Gay Men and Body Image: It’s Time for a Revolution

by Jacob Tobia

Last week Lady Gaga made history yet again by “coming out” as someone who has struggled with both bulimia and anorexia for the past 10 years. In doing so, she launched a movement through the Born This Way Foundation and called “Body Revolution 2013.” The premise of the campaign is simple: Gaga fans from across the Internet are invited to post pictures of themselves online that celebrated their “triumph over insecurities.” To date, thousands of little monsters have participated, and the momentum is swelling.

However, as I was perusing (not that I have an account or anything), I noticed something: While many of the women who posted on the site have emphasized scars, physical disability, or insecurities with their weight, the same is not true of the majority of men. Among Gaga’s male fan base on, most of the pictures are of gay men sporting their tanned, chiseled physiques in skimpy designer underwear. Now, I’m all for skimpy designer underwear, but looking through those pictures of Adonises, I had to wonder: Is this really what it means for gay men to triumph over their insecurities?

Like most people on the planet, I have certainly struggled with loving my body. Growing up, I have distinct memories of my brother’s friends getting together on the YMCA playground during summer break and making fun of me, calling me “pot-bellied” and saying that I “looked pregnant.” I remember when, during the summer of seventh grade, I started running laps around my neighborhood every night, thinking that maybe I could love my body if I just lost a few pounds. As I entered high school, I lost some of my initial baby fat and became what most people would refer to as “a skinny guy.” I felt OK about my body. I mean, I wasn’t Brad Pitt, but I was happy.

And then I came out of the closet.

Suddenly, the rules were different. Everywhere I went, from TV shows to posters for nightclubs, I was inundated with images of gay men who were trim, fit, and tan. Being healthy and happy just wasn’t enough anymore. If I wanted to be a “good gay,” if I wanted to fit in, I had to change. I had to get big, I had to be manly, I had to have that classic gay physique: rippled abs, bulging pecs, tanned, trimmed, and waxed. I needed to spend hours at the gym, drink protein shakes, and wear tight, revealing clothing to show off what I had accomplished with a hard day’s work.

Isn’t it ironic that in the course of my life, the most traumatic factors affecting my self-esteem have been the standards imposed on my body by the gay community? It’s no wonder that a study at Columbia University found that gay men are three times more likely to have an eating disorder than their heterosexual counterparts.

But where does this pressure come from? Why do we do this to ourselves? I can’t help but think it has something to do with the trauma of coming out. Most gay men, despite how well-adjusted we are now, have suffered from immense feelings of isolation and abandonment at some point in our lives. Whether we are flamboyant or “straight-acting,” most of us have grown up feeling like outsiders, feeling like we don’t fit in. So when we come out, we vow to never be outsiders again; we vow to look perfect and be strong, because we’re going to show the world that we’re not outcasts. We think that through sweat, reps, and endless hours at the gym, we can somehow make up for a world that has hurt us.

Gay men of the world, I think it’s time that we stop trying to make the world love us through our bodies and start loving ourselves for the beautiful people we are. I think it’s time that we stop hurting each other and our community by enforcing impossible standards of beauty and start creating a community that loves people of all shapes, colors, heights, and sizes. I think it’s time to start our own body revolution.

And I’ll start with myself:

Hello, my name is Jacob. I’m gay, and my body is great just the way that it is. I don’t have a six-pack, I don’t have a tan, and I haven’t been to the gym in a while, but I love the way that I look, and I want you to love the way that you look, too. Will you join the revolution?


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10 thoughts on “Gay Men and Body Image: It’s Time for a Revolution

  1. Being diligent working out and regimented is a good thing. While it’s not ok to be judging those who are larger, more people need to embrace a healthier lifestyle and focus more on keeping their better in better overall condition.

  2. I’m with you you just have to set up your ad filters ban the to screen out the ads showing chiselled men in underwear and other scantily clad muscle guys that appear alongside this post..

  3. Great article! Thanks for bringing this topic to light……I’m a short-ish, ginger-ish, fit but not ripped (thickly muscled I guess), fair skinned 46 year old proud gay man that looks best with a couple days facial growth but not the genetics for a full beard or chest hair (Whew…) Having said all that…I’m happy with myself but don’t seem to fit into ANY known category the gay world has created to divide us. I’m not ripped and tan Chelsea, I’m not a bear, I’m not femme, and I’m not a twink. I’m not even the new hybrid of unshaven muscle-guy…the muscle bear. I’ve lived my whole life intermixing between all groups and I’m happy to say that I have friends from each one…I really wish the gay community would drop the foolish labels and borders. We need to unite as a community and face the real threat…the fanatical Right…Dropping these labels really is the best way to have a full social life of great guys (and gals) AND be a powerhouse that is taken seriously…

  4. Wrote an album about this very thing called “Circuit Hoe”. Such a shame that not only have we added our own pressures physically ..but now classified ourselves into stereotypical subcategories to even further our isolation. Authenticity…get some …it is super infectious 🙂

  5. Hello, my name is Kegan. I’m gay, and my body is great just the way that it is. I don’t have a six-pack, I’ve never had a tan, and I don’t go to the gym, but I love the way that I look, and I want you to love the way that you look, too.

    Thanks Jacob.

  6. Interesting article but I disagree completely with some parts.

    Yes – I think it’s a great think for people to address their insecurities and know they shouldn’t be ashamed of how they look/dress etc.
    No – I don’t think we “try and make the world love us through our bodies”

    “when we come out, we vow to never be outsiders again; we vow to look perfect and be strong, because we’re going to show the world that we’re not outcasts”

    I think there are a lot of muscled, gym toned, bearded gays out there because they are masculine characteristics. That’s why I have a beard and keep myself fit, because I’m gay, i’m attracted to masculinity. Also, don’t underestimate the ‘being healthy and keeping fit’ aspect of why people work out. This image of masculinity isn’t a current trend though, look at the Greek god Adonis, the god of beauty and desire. It’s the same reason why many women have long hair, and want big tits…. to emphasise their gender and make themselves feel more attractive.

    If some gays don’t feel like they fit in, because they look different, then they need to address their insecurities right? So well done for trying to address that, but I certainly don’t think there’s any blame required for the fit and healthy gays who look how they do because they want to.

  7. Hey. Good article and yes people deal with their insecurities in many varied, constructive and destructive behavioural patterns.
    I personally take my ques from what I like. Took a long time to get there but so worth it!
    I go to gym, I do yoga, IP’m vegan and finally I’m truly happy with who I am. Except for my job…… But that’s another story!
    I’m a decent looking, acting guy and that’s what I want from my prospective partner. I don’t let anyone dictate to me what is or isn’t cool, desirable or trendy.
    My motto: make your own choices, decisons, glorious mistakes and don’t drag others down with you or get dragged down by others.

  8. Great article and very positive message. A little concerned with the comments though, I think some people got a bit too defensive. The article is not shaming muscle guys (you don’t need to apologize for being fit) it is saying that forcing everyone into one mold is unhealthy in a different way. Being unashamed of who you are in all respects is a good thing. (That said I can also imagine some gay men using the Lady Gaga campaign for alterior motives in a Grindr-esque/instagram vanity showcase.) But let’s curb the drama and support each other.

    1. Hi Michael, my comments were defensive because the article referred to peoples self-esteem being effected in a “traumatic” way by “standards imposed on my body by the gay community”… (which apparently causes eating disorders). It also addresses gay men to “stop trying to make the world love us through our bodies”.

      The intentions of the article are commendable, but I think it completely missed the mark with the direction it chose to take. It should have focused more on addressing peoples perceptions of these body standards, getting them to see that these body standards don’t exist. All it’s done is throw fuel on the fire by telling people with low self esteem that those standards exist and to unite against them. Body/image standards don’t exist, and they certainly aren’t imposed on peoples bodies by the gay community.