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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