I’ve written before about the body image pressures on gay men. We tend to feel a lot of pressure to work out and look good. This is gay culture at its most competitive; many men fear that if they don’t lose that extra five pounds or work out five days a week, they will never look good enough to land a boyfriend.
A British survey published today now finds that half of British gay men are so eager for the perfect body they would give up a year of life. 10% of men said they would give up 11 years of life!
Body image anxiety is rampant in the gay male community. Our media tends to be saturated with semi-nude photos of hairless, buff bodies on cruise ships, at bars and dance parties and elsewhere. Photos of handsome men advertise everything from pet care to legal services. Everyone likes looking at photos of attractive people, but the message many men – especially many young men – get is: if you’re not conventionally attractive and totally ripped, you’re invisible. The standard they internalize is so high it becomes unattainable.
This over-concern about body perfection is both unrealistic and hazardous. It contributes to the high level of social anxiety in our community. It gives us unnecessary and unrealistic fears about aging. The sense of self-criticism and self-judgement erodes our self-esteem. It leads to eating disorders, steroid use and unnecessary cosmetic surgery to correct real or imaginary flaws. And we can end up viewing others as objects to be evaluated or judged rather than friends with whom we can enjoy life.
What to do?
- Pay attention to how advertising images are used to attract and manipulate you in the media. Ask yourself: what is being sold here?
- Don’t participate in catty conversation about other men’s attractiveness, age, etc. Recognize that everyone is unique, and that worth is not reducible to muscles and cuteness. And that bitchy conversation just plays into a very unattractive stereotype!
- When it comes to working out, learn to value physical health more than physical perfection.
- If you find yourself prone to negative body image, learn to stop the self-criticism. Be kind to yourself. Accept yourself as you are, not as you imagine others expect you to be.