I’ve written before that gay men are prone to body image problems. Many gay men seem to have the issues often associated with 16 year old girls: imagined flaws not visible to others, hypervigilence about weight and muscle tone, snarkiness and judgmental attitudes towards others as a way of masking their own self-doubt. The Good Men Project recently highlighted these concerns.
We live in a peculiar age: people Western countries are generally thought to be move overweight than ever, but images of flawless (sometimes Photoshopped) beauty are everywhere. If that’s true for the general population, it is doubly true for gay men, who constantly have images of semi-naked perfection in our faces. For instance, check out this publication that celebrates the gay male club scene. But any sizable city has similar publications with comparable images. The images may be used to stoke our interest, but they also end up feeding anxieties about our own physical imperfections: the 10 pounds we can’t lose, the receding hairline, the other evidence of our common humanity.
The obsession with bodies is bad for us. It leads to unnecessary fear of aging, and a belief that our value somehow disappears in midlife. That is only true if value is defined as flawlessly young and buff. By most measures, life gets better as we get a little age on us. Health has relatively little to do with our muscles, beyond keeping ourselves in reasonably good working order. Cultivating friends, doing things that are meaningful and nourish our spirit and enjoying the gifts that life has to offer are much more important than being…pretty.
Over-identifying sexiness with flawlessly muscled young bodies is bad for us, too. A bit of common knowledge is that males hit their sexual prime early – at 17 or 18, and then start a slow decline. (Women supposedly hit their sexual peak a bit later, maybe 30 to 35.) There is no scientific evidence for this. And ask yourself: even if you could have sex like a ferret as a young adult, would you really say that was when you had the best sex? As with much of life, there is much more to sexuality and pleasure than simply the stamina of youth.
Healthy, sexy men come in all shapes, sizes and ages. That’s true even if the images we see in ads and the media present a much narrower perspective on beauty. Think about it. What’s sexy? How about….
- Self-acceptance. Being truly at ease with yourself puts others at ease, and is very attractive. Judgment of yourself and those around you? Not so much.
- Appreciating your body without obsessing about it. Grooming and hygiene are important, and exercise helps us make the most of what we’ve got. Hours and hours at the gym aren’t necessary (unless you really enjoy that).
- Please stop complaining. Ever hear men complain that other gay men are shallow because no one finds them attractive – while at the same time, they only pay attention to handsome young men and discount everyone else? Definitely not sexy.
- A warm smile. Everyone looks better when they do this! And bonus points to you for staying informed about what’s going on in the world so you can carry on a conversation.
- Being outgoing while respecting the space of those around us. People like it when you reach out to them without overwhelming them.
Unlike height or age or a host of physical attributes, these are all things we can do something about.
If you really feel you’re invisible because you don’t conform to some standard of attractiveness, it’s time to change how you think about yourself and about beauty. And if you really feel you’re invisible at your local bar or club, it is time to find another bar.