Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Do You Like Your BODY?

GAYTWOGETHER-tvt 012309 Research shows that gay men don’t like their bodies very much. That might seem surprising, given the amount of time many of us spend at the gym. We probably devote more time and effort to cultivating our physical selves than any other demographic group. Just the same, research indicates that straight men like their bodies most, followed by gay women; straight women like their bodies less than these first two. The group that likes their physical appearance the least is gay men.

Why is this? Gay men spend a lot of time in places that place a premium on physical appearance: bars, gyms, sex clubs. We live in a sexualized subculture that places a premium on physical beauty, and media and advertising bombard us with images that reflect an impossibly high standard of physical beauty. Under circumstances like these, it’s easy to confuse who you are with how you look.

We all like to see attractive men, of course. Still, more and more men – even men with bodies that most of us would agree are muscular and very attractive – find themselves very dissatisfied with how they look. At it’s most extreme, this situation is called body dysmorphia – a preoccupation with some imagined defect in appearance when the person involved is actually very normal looking. This problem can lead to depression and trouble forming healthy relationships.

Research indicates that eating disorders and body image problems are linked with public self-consciousness, social anxiety and feeling dishonest about who one really is. Men with internalized homophobia who have difficulty accepting themselves as gay are probably especially likely to develop a distorted body image or eating disorder.

Compared with women, who generally only worry that they are too fat, many gay men worry that they are either too fat or too thin. This misperception can become a genuine distortion disorder that could be called "reverse anorexia" or "bulkorexia." Even when dramatically muscular, men with this misperception feel they are too small or thin.

It's easy to see how men who have grown up with images of limp-wristed, reed-thin gay men form this sort of reaction and seek to show that they don't fit the stereotype. Preoccupation with muscles becomes a way of relieving fears about our masculinity.

Places where gay men socialize especially bars, gyms, and sex clubs, often emphasize physical attributes or make those the first criterion for checking someone out. It's difficult for someone who is older than a certain age or different from the prevailing cultural standards of beauty to catch someone's eye in a bar or club.

This has the sad and unintended consequence of leaving some gay men in the social binds most familiar to teenage girls – obsessed about their appearance and feeling like their locus of control lies completely outside of themselves.

If you have trouble accepting your body, there are steps you can take to improve the situation. First, take the concern seriously. Don't confuse who you are with how you look. Develop a sense of identity based on all of your attributes and on your values.

Put your body back together. Consider stretching, yoga and massage as ways to help yourself feel like more than just "skinny legs" or "love handles." Indulge in body pleasures – long baths, massage, good sex, a walk in the park on a sunny day. Make your own list.

Learn to appreciate body types in all shapes and sizes. Stop trashing men who don't conform to the "buffed" image. Seek alternative role models. Don't emphasize body size or shape as an indication of a man's worth or his identity as a man. Learn to value the person inside.

And finally, confront homophobia, including internalized homophobia. Don't accept being treated as a second-class citizen by straight society or by other gay folks.

John R. Ballew, M.S. author & contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - or at (404) 874-8536.

THANKS, Michael,


Gary Kelly said...

One of the major compensations for getting a bit long in the tooth is that you're no longer expected to look yummy.

On the other hand, you're expected to be wise and interesting.

I'm still working on that.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dune Stud...
Sorry to send this message like this, but for unknown reasons Google has closed all my accounts. I'm trying to get them to unfreeze things. If you wrote and haven't heard from me, this is the reason.
You can "moderate" this so it doesn't appear on the blog if you want to. If I don't get my Google stuff back I'll go to another emails account.


Coop said...

I still haven't decided whether or not I like my body. Really. teehee.
Either way I'm stuck with it.
I watch what I eat... should exercise more. Compared to some of the other guys I went to high school with, I'm doing REALLY well.

I make an effort to limit snacks and fast food. because it isn't good for me. I talk walks... climb hills... and stairs. I care about myself even though I wish I was 3-4" taller with lighter-colored hair.

I'm not expecting my husband to have an 8-pack... or fit into a 28" waist... any of those stupid requirements. but I expect him to care about himself.

Stew said...

Oh Gary, I think you have the interesting part down pretty good. And we're all a little wiser than we know.

I suppose that I've come to a point in life where I can see the beauty in everyone. That's not to say that I want to sleep with them. But I can see the beauty. And yeah, I like me and don't care if anyone else does or not.

Coop said...

I think I'd have an even better body image if I didn't have such a sweet tooth.

This thought occured to me just now, after ordering a gingerbread flavored latte and a bun. Eat sweets = get fat.

JustinO'Shea said...

Mr COOPSTER. . .not all sweets are fattening. . . asre they? Just the "good ones" are. . .LOL

O mY Sweet JAYZZZZZUS. . .a gingerbread flavored latte' !!! Eeewwweeeeeies. . .what ever happened to the wonderful taste of coffee? Did you get a double gobb of whipped cream also?

Didn't you know that natural sugar is far better for you than the artificial 'sweeteners'?. . .which are toxic chemicals, harmful to that beautiful body God and your parents created for you. . . ;-)

I am allergic to sweets. . .I break out in fat!

sweetly yours,
justin o'shea

Coop said...

Yeah... the latte didn't taste as delicious as I hoped. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
Live n learn.

I thought you were a tea drinker, Justino.

JustinO'Shea said...

A TEA drinker??? Just because I am Irish doesn't mean I have to indulge in all the filthy habits of the race!EWWWWWWIES. . . now iced tea and lemonade [ know as an Arnold Palmer] is quite another thingie. . .

I am not related to Hetty. . .hahahahaaaa