Friday, August 23, 2013

Posted: 23 Aug 2013 05:25 AM PDT
Gay Relationships: Body Image PressuresResearch 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 problemare 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.



jimm said...

I like your Spinx !!! We'll let Gary focus on the horizon! :)

As for the post, nothing wrong with desiring a healthy body, and then doing something about it.

JustinO'Shea said...

(laughter. . . )

Gary Kelly said...

Nice leading line from the foot to the rest of the image. JustinO, and the light blue works very well with the various hues of brown. The ruggedness of the rocks also contrasts perfectly with the skin.

There ya go. I didn't say a word about the horizon.

Richard said...

Spinx?? Is that what they call it? I thought it was called a beautiful butt!!


JustinO'Shea said...


jimm said...

aaaahaaa!!! Gary, yer a player!!! Made mah day, mate!!!

Stew Adams said...

Even while sunbathing, we are ridiculed. A guy's just trying to catch some rays.
The article is right. I've struggled with image issues all my life and find it difficult to cope with growing older.
Spinx? Is that the pose or a particular part?

JustinO'Shea said...

Stew. . .I think JIMM is referring to The Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt. . .similar body position. . . etc.
Google it. ;-)))

Coop said...

The more I live the more I question the existence of that sexualized sub-culture.

Oh it's mentioned in tawdry gossip columns and ads in The Advocate and if you click too far on xtube... but it's easy enough to just not go there. I think most people don't.
Tell that to my teenaged queer self who wondered what he was missing.

Is the nose missing... then it will be a sphinx.

JustinO'Shea said...

Have you run into GayBros or GayBrosGoneWild? Or are 'they' merely a phase in the gay rites of passage? hmmmm? ;-))

J said...

I have to ask, who is the boy with the all over tan?


Might be a picture that Peter took
of Justin. LOL Background could have been air-brushed in..........
Justin, being old I like to look
at the young studs. Not a sin????

JustinO'Shea said...

yo ho ho. . might be. . hehe..but no air brushing. . no need to. . ;-)

Gary Kelly said...

J thinks it must have been JustinO with the camera cos the horizon's crooked. Hehe.


Justin, the only airbrushing I was
thinking of, were the rocks. Never
would mess with that BODY. I went on a cruise bout 12 yrs. ago. I had seen a guy with a body that I have never seen since. I couldn't take my eyes off of him. We stopped on a cruise bus for a break, down to Miami. You never forget the sight like him. Your mind burns that picture and it never goes away. WOW

JustinO'Shea said...

Crooked? Oh. I hadn't noticed. I didn't take the photo. . . . :-)

JustinO'Shea said...

RAD. . go for a swim. . .LOL