Grappling with Body Image in the Gay Community: Being Prideful about Bodies

Eating disorders within the community

Gay individuals have always struggled to come to terms with their identity and feel comfortable presenting themselves. Although the gay community has granted many LGBTQ people the ability to express themselves authentically and be better understood by their peers, the gay community is often criticized for its harsh stance on accepting different body sizes.

Usually, gay individuals whose appearance differs from a certain archetype – very slim or extremely toned – are not represented in the media. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has flagged LGBTQ+ individuals as high risk for eating disorders.

  • Out of all males who have eating disorders, 42% identify as gay
  • Gay males were 7 times more likely to report binging and 12 times more likely to report purging
  • Gay and bisexual men had a significantly higher prevalence of lifetime full syndrome bulimia, subclinical bulimia, and any subclinical eating disorders

Why does this happen?

The culture of the gay community to idealize an archetypical type of body has contributed to feelings of low self-esteem, dissatisfaction with their bodies, and pressure to maintain a certain image.

  • There is a positive correlation between feelings of belongingness to the gay community and body dissatisfaction and lower self-esteem (Tiggemann 2007)
  • As gay men become more involved within the community, they become more aware of how influential physical appearance is in forming relationships
  • This heightened awareness contributes to physical appearance being consciously valued higher in the gay community than in heteronormative communities, which results in more concern over body image and, thus, lower-self esteem (Levesque and Vichesky 2000)

Why does this matter?

The increased awareness of body image and high value placed on physical aesthetic contributes to a lot of discrimination based on appearance and sexual objectification.

It is EXTREMELY ironic and troublesome that a minority group would discriminate against others like this.

Many people purport that they are only encouraging physical care and an active lifestyle, but they actually ostracize healthy individuals who do not align with the physical ideal.

  • A greater proportion of gay men report experiencing peer pressure regarding physical appearance and weight-related teasing than heterosexuals (Keri McArdle and Melanie Hill 2007)
  • Compared to straight men, gay men engage in more appearance-based conversations that reinforce archetypical body image ideals in society (Jankowski 2014)

How dating apps hurt

On MSM (man seeking men) dating apps, countless profiles express “No fats, no femmes” and “gym fit only”.

Although it isn’t inherently wrong to desire a certain type of partner, many individuals are perpetually segregated from the online community.

  • Gay magazine Attitude conducted a body survey in 2017 and found that 84% of people felt a lot of pressure to have a good body.
  • “Gay men also scored higher than heterosexual men and women on Drive for Muscularity, suggesting that the gay ‘ideal’ involves not only being thin, but also being muscular”

How social media hurts

Over 90% of adults in the United States have at least one social media account; However, lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals are more socially active than heterosexuals on these platforms (Escobar-Viera 2018).

LGBTQ+ therapist Asher Pandjiris who specializes in treating eating disorders says that “it’s common to see patients engage in disordered eating, such as starving themselves if they miss a workout or before trips to gay events where their bodies are on display… Looking at statuesque bodies on social media can play a hidden role in the problem.”

Research shows that high frequency of social media usage (especially on image-centric apps like Instagram) is associated with body image concerns and eating disorder symptoms in gay men.

Many individuals even claim that to collectively improve self-esteem in the community, social media influencers and fitness-oriented individuals should curb the amount of sexualized pictures disseminated online.

Body positivity and representation

In order to foster a community that celebrates diverse bodies and discourages damaging means to achieve an archetypical body such as eating disorders, it is important to increase the amount of representation of bodies that do not conform to the archetypical standard.

Photographer and gay activist Tarik Caroll is an advocate for body positivity (the assertion that all people deserve to have a positive body image, regardless of how society and popular culture view ideal shape, size, and appearance), claiming that it “is about promoting mental and physical wellness… you can be body positive and have fitness goals”.

Although speaking up about body positivity is always beneficial, it is important to note which type of creators usually publicly back these types of movements. Traditionally, gay white cis-men have been at the forefront of these issues.

  • 42% of openly gay individuals in the US are minorities.

Thus, it is extremely important that gay individuals from all types of backgrounds are open about their experiences enduring these hardships so that more people can feel confident in their struggles and identities.

Instead of ridiculing bodies that do not conform to a strict standard, it is ever-important to embrace diversity in order to foster a more accepting community online and physically. 

Solving the self-esteem problem

Instead of following fitness junkies and models that churn out sexualized, over-edited content, users can choose to follow people whose posts make them feel happy about their bodies.

This is not to say that these types of posts are inherently detrimental to one’s mental health, but if you struggle with body positivity, it is important to be aware of the type of content you are inundated with.

Here are some tips to feel better about yourself:

  • Unfollow glamorous social media accounts that flaunt one type of body
  • Journal reaffirming messages
  • Follow body positivity accounts
  • Seek images focusing on body functionality (what the body can do rather than what it looks like)
  • Note before and after photos of “real” vs “edited” bodies

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