Gay Men and Body Image

So being a bit of a socialite in the world of Miami Beach, I tend to have a good deal of dinner parties, cocktail events and other various socials at my house. I enjoy these things immensely and tend to cater to all different groups of people from the Arts Community, Philanthropists, my everyday friends, and of course the usual gay boys of SoBe. In my planning, I of course consider which group I am inviting and what I am serving, and the one thing I have learned is that the differences are far and great between them…and this comes down to some simple things: one of which centers around food.

So my gay boys come over and though the alcohol goes down fast, I have basically stopped making food for these events. This is SoBe after all, and body image becomes everything in this community, as it does in most of the gay community across this country and the world. All those hours each day spent in the gym to have these wonderfully chiseled bodies, that I do simply adore myself, have led this community to suffer from many body related issues, eating disorders, that can also lead to other mental health disorders and substance abuse.

Is it normal to have these chiseled abs, defined chests, and bulging biceps? Hell no, although we adore it, the stress on our bodies is severe and often destructive (like dehydration to make those abs pop), but the stress on our mental health, sense of being, and our own identity is at even greater risk here! Gay men tend to have an increased report of eating disorders (and substance abuse) than do heterosexual men. This generally is estimated to be 3 times more but that number is likely a low one due to the fact that few men actually seek treatment for these disorders and few doctors document it as men tend to get away with it more often, whereas docs look for it in younger women.

So why is this the case? Are we, as a group, subjected to things that heterosexual men are not? Many report that it comes back to the pressure on gay men to look good, to have the perfect bodies, and to present themselves a certain way within the community. Even if one is not into having the perfect body, the social pressure to avoid certain foods in public is still there. I see them lingering around the food at a birthday party waiting for the perfect moment to sneak away with a mini cupcake or a nice fried spicy chicken wing, hell even a little low fat hummus on a carrot stick. But alas, even in the “healthy” option, there is a pressure not to be seen eating at a public event. Well, unless of course it is an olive in a martini.

Social pressure and body image has often been deemed as a cause for anorexia and bulimia in women so it would be logical that this would apply to men as well, especially in the gay community where we are bombarded by beautiful men (both in reality and in the media) and this aching desire to look just like them. A fear that we will not get into certain clubs, be able to find the right boyfriend, or simply be rejected for not being an Adonis.

But there is another reason that is far more dooming for us all. Eating disorders, and other body dysmorphia issues, arise even more so because we face pressures that we cannot control or handle and do not have the mechanisms to deal with them. We use them as a means of dealing with the outside world that is full of stress, fears and rejection, because for many there is no other way. The increased levels of bullying; the fears of rejection; being abandoned by family and other supports; lack of tolerance in school and work; decreased levels of satisfaction in personal relationships; and of course desperation to be part of a group that tends to judge more greatly by appearance, only exacerbates it all.

Like all at-risk populations, the gay community faces far greater challenges and threats than the heterosexual one in general, and thus the increase in negative coping mechanisms and, in turn, mental health issues are far greater. We see this with substance abuse as well. We can balance positive accepting relationships, both personally and in community; good health and exercise; having a fantastic AND healthy body, and being happy with ourselves as an individual. Not an easy task for many, but one that must be achieved in order to avoid these self-destructive patterns that can lead to the exact opposite result we are looking for.

So, I am off to bike around the beach for an hour or so to get some sun and exercise, admire those hot bodies, and come back and enjoy guilt free Sunday pizza and wine night at my house with some friends. I may even have an extra slice…I can do a couple extra crunches tomorrow and still enjoy it this evening! 

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5 thoughts on “Gay Men and Body Image

  1. Asbsolutely. So many social and personal stressors are faced by the LGBT community and of course more often than not, we take them out on our own self physically and psychologically!

  2. I couldn’t have said that better myself. I also think that a lot of people are unaware of the devastating effects that eating disorders cause, until they actually see someone who has an eating disorder. Especially now with the whole gym-fad and lots of men trying to achieve that shredded look in an unhealthy manner. Thanks for sharing!
    Also, feel free to share your thoughts on my blog posts regarding gay men and body image issues.
    gaynspunk.

    • Agreed completely…the impacts are far greater than most people realize and the lines between healthy and unhealthy can be quite small, even if not a complete eating disorder. The amount of dehydration to get those abs to “pop” can be quite dangerous, and usually at a time when our body needs it the most (gym, dancing at clubs, etc). There is certainly nothing wrong with looking good, we all appreciate it, but one can look good AND be healthy!

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