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! 

Gay Men’s Obsession with Straight Men

I’m Gay and in Love with my Straight Friend

A dilemma that we all face at some point in our life and one that has also become a sort of “challenge to conquer” in our little gay worlds. Sure, we all love to think that everyone is gay, and sure we all like to believe that we are the one that can turn that straight boy homo, but this is a simple recipe for disaster…for everyone!

I have heard it all from “I can’t help who it is I fall in love with” to “I am doing him a favor by helping him find the homo inside of him”. I understand the “ego” and bragging rights that comes from sleeping with a straight man, but as with most sexual conquests that ego ride is short lived and can often lead to self doubt, hurt, destroyed relationships, and internal conflicts on behalf of both people involved.

If we are looking for affirmations of our own sexuality this makes no sense either. What aspect of this conquest, as that is all it is, is a positive reflection of an individual, of our sexual self, of our own identity as a healthy gay man? Isn’t it our goal to develop healthy sexual relationships, for both partners, and that provides internal and external reinforcement for who we are?

Sexuality plays a strong role in the gay culture and a strong part of our external reinforcement as a gay person, but as we know it is destructive on many levels from self-efficacy to health ramifications. We act out sexually to fulfill this identity and to feel accepted by peers with the expectation that we will internalize such things and develop into a secure individual who is seeking out positive and healthy relationships with self and others.

Thus comes the conflict of either falling in love with a straight man or simply just wanting to fuck one. It will be impossible in either scenario for this relationship to be healthy. We may be able to get them in bed with us through experimentation, drugs and alcohol, or simply healthy curiosity on their part, but the fallout is going to be drastic. Take their perspective for a minute when they wake up or sober up from the situation. How are they going to respond? Fear? Anger? Self-doubt? At the least, extreme confusion and feelings of being overwhelmed. Think about how hard it was for you to come to terms with being gay at the start…and now this hetero defined individual is plunged into this. Easier when it is a hook up and they walk away, but not so easy when it is a friend who you had a crush on, things went too far, and now you all have to figure out how to deal with it. A recipe for disaster and a recipe for the end of a friendship!

Now for the gay man involved…you guys! I think having a crush on your best friend is cute and fun and sure, a nice fantasy for masturbation or a good wet dream. But to turn that crush into an obsession is destructive to you as a person and within your own identity. We have to have boundaries, both internal and external, in order to develop our sense of self. And our relationships are supposed to add to that and reaffirm it…not mess with it! Wanting what you truly cannot have is only leading you into a direction of personal unhappiness, feeling unfulfilled and feeling like a failure in relations, not to mention potential destructive behaviors.

Lastly, let’s just say that your straight best friend is struggling with their own sexuality and you are the one that “helps them find their way.” What then? You get them in bed, sex is hot, your dreams seem fulfilled and you are happy. But are they? Next comes their issues of being confused, of coming out, of struggling with their sense of self, trying to find their identity, fear, emotional issues, family issues and all the rest of the gamut of “coming out” to self and others. Admirable if you can help support them through it as a lover and friend, but again, likely destructive for both!

Being gay is hard enough even as times change and our identity becomes stronger as we feel more accepted by society, friends and family. It is these things that allow us to be safe and develop in a healthy manner. But we must remember that suicide, stress, alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and other at-risk behaviors are far more prevalent in the homosexual population. Why? Because it is hard enough already…why make this more complicated?