Learning to Love the Skin You’re In
Body image is a major factor in today’s increasingly health-conscious world. Since the dawn of omnipresent social media, we’ve been sharing every aspect of our lives not only with our own network of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, but with thousands of complete strangers as well.
Constant attention and connection to the internet has helped bring us closer to people we may not normally have met or kept in touch with. Now more than ever, we consume countless moments of each other’s lives through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other media-based platforms that filter and project pictures often specifically curated to give off a desired image of ourselves.
Whereas some people argue that our internet culture has subdued us, encouraging us to spend many hours at home alone behind a screen instead of out in the real world meeting people, I would conversely argue that in many ways, we’re exposed to each other now more than ever before. Even our most intimate moments like weddings, dates, or trips to the beach are posted online and shared with the world. Thus enters the competition.
For one community especially, body image issues and eating disorders run rampant and go largely unchecked. But why is this? Why should we force ourselves to live under such heightened standards while suffering from the resulting attitudes?
One man spoke out against body shaming in the gay community, and it’s a message we could all follow.
Body Image and the LGBT Community
Unhealthy body image is a harmful and potentially disastrous problem affecting millions of people across the United States and the world every day. From the smallest signs of discontent—such as wishing even one body part was different—to complete unhappiness with the person we see in the mirror, body image issues can range from a daily source of self-consciousness to an outright hatred for who we are.
Of course, wanting to be better or more attractive isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact it’s healthy to treat various aspects of your life—such as your career or style–as works in progress. We need to draw the line somewhere, however, and the moment we find ourselves eager to change permanent or integral parts of ourselves to the point of obsessing over our perceived “flaws” is when our desire to be better becomes unhealthy.
But did you know that poor body image is a borderline epidemic in the LGBT community? Though gay men were found in one study to be 50% less likely than their heterosexual counterparts to be obese, other studies have shown that they are up to three times more likely to have eating disorders.
As with many diseases, the cause of these exacerbated rates of eating disorders as well as the body dissatisfaction that often leads to them isn’t fully known or understood. That being said, plenty of theories have been offered up.
A 2012 study carried out in the United Kingdom found that 48% of gay men would be willing to give up one year of their lives in order to have the “perfect” body. The same study explained that these gay men “were also significantly more likely to use what the study authors called ‘body talk’: speech that implicitly or explicitly reinforces or endorses the traditional western standard of male attractiveness: tall, lean, muscular, toned body with clear skin and a full head of hair. 91.2% of gays said they make statements which reinforce this image.”
The study from the Mailman School of Public Health and the National Development and Research Institutes stated: “It is not clear why gay men have high rates of eating disorders. One theory is that the values and norms in the gay men’s community promote a body-centered focus and high expectations about physical appearance, so that, similar to what has been theorized about heterosexual women, they may feel pressure to maintain an ideal body image.”
Like people of all backgrounds and orientations, a desirable body is often found in the celebrities, models, and advertisements that grow increasingly ubiquitous and semi-subconsciously force us to adapt a feeling of insecurity or competition with these extremely fit and always perfectly made-up personalities. Looking at what people consider the “ideal” body in cultures across the world show that in the West, men should be thin but muscular with a full head of hair, and these physical traits have grown only more difficult to attain over the past hundred years.