It’s safe to say that most people would not think themselves guilty of perpetrating this increasingly unachievable body type by pressing their high standards onto others, but is anyone truly innocent? Like many fads, it’s easy to get swept up in one’s own body image to the point of imposing them upon other people.
A thought-provoking and insightful article by George Palmer in Attitude magazine, published this week, showed us an introspective account of how even gay men with their own body issues find themselves forcing strict body standards upon other gay men. Palmer writes about how as a teenager, his low self-esteem and poor body image led to eating issues as well, so he decided to turn his life around by getting into good shape and boosting his confidence.
Like many men in the gay community, health and appearance are paramount when it comes to meeting and judging or accepting others. George is the first to admit that “a healthy hobby can tip over into an obsession,” and that some people too easily mistake external features define their self-identity. He realized this after jokingly asking a boyfriend if he was “skinny-fat,” and while the boyfriend didn’t take offense, he had to point out how, unknowingly, Palmer had body-shamed him, thus going against all the healthy ideals he once stood for. Palmer asked himself, “Why would I even think it would be entertaining bringing up someone’s potential body image insecurities?”
This realization led George to a change he hopes to instill in other gay men. Keep reading!
Palmer points out that, while caring about your body (or your partner’s body) isn’t inherently unhealthy—in fact, it’s quite the opposite—the moment you begin to overlook their personal characteristics and talents by focusing on their external appearance, that’s when it’s time for a check-in.
As clinical psychologist and author Alan Downs writes in his groundbreaking book The Velvet Rage, narcissism—often stemming from the fear of being rejected as a gay man in a hetero-dominated society—can cause self destruction and ruin relationships long before we’re even aware of the issue. The perfect body isn’t a healthy ideal but rather a projection of the faultless being gay men feel they need to be, having been taught that their homosexuality was a damning fault or that their queerness made them somehow less a man than their straight counterparts. Downs even goes so far as to say that gay men obsessed with their bodies (or salaries, or style, or any outward sign of success) are often the ones who have the furthest to go before accepting themselves and finding pride in their homosexuality. What do you think?
It’s easy to fall back on the concept of masculinity that society has taught us, saying “we’re men, we can handle it” when it comes to body shaming. After all, shouldn’t men be able to take some criticism and deal with it? Yet regardless of why we do it or how seriously we take it, one thing that George Palmer makes perfectly clear is that these unreasonable standards of the gay male body, as well as the body-shaming that goes along with it, have very real and terrible effects.
Palmer cites a study that disturbingly reveals that, out of 600 gay men suffering from depression, 50% had contemplated suicide, and that 70% of them said that low self-esteem was the main reason for their depression. Many times, this low self-esteem came from “not feeling attractive.”
Our standards of beauty and perfection, and our mindless or purposeful reinforcement of these standards, are killing us. Each time we body-shame each other, even in jest, the results are real and truly harmful. Never forget that, like everybody else on this planet, there is more to a gay man than his looks and muscles, and that if you feel comfortable in your own skin, you should be helping others to as well.
Read George Palmer’s original article here, and then SHARE this important story.
For more information and resources on eating disorders within the LGBT community, click here.