We all have times when we’re not 100% happy with our bodies. We scrutinise, we examine, make promises to lose weight, go to the gym, cut down on alcohol, eat more carrots.
Newspapers, magazines and the internet are full of articles that feed into our own anxieties around how we look, offering up false promises of how we can take action and be the 'perfect’ versions of ourselves that we have always strived to be.
Although this issue isn’t new, it feels that now more than ever there is no escape from certain ideas around how our bodies are supposed to look, feel and perform.
In our community, we’ve taken the image of a perfect body to heart. Scroll through any dating app and you’ll see a landscape (or manscape) of torsos and partially nude bodies: preening, flexing and holding that tummy in. If the images of airbrushed models on billboards weren’t enough, we do our best to show off on apps about how close we think we are to becoming the next Marky Mark or Tyson Beckford.
We know that our community experiences mental health issues to a greater extent than our heterosexual peers. Health reports, surveying men who have sex with men, found that over 34% of us have been diagnosed with a metal health issue at some point in our lives. This compares to an average of 26% among heterosexuals.
Of course, our mental health is not all about how we look, there are many other issues that affect us: stigma and prejudice, misrepresentation in the press, bullying, health scares, minority stress, to name a few. However, engagement events, workshops and interviews within our community, and research by partner organisations, all show that many men who have sex with men demand a lot from how they look and how they’re seen. So where does this come from?
It’s been suggested that gay pornography has permeated our identities. Archetypal porn characters that we’re very familiar with, such as the bear, the leather guy (clone), the daddy, the twink, the jock, and so on, have come to represent us. These terms are now used by apps, such as Grindr, Scruff and Recon, forcing us to identify within these ‘tribes’ in order to have a profile online. The tribe association, however, isn’t new to the gay community and many find belonging and support within a chosen tribe.
Understandably, not everyone fits within the limited number of options offered, despite feeling obliged to - whatever it takes. We should also remember that, even the people we view as having achieved that perfect body or look, still have their own insecurities and self-imposed pressures about their appearance.
So where do we go from here? Perhaps it’s time to step back from the underwear ads, the social media and the pornography to look at ourselves with more realistic, and kinder, eyes.
Of course, being healthy and looking after ourselves is important, but maybe we should be consider more carefully who we compare ourselves to. All our bodies are different, they burn energy differently and they retain fat differently. We’re also born with a lucky bag of genetic and hereditary issues which can dictate how we look and how we function – we don’t get to customise our bodies before we take them for a test run.
If you’d like to talk about your wellbeing, body positivity, or anything that you are concerned about, get in touch. We’re here to help.