I’ll admit, like anyone else who went to see the film Batman v Superman
, a little bit of drool left my mouth for Henry Cavill. As a major advocate of staying in shape, I couldn’t help but admire his great work. Beginning my own gym-goals as a skeletal sixth-form teen, going to the gym transformed my self-confidence. I’d always had profound body image and eating issues growing up. Going to the gym has helped me feel healthier, more confident, and importantly for discussion’s sake here, it’s enabled me to feel more 'attractive'.
So, after all this is said, it may come as a surprise to you that I think going to the gym can be incredibly damaging to a gay man’s well-being. There’s a fine line where a healthy hobby can tip over into an obsession – letting that pastime become a defining feature about your self-identity, and bashing down those who don’t conform to the same sculpted Henry Cavill look.
My skinny teenage-self would be mortified if I’d ever body-shamed another gay man. But, lo and behold, it’s not till recently it was pointed out to me by a guy I’d been dating, that I’d jokingly asked him if he was "skinny-fat" (if you can’t guess what this is, Google it) – I must add, this guy is in admirable shape and so good-looking that he works part-time as a model. It was meant to be a completely harmless, passing, sarcastic comment. He took it in good humour, but it really got me thinking: Why would I even think it would be entertaining bringing up someone’s potential body image insecurities?
For me, this lends itself a lot to having been in a long-term relationship where the gym was virtually a third wheel to our relationship. Waking up extremely early to get in a morning session, sharing the guilt of eating too much cake, and expressing the achievements of our hard work in our beloved fitness factory with each other.
Of course, it’s great to compliment one another on how attractive you find your partner, but when it starts to become too much about their buff body, it can prevent us feeling valued for all the other extraordinary things we have to offer as a person – whether that’s generally your killer personality, or something more niche like dexterous accordion playing skills [insert your niche]. This attitude can fuel that insecurity of the 'skinny teen' that’s somewhere still hiding inside of you. And, to make matters worse, gay relationships can become a competition of, ‘who’s got the hottest bod’.
I mention this because body-shaming is a crime that gay men everywhere have been either on the receiving, or serving end, of – and more than likely, both. In the words of Mean Girls
, “there’s been some girl-on-girl crime here.”
The gay scene can have a strange emphasis on placing gym-obsessed men at the top of the LGBT food chain, and those who have no interest in buying into that lifestyle, at the bottom. From my experience, the response I had from gay men as soon as I decided to pick up the weights and splash-out on a teeny-tiny vest was immense – which believe me, can be much more appealing than remaining a fly on the wall.
It’s hardly difficult to see the overwhelming amount of pressures surrounding us as gay men to look a certain way: The majority of porn sites you visit might as well come with a self-confidence waver. Porn shrine Sean Cody, for instance (don’t pretend like you don’t know it), 99% of the time only seems to feature white, 'straight', muscle men. How is this not meant to give us unrealistic expectations for our own body image and embed us with heteronormative attitudes, right? Not only this, but when we entice ourselves into watching ripped men constantly lovemaking on our laptop, we’re naturally going to gain unrealistic expectations of our romantic partners too.
Anyone who’s used a dating app before will know what I mean. It makes me want to roll around the floor in a puddle of my own tears, with the amount of times I’ve seen the words, 'no camps', 'masc for masc' and 'gym-fit ONLY' – and, personally I find it boggling why anyone would seek a 'gym-buddy' on Grindr? Feel free to get back to me if I’m missing something here…
The overall result of all of this gay-on-gay prejudice can be drastic, with a survey carried out by GMFA and FS Magazine
revealing alarming links between suicide and physical insecurity, amongst gay men.
In a study of 600 gay men with depression, 50% had contemplated suicide, including 24% of those attempting to kill themselves. The key stat here being that 70% of these men identified low self-esteem as the main reason for their depression, with “not feeling attractive” appointed as a key factor.
Body image issues are real, and we’re causing them for each other.
When it comes to gay men in day-to-day life we find it largely in the hands of personalities in the limelight to have the courage to come out and be a worthy role model to young gay men. 2015 was a hopeful year, with rugby hunks Keegan Hirst and Sam Stanley making the brave leap of ‘coming out’ in 2015 – we all know the world of sport can be notoriously hostile towards gay men. But I think what’s more exciting to me is having celebrities like Years & Years frontman and former Attitude cover star Olly Alexander, who sports a not-so stereotypically masculine exterior. Not just this, but stars like Olly are proactively vocalising in the press about vital issues, such as depression, and helping young people to feel comfortable in their own skin.
We need this pool of diverse role models to grow and grow – ones that we don’t see fucking each other on American porn sites – to put across the message that we don’t all fit to one mould. Like any other human beings, inside or outside of the LGBT community, we’re all unique and valuable in our own ways. Being skinny, big or muscular is all a part of that.
And of course, we could all be a bit nicer to each other, yeah?
George Palmer is a Brighton-based writer and singer. You can follow him on Twitter @george_palms.
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