Body Image and Self Esteem in the Gay Community

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    Jul 14, 2008 7:07 PM GMT
    I feel like I'm taking kind of a risk here, posting something obviously sensitive w/in the context of a group of men who value health, athletics, and masculine beauty and ideals. So be gentle... icon_wink.gif

    But... There seems to be a tension between the need for personal self-acceptance as a gay man, on the one hand, and needing to be validated by others in order to feel good about ourselves, on the other. We need both, for sure.

    But do you, personally, ever feel the two get too mixed up at times? Or that there is pressure to live up to a certain (and perhaps unrealistic) standard held by our community in order to be considered attractive? Do you think that our being considered "less than" by the dominant culture ever over-influences your need to look a certain way in order to be validated by others? Do you ever feel "less than" by our own community unless you look a certain way? We want to be and look healthy, but at what price and for what purpose?

    How much does body image impact your self esteem - and in what moderation of the two needs initially stated above?


    ADDENDUM: 7/16/08
    WOW - great responses, guys. I really appreciate the honesty and vulnerability, especially in a lot of the anecdotes you shared.

    So, as the story goes, it seems men are more aroused by visuals than are women; hence advertising's selling numerous beauty products to women so that they can conform to the desires of straight men and be valuable, sexy, desired. Packaging, of course, is attractive and acts as a conduit for attracting someone to getting to know the real person; however, as is fairly well-known, women develop an unhealthy obsession w/ body image and appearance. And, as many of you have said, straight women don't hold men to the same critical standards.

    So, when it comes to gay men, there seems to be a kinda closed circuit - a mirror reflecting a mirror - in that ideals for physical beauty among gay men seem to perpetually mount and build to a critical mass that becomes unhealthy. And, my own opinion, is that it is good to stop and reflect about what, why, for whom are we wanting to be "healthy" (i.e. "hot")? Do we do "unhealthy" things in order to attain some unattainable ideal? And do we become addicted to the "gaze" of others? Are we motivated by being admired for a form of ideal masculinity that might have been shot down by living through homophobia?

    And, what are these ideals? And how does a site like "RealJock" shape these ideals? I have to say, my own reading of the words "RealJock" kind of infers "Real Man." As though there is an ideal of masculinity that seems to be shared by those who have an interest in joining this community. And I wonder what these masculine ideals are? Are they a reiteration of classic maleness? Or, as mostly gay men, do we get to re-define these ideals for ourselves?
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    Jul 14, 2008 7:34 PM GMT
    HomonculusOr that there is pressure to live up to a certain (and perhaps unrealistic) standard held by our community in order to be considered attractive?


    Yes. As bad as it may sound, it's true. There's that unspoken standard that gay men are men too gorgeous to be straight. Notice that in flames by certain members (*cough* lawyer435, DCBoy) here, the insults they latch on (that which they think brings more pain) is physical looks.

    HomonculusDo you think that our being considered "less than" by the dominant culture ever over-influences your need to look a certain way in order to be validated by others?


    Yes. icon_redface.gif This is primarily why I joined this site in the first place. I just decided one day that if I ever want to get rid of my inferiority complex, I have to work for it.

    HomonculusDo you ever feel "less than" by our own community unless you look a certain way?


    Oh yes. Being Asian I am very much aware of how Caucasians are viewed in the gay culture as having all the ideal physical attributes. Nothing I can do about that, so just learn to live with that added hindrance to a happy ever after. Hehe icon_razz.gif

    HomonculusWe want to be and look healthy, but at what price and for what purpose?


    Well... I don't have dreams of being a star or anyone famous. I don't even dream of being beautiful. I just want to be acceptable to my own eyes.

    HomonculusHow much does body image impact your self esteem - and in what moderation of the two needs initially stated above?


    Well... icon_redface.gif IguanaSF recently advised me to stop eroding my own self-esteem by posting or saying self-depreciating things about myself even to myself (Thanks heaps for that, kurtsytoons icon_lol.gif ). Something I didn't even realize I do, and I do it a lot. (And no, I don't fish for compliments that way icon_lol.gif ) I've taken his advice and have avoided it. It's good to know your limitations but it's a whole other thing to constantly keep reminding yourself of your own boundaries.

    So no, recently I don't think much of my body negatively. Once upon a time, I would have responded to a thread like this by enumerating every little flaw I have. Heh. Now I just try to encourage myself with what little positive changes I see from my workouts.
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    Jul 14, 2008 7:44 PM GMT
    I am with Sedative on this, except for the Asian part. I have never heard of this bias against asian appearance until I have been on RJ. To my knowledge, there are attractive people in all races...just like there are ugly people in all races. I know I dont find asians or their features as unattractive in the least. In fact, if I were 34 years younger ... icon_eek.gif ... he be my houseboy long time (private joke guys...cool down)
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    Jul 14, 2008 8:02 PM GMT
    There is a tremendous amount of subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, pressure in the gay community to look really hot. It is especially true for those gays that frequent the bars and circuit parties. If you have ever been to one of the large gay parties on pride weekend, you will know what I mean. A large number of men strolling around with their shirts off showing their nearly perfect physiques.

    That is one reason why some gay men get so neurotic about aging, they equate it with a loss of physical attractiveness, and eventually being treated as invisible by other gay men. To some gay men you will become invisible, but hopefully as you age you find that life has other things to offer besides parties and going to bars to be admired.

    I try and set reasonable goals for my fitness, but I don't obsess about it. As long as I can run 3-4 miles a day without getting winded I am happy. I will let others try and get the totally ripped look.
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    Jul 14, 2008 8:03 PM GMT
    Caslon5000he be my houseboy long time (private joke guys...cool down)


    Oh you joked me! icon_cry.gif I no love you long time anymore pappy...

    *runs off amidst falling cherry blossoms*

    j/k! icon_lol.gif
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    Jul 14, 2008 8:13 PM GMT
    Oh yeah, I'll admit there's social pressure, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't affect me. While I like to think I've got a pretty level head and a healthy sense of myself, I know a part of me is always seeking validation through others - it's the last remnants of the insecure, self-conscious kid I was, once upon a time.

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    Jul 14, 2008 8:17 PM GMT
    zdrew saidOh yeah, I'll admit there's social pressure, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't affect me. While I like to think I've got a pretty level head and a healthy sense of myself, I know a part of me is always seeking validation through others - it's the last remnants of the insecure, self-conscious kid I was, once upon a time.



    You are still a baby gay in my books at 30, you will probably be over the last remnants of the insecurity by 40.
  • GQjock

    Posts: 11649

    Jul 14, 2008 8:49 PM GMT
    Absolutely we are held to an almost unattainable standard
    .... hence steroids
    hence the plastic surgery
    but guys... maybe it comes with age
    maybe we all have to live thru it
    But NO MATTER how good you look
    no matter how big your biceps are
    .... there's always gonna be someone who's just a little better
    so if you want to look good
    if you want to have a healthy body have at it
    but don't make it an obsession
  • kinetic

    Posts: 1125

    Jul 14, 2008 8:56 PM GMT
    Uh, YEA!
    This thread instantly reminded me of a commercial for Dove soap. It shows all these flashing images of perfect women projected onto this little girl who is confused and bewildered as to how she will live up to them.
    After the 1st time I saw it I thought to myself that young gay men are faced with very similar pressures.
    In commercial gay culture it seems like it is all about having the right clothes, the perfect body and perfect sex. Hell gay porn-stars are idolized like top celebrities. How are we not supposed to feel immense pressure?
    More so, how totally fucked up is it for young gay guys to be feeling this pressure. It left me pretty damn jaded at a young age. I don't have as many personal issues with it now, but I remember feeling very alienated when I was younger, almost like, 'So this is what it is to be gay?'.
    Sometimes I still feel that way, especially when I see self-destructive behavior taking place. For example, drugs, steroids, living beyond your means to 'keep up appearances' (which often ends w/ debt and bad credit).
    Its enough to make anyone sick.
  • MSUBioNerd

    Posts: 1813

    Jul 14, 2008 9:35 PM GMT
    Yes on some, no on others.

    To be a bit more specific:

    Yes, I feel that there are standards of male beauty in the gay community that aren't really as prevalent in the straight community. In general, I think gay men care that they guy they're with be physically attractive much more than straight women care that he's physically attractive. Exceptions exist, of course, but on the broad scale, I think it's true. The gradations are also finer; because we're all men, we have an easier time figuring out where we stand in comparison to the other guy in terms of looks. While it's important to remember that individual tastes vary, I think most gay men have a better idea of what gay men find attractive than most straight men have an idea of what straight women find attractive.

    Part of why I took so long to come out as I did was rooted in body image. I was way too thin, and I knew it. I figured "Sure, I can go through all the hassles of coming out of the closet...but the guys I find attractive aren't going to reciprocate, so what benefit would there even be?" It wasn't until I had been working out for a while and built up a little muscle that I even considered that an attractive guy might be interested in me.

    At the same time, no, I don't think the dominant (by which I assume you mean straight) culture's consideration of me being "less than" for being gay influences my perception of my appearance. I'm actually not sure that dominant culture does treat me as "less than" for that reason, but I say this from the safety of living in the bubble of academia in the US, and I've spent my life in NY, CA, and now MI, so it's entirely possible that I experience this differently from others.

    My body image affects my self esteem only in regards to my dating life, though I realize it has more of an impact than I previously thought. It doesn't have any bearing that I can detect on the esteem I derive from my career, or my interaction with platonic friends (gay or straight or somewhere in between), or my interactions with my family (who are secular libertarians and for whom the biggest change since I came out has been asking "Are you seeing any guys?" instead of "Are you seeing any girls?"). I actually think that I get the majority of my self esteem in those arenas. While there's some external validation for some of it -- winning awards and fellowships is always nice -- a good portion of it is internal validation, of proving to myself that I am capable of whatever it is I've just managed to do.

    But in the dating realm, yes, it does affect my self esteem, and it's only fair to admit that, even if I wish it didn't. For most of my life, I'd been embarassed to be seen without my shirt. When I joined this site, I worked up the nerve to post a shirtless picture, although it took me several days of trying to convince myself to do so. And last summer, I worked up the nerve to take up a friend on his request that I pose for his photography hobby, a large portion of which was done without clothing. I'm thrilled I did--my favorite shot from that series got turned into my main profile picture here. Photographic proof of what my body actually looked like at that moment did wonders for shocking me out of my mental image, which was still set as me being as painfully thin as I used to be. And with that has come the confidence to try talking to guys who I previously would have considered completely out of my league. I by no means consider looks to be my strong suit, but all the same...feeling like I'm moderately attractive, even if it's due more to age than to lucky genetics, has altered the course of my attempts at dating.
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    Jul 14, 2008 9:41 PM GMT
    In the disabled community there are what they call "super-crips": people who compensate for their disability by overachieving in some field. Think of the man with a missing leg who is a competitive sprinter, or the blind man who climbs Everest. They feel the need to prove they do not have a limitation by exceeding our expectations of disability.

    Gay men are under the same pressure. Instead of ability it is our masculinity that is called into question, and so we compensate with hyper-masculinity. It doesn't help our self-esteem, but it sure feels good under the sheets.
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    Jul 14, 2008 9:55 PM GMT
    I am more interested that a man with the screen name of the alchemical creature in Goethe's "Faust" poses this question.

    465px-Homunculus_Faust.jpg



  • GQjock

    Posts: 11649

    Jul 14, 2008 9:59 PM GMT
    "Age does not make men childish as folks tell us
    it only finds them children to the end."
    icon_wink.gif

    I have seen more stunningly attractive men with really severe body dysmorphic syndrome than you can imagine
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    Jul 14, 2008 10:11 PM GMT
    I love this subject. Look at a lot of the guys on here, who are seriously breath taking. And hear that they have their own self esteem issues. And I'm blown away, how can they possibly think they're not attractive. It's nice to realize we all deal with the same issues.

    I have been trying to come to terms with this. I used to weigh quite a lot. And even though I don't look like that guy in the mirror anymore, it's still the self image I retain.

    I'm am taken aback when a hot guy thinks I am attractive. And not sure I'll be happy until I look like those models that we aspire to become. But working on that.
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    Jul 14, 2008 10:12 PM GMT
    Personally, I don't give a crap whether the "gay community" finds me attractive or not. I only have to be attractive to the one man who might find me so.

    Of course, at the rate I'm going, I'll never cross paths with him.
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    Jul 14, 2008 10:20 PM GMT
    that's because she is in danger of her hips breaking. I mean she only has four minutes to save the world.
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    Jul 14, 2008 10:22 PM GMT
    As long as you're happy with what you have and how you carry yourself physically, that's what's important.

    Sometimes, I will find my thinking muddled up between the two aspects, being validated by others and for my own self-satisfaction, but then I remind who I'm doing this for, for me, and then I don't feel so confused or even thinking about the two.
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    Jul 14, 2008 10:35 PM GMT
    Cheer up, boys.

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    Jul 14, 2008 10:43 PM GMT
    jprichva saidI only have to be attractive to the one man who might find me so...Of course, at the rate I'm going, I'll never cross paths with him.

    Your rate of path crossing has to be inversely proportional to your attractiveness quotient. I think that was a chapter in Freakonomics.
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    Jul 14, 2008 10:54 PM GMT
    Don't really give much thought to being a great physical "specimena" at age 55, I had worked out from my early teens all the way into my 40's. Then one day I just turned my head while shaving, a pain went down my back, and within 3 months I was begging my Neurosurgeon to "CUT MY THROAT" and end my pain. After that, and a plate of steel and three screws in my neck, I don't care particularly, I do my best to stay active, (my resting heart rate is in the mid 50's) and beyond that I kinda like being the nice grandpa that the grandkids love to see, and the cool old Uncle Dennis. Stay active, exercize/work out, play hard, relax with friends often and be happy with what your efforts and genetics builds you into, and don't fret about wanting to be this that or the other, most everyone accepts people the way they are anyways, and if they don't its more than likely them that is of poor self esteem. Above all, when your body just won't perform anymore like it used to, just accept it, its all OK and just part of ageing that you cannot change by very much no-matter what you do. You all are looking great !!! Keep up the good work !!!
  • Jamessir69

    Posts: 1

    Jul 14, 2008 11:03 PM GMT
    Compair yourslf not unto others, lest you become bitter & vain, there wll always be others Greater & Lesser than yourself. All our lives we seek affermation, the ONLy one that mattres is Self Affermation. Be sure to give yourself positive affermation every day, pick one good thing you did that day, and focus on that type of thought, I do that when working out. Its all Great, we are so lucky to be alive, none the less whole and able to exersize our bodies, what a luxury. Some people in the world, Many, struggle to eat and survive. If you have the confidence to belong to a website " realjock" youre doing OK. icon_biggrin.gif Love the universe and it will Love you back.
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    Jul 14, 2008 11:06 PM GMT
    I stopped going to Remington's, the gay country-western bar in DC, because of the cigarette smoke. Now smoking in bars is banned in DC. I am getting better from this damn cancer therapy. But I am not ready to go back to dance, because.....I dont look good enough yet!!!!! Hahahahaha. I am looking to going around December. By then, I expect my working out to have me in good shape.
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    Jul 14, 2008 11:09 PM GMT
    sdn8 said I'm am taken aback when a hot guy thinks I am attractive. And not sure I'll be happy until I look like those models that we aspire to become. But working on that.

    I fully understand what you're saying. Growing up I felt awkward and very self conscience, not sure why, but I think it was because I knew I was "different (IE:gay)" but didn't understand so much later in life, when I started meeting guys it was hard to accept a compliment on looks, hence I felt the need to hit the gym and become "one of them". I think the most pressure was self imposed but based on what I saw in the people I was attracted to (sexually, in mag, movies, etc). And even now I sometimes feel fatter than I need and yet I'm below my target weight AND probably the recommended weight for my age and height. Yep, definitely a self esteem issue.
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    Jul 14, 2008 11:14 PM GMT
    Your 'one of them' comment was interesting, b925guy. Part of the reason I was so slow in realizing I was gay in the first place had to do with self-confidence/body image and confusing the desire to be with a guy I found hot with the desire to be that guy. It was really easy to genuinely confuse sexual attraction for a guy with desirous envy of that guy's body/face/etc. Of course, the source of that envy/lack of confidence was feeling substandard because I felt different...which, lo and behold, was cuz I was a big ol' homosexical.
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    Jul 14, 2008 11:18 PM GMT
    I've struggled with body image and self esteem ever since I realized I was different from the other kids in school. Not only did I like boys which was hard enough to deal with, I also wasn't thin like most of the other kids. So, I wasn't about to come out and ridiculed for being gay when I was already being ridiculed for being heavy.

    As life went on, it just got worse really. I was always concentrating on doing well in school, doing well in my after-school activities, working my ass off in college and also working my ass off at work. I never devoted enough time to getting into shape. But, over the years I've realized you're not really a "part" of the "community" unless you're hot. Hell, even on here it's next to impossible to get people to reply to emails or instant messages unless you look like a model. Even the guys I have a lot in common with don't respond.

    So, now I'm investing the time and money in a personal trainer and really healthy diet and working my ass off to look good. I'm doing it more for myself than anything so I can finally be happy with myself. But, I'm going to be really happy when I finally "fit in" with the crowd and can tell those that ignored me for so long to fuck off. icon_smile.gif