Body image. It’s often trivialized as a problem for cisgender women. But it’s not. When the EMHC sent out a community needs survey, more guys from our community identified body image as an issue they wanted to learn more about than any other topic.
For many GBQT guys, our ideas about what is, and what is not, attractive are influenced by what we see, and don’t see, in mainstream pop culture and queer media. And although unrealistic body standards are pretty common across the board, research shows that media specifically targeted toward GBQT men tends to present an even more unattainable body standard.1,2 Just take a moment and think of the bodies you see presented and celebrated most: young, white, cisgender, tall and muscular, with no bald spots or any other “imperfections”. Not only is this image not a reflection of the diversity of our community, but it’s also downright impossible for most to achieve.
Perhaps we just need to reject these unrealistic standards and love ourselves as we are. That’d be pretty fantastic. However, we know that it’s not so simple. Research shows that GBQT men tend to feel more pressure than their straight counterparts to look like these media ideals and are also more likely to worry about potential partners judging their appearance.3 As a result, GBQT men are more likely to have a negative self-perception of their physical appearance and more likely to experience low self-esteem because of it.
The roots of body dissatisfaction start early in one’s life. Compared to straight male adolescents, teens who are gay, bi, or unsure, are more likely to think they’re overweight when they’re not, more likely to want to lose weight, and more likely to try to lose weight in unhealthy ways.4,5 And what happens when GBQT guys come out and connect with the local gay community? Although the gay community can be a source of support and belonging for some guys, it also tends to create peer pressure to fit the mold of idealized masculine bodies. In many cases, the more you feel a sense of belonging in the gay community, the more you may experience a body image dissatisfaction that lowers your self-esteem.6
This can be troubling, as when guys are unhappy with their bodies it can cause them to pursue a whole range of body modifying practices, from the healthy and harmless to downright damaging: working out, dieting, removing body hair, tanning, skin bleaching, using steroids, restricting food, and purging.7,8 Often, things such as eating disorders-stemming from a desire for thinness and/or muscularity9,10– can start out looking like a shift toward healthy habits but can get out of control and, in extreme cases, become deadly.
Body dissatisfaction can also manifest in other ways. Although some guys choose to use drugs or engage in bareback sex because those choices work for them, in other cases low self-esteem due to body dissatisfaction might make some guys feel pressured into these choices.11,12,13 Self-image issues can also put GBQT guys at a higher risk of depression than guys who are content with their bodies.8
Fortunately, there are a lot of ways by which we can tackle body dissatisfaction and foster a healthier body image. Finding a group of supportive and non-judgmental friends has proven to help counteract the unrealistic pressure placed on guys to look a certain way.14 Speaking with a friend, counsellor, or mental health professional about ways to develop a healthier body image is also a recommended way to deal with body image issues.
Finally, we as a community can also play a role in combating unhealthy body standards. The Sex Now Survey shows that over half of Edmonton respondents had been discriminated against online due to their body shape or look. We can find healthier ways of communicating what we are and aren’t into-ways that won’t reinforce the negative body image many members of our community struggle with. If you do decide that you want to make a change to your body or wish to adopt a healthier lifestyle, check out our physical health section to learn more about healthy eating and exercise.