In pursuit of perfect abs – the unrealistic body standards of gay men
You don’t have to look any further than your Insta or TikTok feed to find an endless sea of men taking shirtless selfies – predominantly showcasing chiselled, perfectly-defined bodies.
The vast majority – and most basic – of these selfies are taken at the gym. The gym selfie seems to have become obligatory for every gay with a gym membership. Beyond the obvious flex of “look how desirable my body is”, there’s also the explicit acknowledgment that it’s muscled physiques that get our attention, it’s muscled physiques that we find sexually attractive, and it’s muscled physiques that are aspirational.
The desirability of a muscled physique is constantly reinforced to us through online dating apps, advertising, and our everyday interactions with other gay men.
What’s the problem with wanting a muscular physique?
While maintaining a toned physique has definite physical health benefits, it seems clear that many gay men are in pursuit of a perfect body not just for the sake of health, but because it has become a gay standard to live up to.
We’re not spending hours in the gym and following a strictly controlled diet so that we can compete in the Olympics, we’re doing it because our sexual currency and our self-worth depends on it.
Having a gym-toned body also intersects with social status. Looking good does not come cheap – achieving and maintaining a muscular physique and a well-groomed appearances requires time and money.
There’s also a fair bit of evidence to suggest that a fixation on having the muscular physique that you feel you should be aspiring to can trigger body dysmorphia. Symptoms of body dysmorphia include depression, poor job performance, sexual anxiety and high-risk behaviours. Some physical issues include steroid abuse, muscle injury, an over-reliance on dietary supplements, and eating disorders. Body dysmorphic disorder is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder – this translates into an obsession with a perfect body through hours spent in the gym and obsessing about food consumed.
Have you got Bigorexia?
The University of Melbourne has launched a study of the body image of gay men, specifically focusing on ‘bigorexia’ – an obsession with achieving a muscular physique.
“There is some evidence that gay and bisexual men are more vulnerable than heterosexual men to eating and body image disorders…” confirms Dr Scott Griffiths from the University of Melbourne. “This also applies to using appearance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids.”
Not everyone is into muscular physiques, right?
Obviously, there are some gay subcultures that celebrate different body types.
Bears are guys who are big and hairy.
Twinks are guys that are small and slim.
The fetish community is generally more interested in what you’re wearing and what you’re into than how much you’re lifting.
Try and keep some perspective
If you love your time in the gym, then that’s cool – you do you. But it’s important to try and keep some balance in your life.
Just because you’ve got the body of an underwear model doesn’t make you an interesting person.
Remember, there’s a lot more to a person than what you see on first impressions.
Learn to love your body
We should probably stop reading mens’ fitness magazines. Sure, there’s plenty of eye-candy, but they’re not much use for anything else.
We were recently flicking through a copy of a fitness magazine that we’d succumbed to, and it included the results of a reader survey. To be honest, there weren’t too many surprises
For example: 49% of respondents were least happy with their Abs and yet 43% of respondents reported that the thing that is stopping them getting the body that they want is that they “like food too much.”
While surveys such as these are not rocket science, they are a useful reminder of the often subconscious impact that the way we look has on the way we feel.
Let’s reflect on some of the numbers revealed by this survey:
- 65% of respondents are not happy with their body.
- 10% of respondents would consider plastic surgery to improve their body.
- 62% of respondents would like to lose weight.
- 39% of respondents feel self-conscious about being naked in front of their partner
The obvious answer of course is to stop feeling sorry for yourself and get to the gym, but that kind of tough-love approach is not particularly helpful if you’re caught in self-fulfilling spiral of masking your low self-esteem with comfort-food and alcohol.
If you’re wanting to change the way you look, start with small, achievable steps – set yourself some goals and acknowledge your progress as you achieve them. Achieving goals and seeing your body begin to respond will motivate you to keep going.
Everyone can easily point to things about themselves that they’d like to improve, but getting a plan in place to try and work on your weaknesses is half the battle.
If you’re tired of shouting at yourself in the mirror each morning, here’s five steps you can take to recognise that you’re pretty spectacular – whatever shape you are.
Acknowledge your good points
Some days, everything feels wrong. But when you’re struggling with doubts about your body image, a good starting point is to write down your strengths.
These don’t have to be physical. What do people compliment you on? Are you a good friend? Are you a generous person? Can you make a sassy Margarita?
Even if you’re not happy with what the mirror is showing you, try and include a few physical attributes on the list of things you like about yourself. Do you smell good? Have you got great hair? Are your earlobes super-cute?
Writing down some of the things that are your strengths is a good way to remind yourself that you’ve actually got quite a lot going for you.
Take a step back
No one scrutinises you as closely as you scrutinise yourself. If you’re refusing to leave the house because you’ve noticed that one of your eyebrows is slightly longer than the other, you can relax. No one cares. No one is going to be holding a magnifying glass to your eyebrows. People don’t see you as you see yourself in the mirror – they’re getting the benefit of seeing you in all of your 3-D glory.
Rethink your support network
Your friends and family should help to make you feel good about yourself. Surround yourself with people that motivate you and inspire you. Surround yourself with people that enjoy your company and share your sense of humour. If you’re spending time with people that make you miserable and make you feel bad about yourself, then it’s time for a change.
Dress to impress
If you’re having one of those days when your self-esteem is low and you don’t like what you see in the mirror, wear something that makes you feel comfortable and confident. Your clothes can have a big impact on your mood and your attitude. If nothing in your wardrobe is making you feel good, then maybe it’s time to rethink the clothes in your wardrobe.
Put your critical thinking to work
We spend a lot of time comparing ourselves to strangers on the internet. That’s crazy. The guys that we see on Instagram are showing us the parts of their life that they want us to see. Everyone has bad days. Everyone is on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. Just because someone on your social media feed looks like they’re having a good time, does’t really tell you anything about the punishing gym routine and controlled diet that they’re having to navigate to get ready for a photoshoot. If you want to look like an underwear model, do some research into what that takes – is that really where you want to put your energy?