Pride Month is among us and, along with my seasonal allergies, the collective insecurities of gay men everywhere are flaring as washboard abs, rock solid bums, and Johnny Bravo body-types emerge everywhere into the sun. Pride Month, for all its acceptance and foundations in inclusiveness, can tend to feel a little monochromatic when it comes to representing healthy body types. Now, this isn’t one of those articles where we encourage unhealthy weights or lifestyles while condemning those men lucky enough to have the perfect body trifecta (genes, time for the gym, and money). However, this IS one of those articles reminding my gay brethren that the shirtless hunks walking down the street are not the standard for the healthy and fit male body.
By now the majority of us cognitively understand that acquiring that “perfect” body has a lot to do with factors outside our control than it does with us. But during Pride Month it’s almost as if that cognitive section of our brain decides to take an inconveniently scheduled vacation, and our emotions step up to wreak havoc upon our psyche.
I think one of the most difficult parts of being a gay man is that we all still remain red-blooded men. Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with my weight. As a child it seemed as if there was nothing I could do to gain it; I grew up on fast food and sugar, and my body stayed lean and untouched by either. It wasn’t until I’d graduated and spent the year between school and entering the military doing nothing but eating that I spotted the first signs of unwanted bodily growth: stretch marks. They appeared along with a highly inedible mid-section muffin top almost overnight. Thankfully, basic training and four years of active duty military service kept further advances at bay.
Once the military ended though I found it incredibly difficult to maintain my weight. It seemed as if my appetite and my desire to workout were constantly at odds. My weight yo-yo’d, muscle appearing only to disappear, my waist becoming a belly only shrink down to repeat the cycle over and over again. The hardest part of this was a constant sense of competitiveness spurred by my community. At first I found this encouraging; of course, my fellow gay men would want me to be healthy and work towards a strong body. It wasn’t until a date called me fat that I realized that something was wrong.
The odd thing about being called fat was that I was actually probably in the fittest shape I’d been since I’d left the military. I was working out daily, seeing a personal trainer, attending fitness classes, and pushing myself to participate in intramural sports teams. I didn’t have washboard abs but my chest was finally bigger than my stomach and veins had appeared on my arms (I named them Jimmy and Johnny: they are currently on vacation…). When a guy invited me out for a drink and then back to his house for some…erm…adult conversations, I was more confident pulling my clothes off than I had been in a while. His comment, “you’re a little fat but you have really pretty eyes” cut my confidence to pieces in a single breath.
It was then I spotted an issue not simply with gay men but men in general. As feminism sweeps the country and brings with it prominent and much-needed reforms for women, a double standard for the representation of men’s bodies has emerged. We have created a standard for a “manly” body and condemned all those who are unable to conform to these incredibly exclusive standards. And, as gay men, we are have taken this standard to an extreme. A six-pack, bulging arm and chest muscles, and a high ass are now standard markers to beauty in our community. But the effects it's having on our collective mental health is not a positive one.
We need to take the time to remember that a fit body is not a perfect body; that some things are just genetically outside of our control; and that our beauty and attractiveness as men does not hinge on whether or not you can see the muscles in our stomachs.
I’m a fan of practical advice. And since this article isn’t likely to change the collective minds of all Americans in time for your next Pride event, here are some tips to remembering that you are beautiful and fit even if you don’t look like an extra from “300”:
Stop ComparingJust. Stop. It’s bogus. You are a different human being with different genetics, history, and habits. Don’t beat yourself up because you are who you are.
Accept that We Are All Works in ProgressIt’s okay to want to lose weight, gain muscle, etc., but it’s important to see this in a healthy light. Whenever you’re feeling discouraged or disappointed try reminding yourself of the parts of yourself that you love. We all have something we are physically proud of. And, if you need an extra boost, ask a friend what they like about your body!
Stop Objectifying/GawkingWhen it comes to pride one of my biggest issues is how we revere openly gay men with perfect bodies. This isn’t likely to change. However, you can control some of those body shaming impulses by simply not obsessing over the shirtless go-go dancers.
Battle-BuddyUse the buddy system; confide in a friend and have them help you check some of these impulses. You’ll find that many of your mates are struggling with some of the same body issues!
Work OutThis might seem counter-intuitive but the best way to feel as if you being healthy is to actually be healthy. Exercising 30 minutes a day can have incredible effects on both your mind and your body.