Recently you may have seen me talking more and more about the culture of body shaming in the media and the wider gay community.
I started talking about it because I have suffered from body confidence issues and these have started to affect my personality. We all get our confidence (large or small amounts) from somewhere and mine have definitely been harder to muster since I started comparing my own body shape to that of the ‘picture perfect’ man. Some of the engagement I have had with people has been quite useful and has led me to some conclusions.
Firstly, there is a lot of confusion out there as to what exactly ‘body shaming’ is and what harm it can bring. And secondly a surprisingly high number people I’ve seen will state one moment they are against it, but the next moment share content they have just said they were against. Both seem to stem from that lack of understanding as to what exactly body shaming is and how it can fuel negative thoughts in people, like those associated with body dysmorphia. I, therefore, wanted to share some of my own personal thoughts and experiences on this and encourage you to find out exactly what body shaming is and how it could be negatively influencing you without you even realising it.
I’ll start by saying that if you are perfectly happy in your body shape, regardless of what this might be, then most of this will pass you by. And this is by no means saying what you are doing and how you live your life is wrong, far from it. If you have found body confidence regardless of your body shape then treasure it. I for one will never try to take that from you as I know how precious that can be.
However, put simply, body shaming is the promotion (usually in the media but not always) of one particular body shape over another by saying that you can only really be happy, content and ‘a good gay’ if you are toned, slim, hairless and what is otherwise referred to as ‘body perfect’. If you speak to most experienced health professionals they will tell you there is no ‘perfect’ body shape but there are ideals based on your health, exact body makeup and metabolism. Everyone is different, with different capabilities, biologies, restrictions and environments to say a six pack is the best thing for every living soul is ludicrous.
Therefore, if you are someone (a young teenager for example) that often gets their ‘injection’ of gay life from the media and all you are told is how wonderful the body beautiful people are you are going to naturally compare yourself to them and automatically feel bad that you are not one of them. That is basic human psychology that we all do in one form or another. If someone has something that I believe I want, I will compare it to what I have and judge the gap.
Many of us spot this and have taught ourselves to either not accept that this is what we want or we have come to believe that a six pack is not the ideal body shape. Therefore, when we see these articles we just dismiss them. But if you are someone with strong body confidence issues to the point of body dysmorphia, these messages just add fuel to the fire.
One gay magazine which I can’t really name, did a survey this year on body confidence and of those who responded 84% said that they felt under intense pressure to have a ‘perfect body’. There was a really good article by Nick Arnold from BBC3 on “How being a gay man can make your body issues worse”. I recommend reading!
But is the ‘gay media’ solely to blame for it, or are we as a community also responsible? We’ve all done it, I will be one of the first people to go and buy a magazine if it has a half-naked Harry Judd on it. But that is just me adding fuel to the flame as that purchase adds to the value of what is traditionally called “sex sells”. Fact is we, currently, just don’t rush out to buy magazines that have articles on things that remind us of ourselves. Instead, we buy and promote these ‘dream boys’ and dribble over them.
I’m not saying we need fewer images of Harry Judd (good heavens no) but what I am saying is that in order for people to find their body confidence we do need to expose ourselves to a wider range of body shapes and change our language from ‘happiness = six pack’ to ‘happiness = comfortable in your own skin’. I recently put a picture of my own body out on my twitter (against the wishes of my body confidence inner voice) in order to educate myself and others about this issue. I am not an ‘ideal body shape’ as mentioned above, I carry extra weight, things wobble that probably shouldn’t and the chest hair is currently in need of local council attention. But I did it, and I received some amazing feedback both positive, and indeed some negative.
My advice to you if you are suffering from any form of body dysmorphia or lack of body confidence is to speak to someone about it and remember that the voice in your head is not the leading authority on everything. You can be wrong, so maybe the voice is wrong about this too.
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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.