Bad body image is not a plight reserved for heterosexual women.
"I am so sick of my body. I lift weights every day; I eat protein shakes and do everything my trainer says ... and I'm still too skinny!" I pause wondering how to respond.
To show that I understand his angst, I want to assure him that being skinny is a good thing; he should be happy he isn't overweight; he's only 24. But before I can respond, he asks "How old were you when you finally started bulk up?" exclaming, "I hate the way I look! I need more muscle definition in order to get a boyfriend."
My client, like so many gay men, is convinced that without a gym-buff body, he is unlovable and doomed to be alone for the rest of his life. The objective truth is that he is a good-looking young man in excellent physical shape with a nice face, good hair and and fine taste in clothes. He just can't see himself that way.
Gay men grow up in a world of childhood shame and parental rejection. Even though there has been marked improvement over the past 20 years, the societal message is that being gay is not okay. In his seminal book The Velvet Rage, author Alan Downs, PhD explains that "the trauma of growing up gay in a world that is run primarily by straight men is deeply wounding in a unique and profound way."
Body dysmorphic disorder occurs when people compare themselves to the impossible, Hollywood body standard and believe they are defective because they look different than it. It is also one of the common ways that childhood trauma manifests in adulthood for gay men.
Growing up, boys idealize the men in their lives and strive to be like them. But when fathers, teachers, coaches, ministers and others communicate to boys that who they are is fundamentally rotten, the boys look elsewhere for role models. And in today's world of 24-hour TV and internet, the replacement role models are often the impossibly sculpted bodies represented in the media, and especially by Hollywood. Keep reading ...
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Modern media seems to have changed everybody's expectations about body image in a few ways: (1) Regardless of geographical location and social class, we all see a uniform standard of beauty; (2) Due to the ubiquitous and repetitive nature of TV and the Internet, we see these impossible images more often then we see our own friends and families; and (3) These beautiful and well-sculpted images have created a standard of beauty that is unattainable for all but 1% or so of the population.
For gay men, this turns into an obsession about muscles, low body fat, six-pack abs, good hair and a beautiful face, even if it takes plastic surgery to get there. The gay male obsession is an attempt to compensate for the internalized and usually subconscious belief learned in childhood that "I am not a good person just as I am."
This lack of self-worth has dangerous consequences, including: (1) Eating disorders. It's now common for young, gay men to become anorexic, requiring treatment; (2) Depression. It's not hard to understand that if you hate yourself, you are prone to depression; (3) Risky sexual behavior. Many young men who feel unloveable cope by having a lot of sex, often risky sex, leading to venereal diseases or HIV; (4) Self-hatred, Self-hatred feeds into an already deep-seated sense of homo-negativity.
Self-hatred guarantees that a gay man cannot be happy. It affects every aspect of his life: who he dates, what he does for work and who he spends his time with. Research shows that gay men and heterosexual women have the most negative body images, while straight men and lesbians are the most comfortable with their bodies. Gay men as a community judge each other on appearance just as straight women are judged on their appearance by society at large.
A straight woman stands a reasonable chance of finding a man who loves her for who she is and think her beautiful regardless of not looking like a movie star. This sometimes helps women overcome body dysmorphic beliefs and learn to love themselves. Gay men, however, frequently have a hard time finding someone to fall in love with who isn't also wrapped up in the same impossible quest for a Hollywood body.
Gay men who are obsessed with their own body image tend to only date others who are also just as obsessed with how they look, making it hard to break the cycle. It's pretty rare to see a gym-toned gay man with a gay man who is just average in appearance. That stigma is tough to get beyond.
At the root of all of this are belief systems not facts. Not being loved and accepted as a child does not make you unloveable — that's the good news. It's possible to change your mind and change your life. Nobody, man nor woman, gay or straight needs to be a slave to Hollywood oppression.
If this sounds like you or anybody you know, call me, email me, or simply schedule your own appointment now. My passion is to help gay men overcome growing up gay in a straight world, to embrace their true nature and to create a loving, successful and wonderful life for themselves and their loved ones, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Change is possible. Transform your life into the life you’ve always dreamed of! Don’t wait another day!
This article was originally published at gaymendenver.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.