gay man with body image issues

What to do if you’re a gay man with body image issues

If you’re a gay man with body image issues, you are not alone.  Do an image search for the term “gay men” and you will find mostly naked, muscular and white men.  Therefore, that is what society is telling gay men we need look like.  What happens when you fall outside that box?

A negative image of your body can lead to all sorts of problems including eating disorders, depression, sexual acting out and a number of other serious conditions.

The research

According to research done by Feldman in 2007, 15% of self-identified gay men have an eating disorder.  While 5% of heterosexual men report the same concern.  (By eating disorder, the study was referring to anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.)  In addition to eating disorders, which can be life-threatening, a number of gay and straight men deal with body dysmorphia.  Body dysmorphia is a general intense dissatisfaction with one’s body that can lead to depression and other mental health conditions.

Why is it so hard for gay men to love their bodies?

As gay men, we learn at a young age that we’re different and we need to hide parts of ourselves.  Suppose you grew up in a totally supportive family or school environment, there still might be cultural and media messages that men and boys should be a certain way.  If you differ from that idea of what an ideal man should be, you can suffer a great deal.

Do you struggle with your body?

There are a number of questions you can ask yourself to determine what your relationship is like with your body.

  • Are you uncomfortable with your relationship to food? Do you overeat and feel guilty about it? Do you under-eat and feel irritable or fatigued? Food is meant to provide energy and life. If you’re feeling guilt, shame or embarrassment about your eating habits, seek support.
  • Do you feel uncomfortable naked? If you find yourself hiding parts of your body when you’re having sex or ashamed to put on a bathing suit, seek support.
  • Does the way you feel about your body prevent you from having an intimate relationship with someone? Are you ashamed of the way you look? Are you scared of how others will see you? If so, seek support.

Other signs you may struggle with your body

  • Binge/purge eating patterns
  • Over exercising
  • Drugs
  • Depression
  • Self-hatred
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-harm
  • Self-medication through drugs or alcohol

What can you do if you’re a gay man with body image issues?

One of the best things you can do is work on loving your body, exactly as it is today.  Period.

Here is a list of ways to begin accepting your body as it is today.  This list was inspired by a resource on The National Eating Disorders Association website. I have taken inspiration from their list of 10 Steps to a Positive Body Image to create the list below.  While this list may be helpful, it is not meant as a substitute for counseling or professional support.  If you or someone you love is struggling from an eating disorder, please call the hotline at the National Eating Disorders Association for support and guidance. 1-800-931-2237

5 tools to help you start to love your body

  1. Create a list of your strengths and assets. Draft a list of 3-10 things about yourself that you admire or appreciate. Are you kind? Perhaps you’re a good friend. Do you make a mean vegan meatloaf? Keep the list handy and read it daily.
  2. Look at yourself through a wide-angle lens. Pan out and take it all in. We can get so fixated on picking apart our appearance bit-by-bit. “My stomach is too big. My hair is too thin.” Chances are when you look at someone else you are not picking apart the qualities that you dislike about them. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a stranger.
  3. Support. Support. Support. Surround yourself with a handful of people who inspire, motivate and nourish you. The world can be a cruel place, but if you have a strong inner circle you can tackle most challenges that come your way.
  4. Try to wear clothing that makes you feel good about yourself. Chances are, even if your negative self-talk is very strong, there is at least one outfit you feel comfortable in. Start there. Build a new wardrobe based on the concept that you deserve to feel good in everything you wear. Then, overtime you can challenge yourself to try new clothing.  Until then start off with something that feels good.
  5. Stand up to hate. Feeling dis-empowered usually contributes to feeling bad about yourself. Protest and resist negative images that come at you from the media and our culture at large. Protest the advertisers themselves or just talk about your frustration with a close confidant. The simple act of doing something to protest can have monumental positive effects on your outlook.

New way of thinking

What would it be like to love your body exactly as it is today? No matter how unhappy you are with the way you look.  No matter how many goals you have yet to reach with diet or exercise.  What would it be like to accept yourself exactly as you are today?

But I’m goal oriented

Great! There are areas in your life where it’s important to set goals and work toward them.   The way you feel about your body is not one of those areas. Strive to make the love for your body unconditional. We’re going to change, grow and age throughout our lifetimes. As corny as it sounds, the relationship that we have with ourselves is lasting and permanent. We need to nurture it.

Gay men can love their bodies

As a community, let’s start the process of loving our bodies, exactly as they are today.  Think about how you treat other gay men and yourself.  Can you be kinder?  Are there ways to be more supportive?  We face enough adversity out in the world at large, let’s nurture kindness and compassion, at least with ourselves.  One Grindr conversation at a time.

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett, LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist with an office in San Francisco, CA. Tom feels passionately about helping people have better relationships. The purpose of this blog is not to provide advice or to take the place of working with a mental health professional. For more information please visit the homepage.