The question—or something to that effect—was posed recently discussion forum, and it got me thinking: how often do we actually stop and look on the bright side when it comes our bodies? So often we take a mental inventory of our physiques and are quick to only notice the things we want to change.
Of course, part of this insecurity comes from our culture’s obsession with young, impossibly fit bodies, often ones belonging to Hollywood celebrities and world-class athletes. I’m not going to sit here and say (or type in this case) that we should collectively look away or never take a peek. There’s nothing wrong with a appreciating or being attracted to big muscles or a set of washboard abs. It’s when a certain physical type is held up as the be all, end all of beauty that the problems begin.
As gay men, we’re certainly not immune from buying into this image, or putting pressure on ourselves and others to attain a perfect gym body. We see it staring back at us in fitness magazine covers, movie screens and muscle queens gyrating on pride parade floats. For many of us, our first crushes were the jocks; the beefy football players in P.E., or the lean, taut frames of basketball players running up and down the court were the stars of our earliest fantasies, even while some of them may have been harassing us about our burgeoning sexuality—but that’s it’s own article. Growing up, I mostly felt okay about my own appearance, but I’d still have those moments of “maybe if I wasn’t so skinny” or “what if I was just a little bit taller?” Most of my insecurity in my elementary school years revolved around my teeth, left covered in discolored spots after a round of antibiotics given to me during a bout with the flu as a baby. I rarely showed my teeth when I smiled, afraid someone would take one look at them and either laugh, run away in horror, or both. Fortunately, by my early teens, I was able to get some composite work done, which boosted my self-esteem immensely.
Though, when I think back to junior high and high school, a certain phrase sticks out in my mind: “He’s too pretty to be gay.” It was one that I’d hear often, usually from a girl defending a guy friend from suspicions raised by male classmates. It’s easy to toss it off as some stupid thing kids say, but I think many gay men internalize this on some level, believing that embracing our homosexuality also meant accepting the fact we’re ugly. That our physical appearance is so repugnant the only creature that could possibly show interest in us was someone as vile as ourselves. It’s a vicious lie that gives birth to a more insidious mentality, one that causes us to not only hate ourselves, but to lash out others who may be carrying a little extra weight, who don’t have an apple bottom ass or a stomach you can bounce a quarter off of. We keep chasing a version of physical perfection that is unrealistic. Being in tip top shape is in the job description for celebrities and athletes, who often have an army of trainers, personal chefs and assistants at their disposal. And where they fall short, Photoshop picks up the slack. What’s more, no matter how gorgeous or fit a body is, its ultimately ephemeral. Translation: we’re all gonna get old.
Of course, we should all try to take care of ourselves physically. And if there’s something you really want to change or maintain, be it through putting on muscle, having surgery or dental work done, then by all means go ahead. A little nip and tuck is not always synonymous with self-hate. But how great would it be if we learned to embrace what we’ve been programmed to believe are our imperfections? That nose or forehead we got told was too big or flat? That gap in our teeth someone cracked made our tongue look like it was in jail? Those pesky love handles or widow’s peak that in our mind makes us look like Count Chocula’s cousin? The truth is, many of our “flaws” are only as a big a deal as we make them. In other words, if we learn to love it, and not treat it as some horrible defect, others will more often than not do the same.
So take a look in the mirror today. Do you like what you see?