This article was published on September 23rd, 2020
If you are a gay man, then it is almost impossible not to be deluged with images of perfect bodies on screen, in print magazines, and across social media. Seemingly inescapable, the obsession with having and maintaining what is considered the ideal body can lead many towards a downward spiral that can be difficult to recover from. Body dysmorphia, also known as muscle dysmorphia, is arguably the most widespread disease to impact the gay community since the ravages of AIDS. HomoCulturecovers what exactly body dysmorphia is, how it directly affects the gay community, and resources available that can help remedy it.
What Is Body Dysmorphia?
Clinically speaking, body dysmorphia disorder (BDD) is a diagnosis referring to a preoccupation with a perceived physical flaw with one’s appearance. The disease is quite notable within the gay male community and can lead to harmful behavior that includes excessive exercise and seeking reassurance from friends and acquaintances. This obsessive-compulsive disorder can often lead to actions that are harmful to both the body and the mind, and is often times misunderstood and under-diagnosed.
Body Dysmorphia Threatens the Gay Community at a Higher Ratio
More so than any other group, gay men tend to have an obsession with their physical appearance, with many even taking steroids or growth hormones in order to achieve and/or maintain their physiques. Body dysmorphia can adversely affect personal and professional growth as it can consume individuals that wind up too focused on their looks instead of cultivating a healthy balance between relationships and work. Although society is changing, there is still the perception that being a gay man is associated with being feminine or weak, and some gay men put additional pressure on themselves to produce a body that projects strength and masculinity. Also, gay men categorize one another based on physical appearance, with words like otter, bear, or twink used to describe body types found within the community. These classifications cast yet another shadow over the gay community, making it difficult for many men to love their bodies, which directly affects their self-esteem.
The Body Issue
Research studies have shown body dysmorphia affects gay men at a far higher rate than straight men, and it is clear gay men are hurting more considering the nearly impossible standards of attractiveness that are stereotypically attributed to the gay community. The reality is that most people do not possess physiques that are hypermuscular, yet the expectation is sometimes there for gay men. Those that fall prey to this pressure may over time internalize these higher standards of beauty in order to cope with the anxiety.
Seeking Support for Body Dysmorphia
Finding the right resources to treat body dysmorphia can be quite the process for gay men, but the great news is that there are now more resources available that cover mental illness and LGBTQ+ health. One of the most important components to getting better is procuring a doctor that is nonjudgmental and can discuss the symptoms and then provide a referral to a mental health professional that can properly treat body dysmorphia.
LGBTQ centers in most major cities can be the first point of contact for those that are searching for mental health services and support. Sexual health clinics serving the queer community can also assist in finding the right resources. Additionally, the Center for Disease Control has an extensive list of health clinics serving the gay community across the United States.
If you or someone you love are suffering from body dysmorphia, know that it is possible to recover and take control of the narrative again. With proper health care and resources, conquering body dysmorphia is possible.