This article was published on October 14th, 2020
One in every three LGBTQ people report experiencing suicidal thoughts over body image, according to a Mental Health Foundation report. In a 2017 Attitude Magazine survey, 84% of people said they felt “intense pressure” to attain the so-called “good body.”
Body image issues are a common problem, especially among gay men, and a great contributor to mental health problems. There is always the pressure to conform to an appearance centered on looking slim or athletic.
You only need to scroll through a gay dating app like Grindr to realize the pervasiveness of body-shaming, with the all too familiar “No fats, no femmes.” or the more insidious “Gym-fit only.” “I work out, and you should too.” bio slogans.
So let’s tackle this head-on today. We’ll look at body image and why it matters to mental health. What’s perpetuating the vicious cycle of negative body image? Finally, how can you develop a more positive body image individually and as a community?
Body image and mental health
Body image revolves around how we think and feel about our bodies. For instance, what comes to mind when you stand in front of the mirror? We all do it unconsciously.
The next stand, you look at yourself in the mirror, notice the thoughts that flow to your mind.
Why does body image matter? Well, a positive or healthy body image leads to feelings of well-being and life satisfaction. In contrast, an unhealthy body image is associated with psychological distress, crappy quality of life, and the risk of developing unhealthy eating habits and disorders.
Back to the Mental Health Foundation survey, over half of LGBT adults feel anxious, while fifty-six percent feel depressed by their body images compared to just 33% of straight individuals.
Houston, we have a huge fck*ing problem!
Gay men already experience disproportionately more mental health problems compared to the general population. You only need to look at suicide statistics among the LGBT community to understand the problem.
As a community, we already face other factors that contribute to deteriorating mental health, such as bullying, harassment, rejection, isolation, low self-esteem, and other stressful life experiences.
Tack on social media and drug abuse, and you get a delicate situation about to go nuclear.
Indeed, some of the common symptoms of a negative body image such as depression, self-harm, embarrassment, poor eating habits, and difficulties sustaining relationships with other people are just the tip of the iceberg.
To quote one frustrated guy, “It’s hard to look fuckable nowadays” With so many fit guys strutting around shirtless, posting thirst gym selfies, pontificating about the latest healthy fad diets, most guys feel the need to do even more.
Unfortunately, it seems the goalposts keep shifting. As a “twink,” the expectation is to look skinny and lithe. Then you grow, and the expectation shifts to looking buff, with a gym-toned body complete with obsequious abs and pecs.
The pressure and societal demands for gay men to eat healthy and attain the perfect body keeps driving many to anxiety and depression. It also comes with severe mental health consequences, according to research by Philip Joy and Matthew Numer from Dalhousie University.
How to develop a healthier body image
The evidence is all there: A healthy body image contributes to better life satisfaction and well being. It also contributes to building healthy relationships.
One of the most significant steps we must take as a community is to open up the conversation. Most people are struggling silently, not just with body image issues, but with a whole lot of mental health issues.
Let’s talk honestly with each other. Share your body image issues with close friends. What do you dislike about your body? What makes you proud of it. Sometimes during these conversations, you realize that even people you think don’t experience these issues actually have them.
As a community, we need to revise our standards, especially in public media. When adverts and films feature skinny models and impossibly built guys as the ideal, it sends the wrong message, especially to impressionable LGBTQ youth. It’s high time for a more inclusive body image portrayal on public media, films, and beyond.
Third, social media companies must step up (or we make them). Despite its benefits, social media has birthed some of the worst problems for society. From bullying, misinformation, manipulation, and a slew of mental health issues. While they are doing something (finally), it’s nowhere near enough. We must hold social media companies accountable even as we work on other solutions.
- Seek professional help if body image issues affect your mental health
- Delete or uninstall apps from your phone that contribute to your unhealthy body image perception (social media & dating apps, mostly).
- Notice how you feel about your body and appearance when scrolling through social media and unfollow accounts that “don’t spark joy” (Marie Kondo, those accounts).
- Eat healthy and stay active. It’s not only good for your overall health but also contributes to a healthy body image.
- Become aware of how you speak about your own and other people’s bodies in conversations with friends or family.
- Think twice before posting that thirst gym selfie. It might give you a short term self-esteem boost, but like soda, you’ll come crashing down and probably also affect other people’s body image perceptions.
Let’s Tackle Body Image Issues, Together
For every thirsty gym-selfie with thousands of hot emojis, countless other people struggle with their body images. They feel the pressure to “look good,” get laid, feel visible and appreciated.
While the journey to a healthy body image starts with you, we must do more as a community. Through individual awareness and effort, community conversations, and support, we can finally begin to chip away at the mental health issues affecting gay men.