This article was published on October 25th, 2021
How many times have you looked at the mirror and felt dissatisfied with your body or appearance? The number of times you got worried and thought to yourself: “I can look better.” Yeah, you are not alone. Body image concerns can affect anyone, but as for the LGBTQ community, the anxiety levels are far much worse.
A worrying proportion of LGBTQ people have experienced body image anxiety to the point of suffering from depression or contemplating suicide. This is according to a new survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, which assesses how people think and feel about their bodies.
Among LGBTQ adults, 53% said they felt anxious, while 56% felt depressed because of their body image, compared to 33% of adults who identify as straight. Even more alarming is that one-third (33%) of LGBTQ adults have had suicidal thoughts due to their body image compared to 11% of heterosexual adults.
As for bisexual respondents, the statistics are particularly disproportionate, with nearly four in ten (39%) of them experiencing suicidal thoughts and almost half (45%) saying they felt “disgusted” because of their body image.
The report also revealed that 29 per cent of bisexuals surveyed have deliberately hurt themselves due to their body image, as have 15 per cent of gay men and lesbians.
“Millions of adults across the UK are struggling with concerns about their body image, but of all the groups surveyed, the LGBT+ community is most likely to be affected,” said Toni Giugliano, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at the Mental Health Foundation.
“Large numbers of LGBT+ people have said they have self-harmed or had suicidal thoughts and feelings or have felt anxious or depressed about their bodies.”
Sexual minority men grapple with striving for a hyper-masculine aesthetic that has been a ‘fetish’ in the gay community for ages. Such pressure to have a slim and athletic figure could negatively impact their emotional health and predispose them to develop eating disorders.
Separate research from NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) shows that gay and bisexual boys are more likely to have fasted, vomited, or taken laxatives or diet pills to control their weight within a month.
Body image and race
But what is perhaps surprising is that the pressure to have this chiseled body also boils down to race. In his piece on online LGBTQ magazine Them, culture writer and editor Naveen Kumar notes that whiteness has long occupied the sexual imaginations of queer people of color and epitomizes the ‘perfect body ideal.’
“White men embody and propagate the body ideals that have long dominated gay culture,” Kumar observed.
“Pressures to achieve these standards are a significant source of mental distress among gay and bisexual men, who suffer disproportionately high rates of disordered eating, steroid abuse, and other adverse consequences of body modification.”
The Mental Health Foundation research also singled out social media as a “key influence” behind body image anxiety among LGBTQ individuals.
“The main picture from our survey was one in which commercial, social media and advertising pressures on body image are contributing to mental health problems for millions of people,” Toni said.
“This social harm has been allowed to develop largely unchecked. While there have been some positive initiatives, social media companies have frequently been unwilling to take the necessary steps to protect their users from harmful content.”
Improving your body image
Concisely, the reasons for body dissatisfaction among LGBTQ individuals are varied and complicated. The journey to improving one’s body image can be challenging, but it is certainly doable. Here are a few things you can do to help you get back on the road to a positive image:
- Avoid comparing your body to others – it is the quickest way to crash down your self-esteem
- Try to love and appreciate your body regardless of your size or shape.
- Do not fear the mirror. Stare at it for a few minutes and remind yourself how beautiful you look.
- Surround yourself with people who appreciate how you look.
- Do something nice for your body, say, take a haircut or get a massage.
- Remind yourself of your positive skills, qualities and goals
- Aim for a healthy lifestyle. Eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly.
There should be nothing shameful about a naked human body. It doesn’t matter how good that person you saw on the street or met in the club looks. We are all beautiful in our way. And in an age where social media continues to exacerbate pressure on the ideal body type, it might just help to take a break from your phone. Go out there and treat yourself accordingly, and see what your body can do.