When we think about the kind of men we’re attracted to people like Chris Hemsworth, Idras Alba, or Henry Cavill come to mind. Rock hard abs, sculpted bodies with zero percent body fat, perfect teeth, and impeccable looks.
From our youth, we’re bombarded with what’s considered beauty. Our minds are shaped by images in magazines, movies, and commercials. Media has taught us what we should perceive as perfection. As kids our idea of what is attractive is based on our own perceptions and as we age it all changes to what we’ re taught. As gay men, this idea is even more reinforced in us. It is as if we receive a manual that shows the types of guys that we should be attracted to. If we don’t fit this mold then we’re left on the outskirts wondering how we fit in. If you arent skinny, perfectly tanned, and dress a certain way, then you dont fit what most people think of as gay..
Twinks, gym bunnies, leather men, muscle bears, and otters all have one thing in common, lean bodies and looks. Look at magazines and commercials and we see the same thing. Why does it affect our community so much more than our heterosexual counterparts. There are studies that show that straight men are much more acceptive of their body types than we are. Maybe this is where the whole dad bod phenomenon came from. Similar studies show that gay men often internalize an ideal of what men should look like and it centers around the athletic type.
This preconception of what we should look like effect us on many levels. It creates anxiety, depression, and can even lead to suicidal thoughts. All because of body image issues. It’s reported that only 11% of heterosexual adults have the same feelings and issues with body images. But the question is why? Why do we have such strong issues about body types? After all, if society is what determines the ideals of normality and what is beautiful then why hasn’t it changed?
The first time we see the idea that skinny is attractive was during the medieval times. During this time it was Christianity that dictated what would be beautiful. They felt that pale, emaciated faces and thin body shapes would remind people of fasting and abstinence. This became a way to tie it in to beliefs. For women, this became further exaggerated during the 16th century when corsets became the rage. For men, in Greek times, we still saw an athletic type but also a small endowment. It was considered that educated and intellectual men were not overly endowed, that was viewed as the more barbaric types.
During the 1870s the ideal body type for men was to have a beer belly. This body type suggested that you came from a place of class and money. During the Elizabethan times, what was considered the perfect type revolved around powerful legs, shapely thighs, and strong calves. The Idea of chiseled abs and perfect pecs was more to akin to peasants.
The perceptions aren’t the only thing that is negative. Because they exist, it leads people to fetishize certain body types. I can here the chorus of skinny bitches now, “You complain because body image makes certain types undesirable and now you are complaining because there are groups of people who WANT to be with that body type.” When a body type is being fetishized it isn’t about appreciating the person for who they are but what gets you going sexually. Its a need to achieve sexual satisfaction. While it sounds good on the outside, at some point the fixation proves to be less about mutual satisfaction and moves to objectification.
And body shaming doesn’t just stop at whether you are athletically built or portly. People are made to feel shame over the genitals as much as, if not more so. Men are taught from a young age that to be desired they must have a large penis. After all, the mentality is that this is a sign of virility. There is science that suggests that a larger penis allows for that male to penetrate deeper to ensure his genes are carried on. That’s all well and fine if you are in the animal kingdom, but does that need to carry over to humanity? Women are shamed for the size of their clitoris or labia. If they appear larger than what someone considers normal, then they are somehow labeled as a freak. A penis is not indicative of being a man. Men are born without them, can have them removed due to health reasons, or be non functioning. This does not mean that they are less of a man. Women can have larger clitoris and it doesn’t make them any less beautiful than any other woman.
We can work daily to alter our own perceptions about our bodies and start to love them but it only takes one person can make a statement that shatters our whole world. The truth is that society needs to reshape its mentality about body image. Sure, it is okay to be worried about your health and how your body type may affect that, but if you are healthy and still on the larger size, who should care if you love the skin you’re in?