Although it may be hard to tell, gay men are just like any other population: We come in all shapes and sizes. And at our healthiest, we would still look drastically different from each other.
Yet there is one body type that we are often expected to attain. A passing glance at the media and the advertising industry’s portrayal of the modern gay man is a portrait of massive pecs, bulging biceps, a teeny-tiny waist, and thighs the size of tree trunks. This impossible pinnacle of perfection is what we are led to believe is that of a healthy man, but for a countless number of gay men who are killing themselves to achieve it, it can be anything but.
Here are six reasons why the "gay gym body" isn’t a healthy body.
1. Steroids and harmful supplements offer a temptation to "cheat."
The reality is, many gay men will never look like the boys in the underwear ads, simply because of genetics. What is one man’s pinnacle of personal fitness can look quite different from another’s. But regardless of what a person’s peak level of fitness looks like, there is still one measure of the perfect body, which is why gay men are six times more likely to use steroids, unnecessary testosterone boosters, and other harmful supplements to cheat their genetics. And no matter how hard your trainer or your overmuscled friend may try to convince you, these supplements are bad for your body. The end.
2. Comparison creates an unhealthy body image.
Whenever you set unattainable fitness goals, the progress you make can sometimes be what makes you feel as if you will never be good enough. Your body can only look like the best version of your body, and by comparing yourself to someone with a wildly different body composition, you will always feel as if you are “less than.” This notion is generally shrugged off as “motivation” to work harder, but it also can create a very unhealthy body image. Define your successes by what your best body is, not the body of someone else.
3. Eating disorders.
For many gay men, there are few things worse than carrying a few extra pounds, even if they are perfectly healthy otherwise. That is why of the men with eating disorders, 42 percent identify as gay. In fact, the International Journal of Eating Disorders reported that nearly 15 percent of gay men have struggled with bulimia or anorexia at some point, all because of body image issues and the desire to look better.
4. Bigger does not always mean better.
Building muscle is essential to maintaining a healthy body. But being physically fit is quite different from trying to look like the Incredible Hulk. It is easy, however, to get sucked into the culture or massive muscles and zero body fat, even if this “look” actually inhibits your health. Trying to get bigger and bigger by overworking the body and pounding highly processed protein shakes can cause inflammation, chronic fatigue, and a low sex drive. When it comes to the men on the cover of health and fitness magazines, their “look” is often a result of dehydration through the use of harmful diuretics and water restriction. But many gay men have taken this trade secret and applied it to their everyday lives. Such practices are extremely unhealthy and can result in significant kidney damage, all for the sake of a toned six-pack.
5. Gay men are (literally) dying to be beautiful.
The gay community’s unhealthy obsession with the perfect gym body is taking its toll. A British poll taken in 2012 found that 48 percent of gay men surveyed would sacrifice a year of their life to enjoy the ideal body now, and 10 percent would give up to 11 years to be body beautiful. If we are literally willing to die early just to look like an underwear model, it is time for a major overhaul of the collective gay man’s self-image.
6. A perfect body is a healthy body, no matter how it looks.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel confident when you are naked, but gay men deserve a plethora of depictions of what is healthy and beautiful, not just one best model that the majority will never attain. And it starts with seeing your body as beautiful when it is healthy, not compromising your health to achieve an unrealistic and overprocessed goal. The story of the perfect gym body is a false narrative, because it only begets more insecurity and a constant need to stay “perfect” as the inevitable aging process takes place.
When it comes to finding your best body, screw the system, and find new ways to love your own skin instead of coveting someone else’s.