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16 June 2010, 4:00 pm 41 Comments

Health: Gay Body Fascism

By Cyrus, TNG contributing writer

Pick up any gay magazine or any A&F catalogue. Odds are you’ll find 95 percent of the men shown are beautiful beyond imagining. Each day we are badgered and bothered with billboards, Facebook ads and in print of men with rigorously developed bodies. Prescribing bodies to fit a mold of eating before or after certain times, shakes of unnatural concoctions and pills of every imaginable variety to bulk us up and make us work harder just to look “normal” puts a bad taste in my mouth. But developing bodies fit to grace the cover of Men’s Health magazine is beyond reach of most men. For many gay men, especially college aged men; the stigma to attain the perfect body seems like a challenge worth endeavoring. But should our bodies matter?

Political protest against Castro Street’s “Cutest Boy Competition”

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to develop a better body for health benefits or to maintain a healthy lifestyle, many young gay men see a beautiful body and succumb to doubting their attractiveness and sexual desirability in mainstream gay culture. This “gay body fascism” has become the way of thinking while producing a skewed sense of what it means to be gay. After visiting many cities all over America, I encounter many young gay men who would make the perfect boyfriend to someone someday yet comment about their bodies and fall into a “compare and despair” attitude. We’ve all been in situations which we doubt our attractiveness. Fact of the matter, it is too easy to look at yourself in the mirror and say “God, I wish this part of me could improve! Because if I don’t, I will never find the man of my dreams!” I do not suggest that we stop reading magazines, but we need to be aware that we are looking at models- a very select group of men who sole vocation is their appearance and who have the added assistance of great lighting and make-up artists.

Model working out

As a product of body fascism, we label ourselves out of fear and a sense of isolation. I remember packing on the “gay 15” (more like the “gay 30” ) as a teen, the extra pounds of pudge one puts on which momentarily pauses any young queer’s budding sense of sexuality. I internalized the notion I could never get the college jock, the cute bicyclist or the geeky nerd types I pined for because of my undermined confidence and body consciousness. Compounded with conflicting notions that being gay meant to be chiseled, toned and have not an ounce of fat on my body, I was chasing the elusive dragon towards perfection. While I lost the weight gradually through high school and earlier in college, I never lost the psychological weight and damage from those teen years. I carry those pounds almost every social event I go and they fluctuate immensely depending on the jeans.

I find this sentiment presciently clear for many gay men who have endured the strife and walked through the fire to reclaim their bodies. I find commonality and confidence with these men and the uniting line between all of us is that we cultivated the internal qualities which set us apart. We read books, picked up hobbies, watched movies with friends and cultivated meaningful relationships with other gay men to reify the sentiment of knowing we are not defined by our bodies and at the deepest level knew what it means to be gay.

Demonstrators rejecting gay mainstream standards of beauty

We are more than our bodies. Mainstream gay culture is starving to hear approval and validation yet atrophy the internal characteristics which make us profoundly interesting and resiliently confident individuals. We need to look less to muscle gods and trust more in our desires, visions and political organizing and the future of what is desirable remains for all of us to determine.

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  • Wagnerian said:

    This article is kind of irrealavent since the current gay body fascism revolves around the whole ‘bear’ ideal. Beards muscles, bulk, etc…

  • Jason said:

    Well put Cyrus. I went through a phase of relentlessly working out, buying the cutest clothes, and even whitening my teeth. When it came down to it none of that made a difference or mattered. I found the love of my life by just being me. Skinny, tall, nerdy, me.

  • MarkDC said:

    Gay men are the only guys I know who work out all week in the gym, then spend three hours on a Saturday night getting ready to go out…ONLY to ignore each other the entire night.

    What the fuck is that about? Enough with the passive-aggressive performance art.

  • How do I get a ripped 6 pack abs in a month? said:

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  • Sir Lindsey Buckingham said:

    “A&F catalogue”? lol.

  • Karl said:

    Gay body culture is the live action equivalent of the Undergear catalog! Straight acting men emulating gay-for-pay models wearing clothing you would never be caught dead in.

  • Devon said:

    C’mon folks body culture in the gay community today is the de facto standard. Big equals masculine, equals “I’m healthy”(as in HIV neg) and therefore still viable and fuckable, oh, and lets not forget…will look good in Underarmour…. It’s the same cliched fuck we all know who says he’s eating organic and clean and taking vitmains and then turns around and shoots himself in the ass with steroids. It’s really very sad…

  • Bernard said:

    I have always been very afraid of aging, you know, becoming old and useless and unattractive. When I turned 45, I decided to do something about it. Steroids changed my life.

  • Derek said:

    passive aggressive performance art… that is probably the most apt phrase i have ever heard for this truly sad phenomenon. i’ve had the pleasure of going out in the gay scene in other countries where the pressure to frequent the gym is much less (either because most people there can’t afford a gym membership, or just aren’t as inundated by advertising). it’s amazing how, at least relatively, much more free and friendly these men are.

  • Don said:

    In my personal experience, what I find, is that the exact same men who complain the loudest about “gay body facism” are nevertheless sadly dragging their dysmorphic asses into the gym five days a week, “cycling” roids, and fanatasizing about their bigorexic “target” weight’s.

    Many of these dudes are well into their 40′s and 50′s, so this “reality” is not so new, these men pre-date present day gay targeted advertising(Calvin Klein, Abercrombie, ad nauseum). So while they may not be in the clubs, naivgating “the circuit”, or living downtown, wherever these men roll, they buy into this concept and feed off of defining oneself as “viable” by PHYSICAL attributes.

    You can be sure that these older guys are just as aware of who’s looking at them whilst shopping at, let’s say, a Target in Fair Oaks, as is a 20 something partying in town at Cobalt.

    So is this the answer? Do gay men of any age see themselves primarily as physical beings rather than intellectual beings? Body first, then mind(or for some mind not at all?)? Are we gay based on quick sex, youth, and beauty OR MONOGAMY, SPIRIT, AND MIND? And can we ever put the visual aside and cultivate the interior rather then the exterior?

    I suspect it’s like the Gulf oil spill, we’ll always be trudging through murky waters.

  • Daniel Reeders said:

    If you read Foucault’s History of Sexuality beyond Vol 1, you’d learn that intense focus on eating and exercise are not Gay, per se; in fact, they are the original practices of care of the self that date back to the Greeks. I think we need more body consciousness, not less, but with a focus on what different bodies feel like and what different pleasures can be made with them. Excoriating yourself (or in this post, others) for their “body fascism” is really just another kind of disciplinary power claim.

  • Kyle said:

    Too many times the charge of “body fascism” (a misuse of the term fascism if I’ve ever heard one) are lobbed by those who do not want to accept reality. You are responsible for your own body. Period. If you let it go to hell, then it is your responsibility to improve it and maintain it, or accept that you are out of shape. I’m not saying one should exercise and maintain healthy eating habits in order to conform to a gay ideal. Rather, pursue health for the sake of enjoying the body you have. If you choose not to pursue health, you have no right whatsoever to gripe about how the world discriminates against you, no one looks at you wants to touch you blah blah blah. Our culture is full of people who would rather gripe than actually do something. Embrace health, or not, but please stop griping.

    Moreover, in the gay community, the bear culture has not only institutionalized unhealthy obesity, but taken it a step further to shunning those who do not embrace their unhealthy lifestyle. They’re the reverse of the gymbots. I wonder what goes on in their heads. Instead of “I have to do 10 sets on the stairmaster this week,” is it “I have to eat five slices of cheesecake this week or the guys just won’t accept me any longer”?

  • Frank said:

    @markdc, I can smell the gay comin’ off you and it ain’t the good kind of gay neither where you can gossip with it and get it to bitch out your hair dresser that done you wrong…Nuh-uh…It’s that macho fag “I don’t do queenie things” kinda gay…I can’t deal…
    If my gays can’t tell me what lip gloss to wear, if slouchy boots are in or out, remind me my highlights need to be “butterscotchery” NOT “champagney”, remind me it’s my mother’s birfday, show me how to grow rare orchids, go through my closet and discretely dispose of everything that makes me look fat, help me ‘cook’ a gourmet meal for a man Ima tryna trap…then I got no use for ‘em cuz…

  • Ron said:

    I’d say loathsome gay fashion mavens such as Tom Ford and Calvin Klein have had a lot to do with the feminisation and “thinning down” of the gay male asthetic. Note: I do not use the word “masculine” because even though it does have a penis and therefore biologically must be male, it is no longer in the realm of any acceptable “masculine” imagery oustide of Quentin Crisp and Beau Brummel.

  • damo said:

    theres nothing wronge with being healthy,looking after onesself eating right exercise,fucking right[being safe] its good for mind and body ….but..i think guys sometimes are takeing it to the extream,ie shooting steroids whitch in a way is a fake thing you bulk up on them and yet when you stop youl shrink,lol no forgeting the damadge they will do to your body in the long run,but we live now in an age of perfection goals whitch seem unatainable yes we like to see healthy guys and healthy guys come in all shapes and sizes,from tall and lanky to short and stout,like me,lolnot just physically but mentaly even spiritualy,sexualy…healthy ,we as gaymen come in all shapes ,races,sizes,flavours,so lets be healthy ,be it the gym ,a walk,a bycle ride..not eating to many cream cakes

  • rich said:

    @Wagnerian: Agreed, body fascism might be a little bit of a dated concept- Chelsea, South End, Fire Island and Provincetown muscle is a concept that still refuses to acknowledge that it’s dead and gone. “Not to be ageist but” … if you go to a circuit party (shirtless, muscly) these days and poll the average age, it will probably be pretty telling.

    The link that the article didn’t seem to catch onto (but Devon did) was the link between body fascism and HIV. “I’m not sick! Look at how muscular I am!”.

    Now we have a generation of young men who were born not every knowing someone who died of HIV or suffered from wasting. They affiliated themselves with different subcultures with different standards of beauty: gay hipsters, clubkids, cubs, burners, sporty types.

    I personally believe that gay body fascism is aligning itself more with body fascism in general. We should still be wary of what corporate advertising is trying to feed us about how we should look, but I don’t think its as much of an issue as it used to be.

  • Marriage Equality: Why We Gay Men Focus So Much About Sex and Looks? « Carlos in DC said:

    [...] physically or are supposed to look. Lots of gay businesses are oriented to improve our physics, so we look attractive, mostly for sex. Same with the gay media. Here in DC we have a couple of LGBT weekly publications. I like them a [...]

  • Chris said:

    I have to agree with this article in the sense that, it’s ridiculous that as gay men we should have to be buffed out to the max in order to be sexually desirable. I personally am turned off when I see buff men, it’s not my type whatsoever. I’m into the guys who are slender with minor muscle build. But not everyone is equal, just because I think someone is hot doesn’t mean you will think someone is hot as well. Just because you think someone is hot, doesn’t mean I will think the same. We all have different tastes, and different types. So I believe we should be whatever we want to be, as long as it is healthy. Being overweight is not healthy at all, I was obese for a long time but I realized that was ridiculous. I was harming myself, and yes I got hit on by other guys, and they wanted me to stay fat but it’s so bad for you. Men already have a chance of having a heart attack or a stroke, being overweight greatly increases the chances of having those, and more complications. It’s not easy to lose weight, I’m the first one to tell you that, but it’s necessary. it’s not because I think fat people are ugly, it’s just that it’s extremely unhealthy. I don’t care if people think you’re hot being fat, it’s very unhealthy and unnecessary. That’s my take. If you are healthy, and not buff to the max, let it be. You don’t need to be perfect, especially because there is no such thing as perfect. And steroids definitely may help you now, but fuck you over in the long run.

  • Gay media and marriage equality: why do we gay men focus so much on sex? « Carlos in DC said:

    [...] To make things worse, most gay media focuses widely in how we gay men should look physically or are supposed to look. Thus, lots of gay businesses are oriented to improve our looks, so we look attractive, mostly for sex. [...]

  • Ben said:

    If it’s some sort of ‘Fascism’ to know that for most of us some definition is what makes a man attractive where a woman isn’t then so be it. *shrug*

  • Ben said:

    (That’s ‘some definition’, not extreme-or-bust :p)

  • Negative Nellies: The Detrimental Effects of Media Speculation on Women’s Appearance « In Our Words said:

    [...] on the rest of the body, from which men are often protected. Yes, gay men do experience and self-perpetuate body fascism, which ultimately is another response that validates misogyny: building up one’s body to be as [...]

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