Gay Men and Body Image


Gay Men and Body Image

by Amelia

My teenage son is gay, and he has always been on the heavier side. I’ve noticed that this seems to make him self-conscious at times, and as much as I hate to play into stereotypes (e.g. “Gay men are skinny!”), I worry about what could happen if he puts too much pressure on himself to be thinner. How can I help him?
— Anonymous

Amelia Says:

This is an important question and, unfortunately, it can be a dangerous one as well.

You are right to be concerned. As a society we have a huge stigma against people who weigh more than average. Among gay men this stigma is so much worse. Our culture tells young gay men that they should be perfectly fit, and healthfully slender with defined muscles. After all, if they go on any dating site, the words "no fat" are everywhere. I would suggest reading the essay “It Gets Better, Unless You’re Fat” by Louis Peitzmanto get the full idea of how intense this stigma can be.

And the truth is that not everyone can have that body,  no matter how much he works out or how much kale he eats. People are all made differently, and that's why it sucks when our standard of beauty tells us we should all be the same.

This struggle for the perfect body has definitely had a negative effect on the health of many gay men. First, young gay men have to deal with the stress of living in a homophobic society. Then we add to that the pressure to be a (sometimes impossible) physical ideal. It’s the perfect recipe for eating disorders. Young gay men are now developing anorexia at disproportionate rates. In one study by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, more than 15% of gay men had experienced anorexia, bulimia, or a binge-eating disorder, compared to 5% of their straight counterparts.These conditions are a big deal. People die.

So where does this leave you, the parent of heavy-set kid? No place fun. Sometimes as parents we feel like we are tiptoeing through a field of landmines. It's so easy to mess up and say something wrong that can hurt our kids. Body image is probably the biggest landmine out there. It's hard to know how to step. Talking about your child's size can draw attention to something he is already self-conscious about and make him feel worse. Over-encouraging him when he’s trying to lose weight can turn on you quickly if he fails in the attempt. Not only will he feel like he let himself down, but like he let you down, too. But saying nothing at all feels just as wrong.

Since your son is still a teenager, you can teach healthy eating habits and encourage healthy exercise. But know that any change is going to be up to him and only him. Another thing you can do is pay attention. If you think his obsession with being any particular body type is becoming a problem, talk with him about it. If you suspect your child is developing an eating disorder, talk to a doctor. Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away, it just makes them worse.

But above all else, just be his mom. As a parent, I think it is important to make sure our kids know that we always love them. Our love isn’t dependant on whether they are gay or straight, fat or thin, or anything else. We love them just as they are, and we are damn lucky to have them.

Amelia is a mother and breadwinner. When not working she's spending as much time as possible with her three young sons, friends, and family. In her copious free time she knits, obsesses about science fiction and cult television, and reads way too many books. She considers her most superhero worthy act finding a couple free hours now and then to read trashy novels.