Whether gay or straight, no one is immune to insecurities.
It happens every Wednesday. Around 10 p.m., I get out of the shower, style my hair, throw on the “hippest” outfit I can and roll out of my apartment complex to a place many, but not I, call the gay mecca – Woody’s.
Once there, my posse and I head to our respective underage and 21-and-over entrances and reunite on the dance floor of Philly’s perhaps most infamous gay club. Everything is fine and dandy. We’re all dancing to Lady Gaga or the latest addictive pop hit, everyone is having a good time.
And then it all comes to a loud, ego-screeching halt (well, for me at least). Everyone in my group of friends, with the exception of those in relationships, is grinding up on someone. After a while, I start to feel like I’m missing out on something.
I go home after closing time, head immediately to the closest mirror and scrutinize my reflection. Aside from being drenched with sweat, the person I see in the mirror is someone I am proud of.
But after a while, I start nitpicking. I think to myself, “I could do without the round face. Maybe lose a little weight there, and my mid-section, definitely could lose a chunk of blubber out of my mid-section. Time to hit the gym.”
I’m a stellar friend. I’m witty. I’m funny. I’m an amusing character. When I can’t figure out why I haven’t attracted a guy at a stupid club, I automatically think it’s because I’m not a twig or a body-building gay. I’m somewhere in between. I’m an average guy with a larger-than-life persona.
So why do I feel there’s a hole in the “Josh package” because I don’t have pecs of steel, rock-hard abs or massive Popeye arms? My concern over this has led me to believe that I am not the only LGBT college-age individual with a body image problem.
Body image problems are not a gay thing, and they’re not a straight thing – body image issues are an every one thing.
I bring this up, though, because very little research has been done regarding the LGBT population and eating disorders. Numerous studies on this topic have been conducted for straight women, and rightfully so: eating disorders and body image issues definitely haunt a large number of young women. This type of research, though, tends to exclude LGBT-identified people.
Of the few studies that account for the LGBT community, one in particular was conducted by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. In April 2007, researchers surveyed 516 New York City residents, of which 125 were heterosexual males and the rest were gay or bisexual males and females.
The study found that 15 percent of gay or bisexual men had an eating disorder or symptoms of one at some point during their lives. Dr. IIan H. Meyers, who lead the research, couldn’t say why these men had eating disorders but hypothesized that it’s because of societal values that “promote a body-centered focus.”
Meyers found a correlation between the gay community and eating disorders. He noticed that of the male participants in the study, those who said they felt very connected to the gay community and were a part of various LGBT organizations didn’t have higher rates of eating disorders than those who were not as close with the LGBT community.
This study – “the first of its kind,” claims the school – is an excellent start, but more needs to be done. I want studies focusing on finding better patterns between eating disorders and the members of the LGBT community. I want another study that doesn’t seem gay or bisexual male oriented. I want this stuff to focus on lesbians and bisexual women as well.
Issues relating to body image affect us all.
Some body image problems are less severe, like my own, which revolves around me taking pot-shots at my form once in a blue moon. And not all these types of problems are related to being LGBT.
Two friends recently revealed to me that they experienced body image issues that led to eating disorders. While both are proud members of the LGBT community on campus and in Philadelphia, their eating disorders had very little to do with being gay.
“I was 14 when I was at my heaviest,” my male friend said. “I saw myself as lumpy and disproportional. I was surrounded [by my] swim team, and my grandmother would make comments about [my body].”
My lesbian friend revealed that her issues revolved around her parents.
“My family, especially my dad, was verbally and emotionally abusive,” she said. “I never found anyone as admirable as my mom, and I aspired to be like her, especially physically.”
Whatever the causes – pressure from gay culture, mainstream society in general, et cetera – it all boils down to one thing: the emphasis placed on the body.
Some days I wake up and walk past a mirror and think to myself, “Damn, you’re looking good.” Other days, I feel the complete opposite.
But either way, I’m tired of wasting time worrying that my body isn’t good enough. And you should too.
We as a society need to stop spending so much time and energy on our “imperfections.” For those of you who disregard this advice, you’ll likely regret it in three years, after spending so much time being critical of your bodies when you could have been having fun or finding someone who appreciates the whole package.
Josh Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.