An American study reveals tremendous body insecurity among gay men; Shlomi Unger, clinical social worker at the Aguda, the Israeli National LGBT Task Force, explains this phenomenon and suggests solutions.
A new study reveals that the male body image has been under attack in recent years, particularly among gay men, but not only. The study, conducted at the California University of Chapman, was published in the February issue of the journal “Psychology of Men and Masculinity” and surveyed responses of nearly 12,000 straight men and about 4,400 gay men.
It was found that 21% of straight men and a third of the gay men are not happy with their bodies, and almost 50% of gay men are not happy with their body weight- as are 39% of straight men . No wonder, then, that 29% of straight men and 37% of gay men went on a diet in the past year. And it does not end here: 20% of straight men and 39% (almost double) of gay men surveyed, admitted they try to hide their belly while having sex.
The study data did not surprise Shlomi Unger (in the photo), a clinical social worker who heads the psycho-social service of the Aguda and lectures on issues of LGBT care at Ben Gurion University. “This is terrorism of gender that often reflects the process of internalized homophobia,” he tells Ynet.
“We have quite a few patients who will not leave the house if they put on one pound in weight or their hair is not sitting in place. It’s important to understand that this is not an easy situation for them – something that happens to all of us – but there are extreme cases of going into depression, disconnecting and dealing from morning till night with how they look. I didn’t even talk about cases of steroids injection parties that have serious health consequences for the liver and the brain; about serious diets, eating disorders, anxiety disorders and increased consumption of drugs and alcohol. These things may happen even because the patient had just eaten pizza and got depressed as a result.”
According to Unger, this phenomenon is also known throughout the general population, but among LGBT there are higher rates. “First and foremost is the culture that encourages this. There’s a male beauty ideal which I believe is historic and started in classical Greece and entered the consciousness of the community ever since. I feel that this phenomenon only worsened in the 2000s. Also, there’s an inherent interest of the community that emphasizes culture, body and sexuality, and it produces a pressure point and a lot of stress. In order to be accepted you have to meet very specific standards of beauty. Third, we see a deeper component, which is internalized homophobia, I.e.how do I have to look in order to ‘pass’. This is self-hatred that sits on the difficulties around the issue of sexual orientation. It’s not that every out of the closet gay necessarily likes his sexual identity, even if he walks in pride parades.”
Who is to blame for this phenomenon, then? The media? Advertising campaigns? Perhaps the manufacturers of models? Probably not really. “Most of the blame falls on us as a society and as a community,” says Unger. According to the study, 61% of straight men and 77% of gay men admitted that they feel that people judge them on how they look, while many of them said that they also experience pressure from magazines and TV.
“There has been some form of action taken in the community, which is the group ‘Body Pride’, and I welcome it. I think it’s an amazing project that should get visibility and centrality, and I think we should expand it. These messages are meaningful in an effort to change and challenge the norms. On an individual level- whoever has been suffering this should come for therapy; body image is something that can be dealt with and it raises the quality of life.”