Pop Music golden boy, Sam Smith set hearts a flutter on social media after sharing a hunky, body-positive shirtless pic, accompanied by a heartfelt caption regarding his insecurities about his looks. Referencing past incidents of starving himself to be skinny for photoshoots or just to fit a perfect physical ideal, Sam’s post resonated with thousands of men who identified with his struggles. Some even chimed in to share how their quest to look perfect had led them to a dangerous path of disordered eating.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association, approximately 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Thought of as an issue mostly affecting young adult females and women, a recent report from NBC Out has revealed an increase in eating disorders also among gay men.
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In the past if I have ever done a photo shoot with so much as a t-shirt on, I have starved myself for weeks in advance and then picked and prodded at every picture and then normally taken the picture down. Yesterday I decided to fight the fuck back. Reclaim my body and stop trying to change this chest and these hips and these curves that my mum and dad made and love so unconditionally. Some may take this as narcissistic and showing off but if you knew how much courage it took to do this and the body trauma I have experienced as a kid you wouldn’t think those things. Thank you for helping me celebrate my body AS IT IS @ryanpfluger I have never felt safer than I did with you. I’ll always be at war with this bloody mirror but this shoot and this day was a step in the right fucking direction 👅🤘🏼🍑
In women, eating disorders are triggered often by an ill-perceived, self body image. This is facilitated by the bombardment of images in the media of body perfection. From Victoria’s Secrets’ Angels,’ to the impossible curves of the Kardashians, today we don’t know what’s real in photos or what’s been run through a thousand Adobe filters. Apps such as Photoshop and Facetune are so cunning, you can digitally relocate a model’s breasts onto the top of her head like Mickey Mouse ears — and somehow make it look natural.
With gay men’s desire to look perfect, it’s no different from the plight of women. According to a recent NBC report, Instagram may be the cause of a similar disruption in gay men’s self esteem as they endlessly compare themselves to the thousands of chiseled, flawless, bulging Speedo’d muscle Gods posting daily on the platform.
This dilemma is not new. The LGBTQ community has been at odds with itself for a long time regarding body image. For decades there has been a dichotomy of gay men; those who seem to live in the gym 7 days a week — and those who don’t. The hottest guys always have the hottest circle of friends and when we see them together in their perfectly sculpted existence, in our minds we hear, “You can’t sit with us”. So we simply admire them from afar, pretty much victims of our own insecurities, but still, nonetheless we feel ostracized by the beautiful ones.
The NBC story which features one of the most successful Instagram stars - Max Emerson, sheds light on the correlation between the seemingly harmless visual platform Instagram used to be, and the vast wonderland of half-naked, brand influencer-body boys it has become. It’s a form of manipulation that is very lucrative for the hottest guys on Instagram. They seem to welcome us with their bare asses and ripped abs, and a look that says, “Sure you can sit with us after all … in fact, you even watch us brush our teeth, eat breakfast in a jockstrap, go to the gym, see us take showers and hang out with our equally as perfectly beautiful friends”. This manipulation makes us think we are somehow friends with them and accepted into their personal inner-world.
The truth is because many of these guys are paid by sponsors for keeping their pages “hot” with high "likes" and engagement, you will be hard-pressed to find pics of guys with average builds and basics looks in any of their posts. Their bottom line as influencers is dependent upon them selling the fantasy of “Hot” and that means rarely will they share body-affirmative posts of men who are chubby, average, or overweight. This reinforces the notion that average is in no way good enough to be worthy of your favorite Instagram model’s attention. That’s where things can go astray for an Instagram follower’s self esteem.
Doctor Asher Pandjiris a therapist in New York City treats LGBTQ people with eating disorders and in her practice she assesses that high rates of disordered eating in the LGBTQ community can directly correlate to the trauma of internalized homophobia from their youth. As such is the case, the unfortunate irony is that gay men themselves are inflicting the negative body image complex onto members of their own community.
Doctor Asher Pandjiris explains,
“It is common to see patients engage in disordered eating, such as starving themselves if they miss a workout or before trips to gay events where their bodies are on display. She said looking at statuesque bodies on social media can play a hidden role in the problem.
“It’s hard for patients sometimes to connect the dots — that they saw a post on social media that makes them feel like they have to look a certain way in gay spaces, that they need to work out obsessively and starve themselves before a trip to Fire Island,”
To clarify, of course not all scantily clad instagram “stars” are manipulative drones who care nothing about their followers. There are many who truly enjoy interacting with fans and will personally engage with users - Max Emerson being one of them. Still that doesn’t negate the potential harm of over-stimulation from constant images of the perfect male form, which can impact how you see yourself.
At the end of the day, I believe there can exist a healthy admiration for the beauty of all your favorite muscled internet boys … but never at the expense of first loving you, for you.