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You Just Might Be The Sexiest Man Alive

Gay Men and Body Dimorphic Disorder


Man with glasses flexes muscles.
© Roy Hsu/Getty
I'll admit, I should be the About.com Guide to Body Dimorphic Disorder, but here I am trying to make sense of thing called gay life. In many ways the two are related because so many gay men, like myself, suffer from a screwed up image of our bodies and looks.

About.com Guide to OCD, Dr. Owen Kelly, says that body dysmorphic disorder is a mental illness (ouch!) "in which the person is obsessed and/or preoccupied with an imagined defect or only slight anomaly in their appearance." Dr. Kelly comments that us BDD's look in the mirror at each pass (check!) and constantly ask people about perceived defects (Hey, did you notice the 3 ounces I lost since the last time we spoke?).

As gay men we're primed for compulsions like BDD. It's no wonder many cosmetic and lifestyle companies love gay people: We're their best customers, especially if there's a promise to increase our social standing with a tuck, lift, stretch or peck. We feed them customers, they feed us more products to cover what we see as lacking.

The biggest problem with BDD is that it's not based in reality. Like Dr. Kelly says, what we see as things that need fixing are "imagined." And yes, that includes the extra weight you carry or that mole your grandfather bequeathed you. These things are only defects through comparison with what we see around us or in our perfect imaginations.

If your early gay script reads like mine, a lot of time is spent comparing ourselves to others. The external images we see become reflexive. What I mean is it's not uncommon for gay men to imagine that there is a direct relationship between the way we look, what we'll get and ultimately how we feel about ourselves. We drink the marketing lingo like Kool-Aid and think that if we do "this" we will get "that." The elusive "that" can be in the form of more hook-ups, more boyfriends, more friends, more everything. While some of this is true, it's not the complete picture.

Will the go-go boy get more propositions than the larger lover? Probably. Will the larger lover ultimately find what he wants without looking like a go-go boy? Yes, probably.

When all's said and done, there's more involved than what's before our eyes. Some of us are Dells that quick sale at $499; others are Macs that that a little more buying consideration at $1,600 a pop. But, I digress. Back to what you think about your body.

Do You Have a Body Image Issue? Take the Test!

How bad is the problem? A recent Huff Post article cites a University of the West of England survey that finds nearly 50 percent of gay men would shave a year off of their lives for the perfect body. Pretty bad, I'd say.

BDD is also particularly gender-neutral obsession that preys on the acceptance seeker. And there are no better studied model than the adolescent girl who wants rib-showing thin and men who want T-shirt ripping muscles.

Unlike women, however, men are held to a standard that doesn't allow us to display unhappiness with how we feel about ourselves. There's no crying in baseball. Likewise, there's no whimpering about your body. Don't like it? Drop the pounds and bulk up, is the general solution.

Healthkicker.com writer Mr. Marshmallow writes:

"To be fat is a curse in most of the gay world. With the exception of the Bear Community, any extra weight is seen as a badge of ugliness. But I think that I am grossly generalizing, because when I go out there is no single person who can make me feel worse about my appearance than myself."

What gives?

Therapist John R. Ballew thinks gay men spend too much time on fantasy island—literally. Ballow says gay men love to hang out in places such as bars, gyms, and sex clubs that "place a premium on physical appearance." He mentions that it's easy to confuse who you are with how you look.

Ballew's prescription:

Clear the Confusion
You are not your body, Ballew shouts. Instead of basing your identity solely on how you look, factor in all of your attributes and values. Take it step further and put extra weight on the things you love about yourself—where it deserves to be.

Put Your Body Back Together
The tragedy of Humpty Dumpty isn't that he's round; it's that he's broken and has no idea how to put himself back together. Ballew says spend more time loving yourself and your body. Stretch, do yoga, massage, take long baths, have sex (and enjoy it), and take long walks to help yourself feel like more than "skinny legs" or "love handles."

Appreciate Everyone
It sound's corny, but there truly is something to appreciate in everyone. When was the last time you took more than a glance at someone? What did you see? Did you catch his really great jawbone or the way his lips curl when he smiles or how his eyes have just the right tint in the light? Try it today. Make a point to look for one fantastic feature in every person you see. You'll be surprised at what's hidden from our normal view. Now, turn the microscope on yourself. What did you find?

Stop Trash Talking
Your life isn't an an audition for LOGO's "A-List." Leave the drama to reality TV and stay out of trash talk, especially when it comes to another guy's body or physical characteristics. We all have flaws in the eyes of others. It makes good gossip. I prefer the more boring, yet fulfilling, life of seeing at least good thing about every person I meet.

Pay Attention
When you start looking, really looking, at other people the world begins to open up. You'll notice more around you. Your sense of perception will heighten. You'll begin to see more of the beautiful things around you. You'll also pick up on the things that are often toxic to your well-being. Notice them, Ballew says, and talk about them with others—but don't dwell in the madness.

Confront Homophobia
Last, Ballew recommends, take a bite out of internalized homophobia. You are what you eat and you've been eating the sauce that tells you you're "different" for a long time. "Don’t accept being treated as a second-class citizen," Ballew says. Be your best cheerleader. That way if you fall off the wall you can put yourself back together again.
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