Eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia have long been thought of as problems mainly for women, but recent studies show that men are just as susceptible to develop eating disorders. Austin-area therapist Brad Kennington talks about the how gay culture may drive gay men to extremes for that so-called “perfect” body.
Society is consistently shaming gay men to feel less than. Making it unconstitutional in many of our states for gay couples to marry is just one example of how bigotry is not only accepted but openly encouraged in our culture. And those on the receiving end of this bigotry are real people with real hearts with real feelings. Is there any doubt why so many in the gay community struggle with substance abuse, depression, suicide and eating disorders?
I often wonder what role society’s collective shame plays in the development of body image issues and eating disorders in gay men. All of that shame has to go somewhere, and where it ends up is usually deep in the psyches of those it is intended to hurt. If someone is constantly bombarded with the message from the government, faith communities, corporations, even their own families that they are not good enough, not equal to, then devastating psychological consequences often result.
In a struggle to survive psychologically, gay men may go into overdrive in trying to achieve ideal physical fitness—counting calories, cutting out carbs and going crazy with cardio. This relentless pursuit to be physically fit is but one way to compensate for feeling psychologically unfit.
And to have a fit and so-called “perfect” body in the gay world gives a gay man what a bigoted and rejecting society has stripped from him—his power. Gay men with the toned, chiseled bodies have power, the power to command the acceptance and attention from their gay peers. And this attention and acceptance, albeit based on physical appearance, is still healing nonetheless. Like every other person on the planet, gay men want to feel like they belong, that they are somebody. But in a larger culture that invalidates and shames, gay men turn to their bodies to seek the significance and connection that we all hunger for.
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