3 gay men reflect on their body image

Written by Sam Leighton-Dore

It’s often the case that we don’t realise certain things about ourselves until we’re older. This can be especially true of the ways in which we relate to our bodies, which for young gay men often feel like the ‘be-all and end-all’ of being accepted and desired.

We might worry that we’ll never be considered sexy if we don’t have a ‘six-pack’, or if our arms aren’t big enough or our bellies are soft. It’s easy to develop a negative body image when our culture emphasises certain ‘looks’.

As a way of opening up the conversation, we spoke with three Australian gay men about the lessons they’ve learnt about their bodies, and body image in general, over the years.

mark cartoon man in exercise gear with tennis racquet

Listen closely on the good days. I’m talking about those days when you catch sight of your reflection, or you take a good selfie, and for a moment you’re taken aback by how handsome you are. It’s not a trick of the light or a certain angle – it’s you. You’re pretty! Be kind to yourself and indulge in these moments of self-love.

Keep fighting the good fight. You navigate a society that values the thin and the light. Feel empowered knowing that you’re living your truth regardless. Acknowledge and support your fellow rebels, and speak up for those who aren’t confident enough yet to do it for themselves. Didn’t that cafeteria scene in High School Musical teach you anything?

Decolonise your standards of beauty. Love your flat Filipino nose and your coarse Asia-Pacific hair. Embrace your chunky build and your patchy brown skin. Wear your culture with pride, and celebrate your physical connection to your roots. Thank your Mum for the smile that turns your eyes into crescent moons, and for the ears you used to cling to whenever she sang you a Tagalog lullaby.

Never lose weight for anyone else. Especially not for straight boys, who don’t think of you in that way. They’re not worth the hunger pangs or the dizziness. Instead, surround yourself with your beloved chosen family; those people in your life who love you just as you are.

Wear whatever the f*ck you want. Step outside of your comfort zone. There’s still a long way to go for plus sizing in the fashion world – but, like your gorgeous plump adolescent waistline, this will grow. In the meantime, you’ll find rare gems in op shops, so keep digging! You’ll know what works for you and what doesn’t, and you’ll kill it.

isaac cartoon man in coat and scarf smiling

Give yourself time – be your own ally. Growing up is a constant process, and no-one can tell you how it will be for you, just as no-one knows your body the way you do. So, pay attention to it, because it will change. Some of those changes you’ll like; others you won’t. Pretty often, they don’t last. Let yourself grow into your skin.

You wouldn’t want to be anyone else. You are the only version of you that will ever exist. Now is the only time in history that the world gets to have you. Don’t waste your time trying to conform to a certain stereotype. Going to the gym can be great for your mental health, but not everyone is going to get the same physique out of it, and nor should we. You are meant to be unique, you are meant to be you, and there is nothing more satisfying than being authentic.

You’re more attractive when you’re healthy. Taking care of yourself should be your number-one priority. Listen to your body; it knows what to do. Eat, sleep and move when and how your body tells you to. Treat yourself well. When you keep your body in balance, everyone will notice how awesome you are.

Try new things. Be FABULOUSLY you. Get that piercing, change your hairstyle, try a different look. No-one important will care if they don’t like it; anyone important to you will love it if you do.

sam cartoon bald shirtless man with tattoos hugging cat

People will love you for your brains, not your body. You might look in the mirror and feel unsexy or undesirable, but you’re only just beginning to discover who you are and who might become. Your body – including that little belly that never quite goes away, the mole you’ve always been self-conscious about, your gapped teeth and your freckly fingers – is only a small part of what people will come to love about you.

Sexiness is subjective. Right now, you’ve only been exposed to one particular brand of sexy: the muscled stomach, defined chest and firm calves that grace the cover of DNA magazine. You could spend years chasing that particular carrot, exercising in ways you don’t actually enjoy, trying to ‘arrive’ at some unattainable gym-built-body destination. It’s okay! When you’re a little older, your world will open up, along with your sexuality and your ideas on what is ‘sexy’.

Eat. Please eat. You’re so lucky to have access to fresh food. You may not quite understand that yet, but you will soon enough. You may stop eating for a while, desperately wanting control over the uncontrollable. But food is the fuel that helps your body get from point A to point B, and you deserve to feel strong, nourished and capable.

Sex is fun and you will have it (if you want it). For some reason, you may think that only fitness models get to have same-sex sex. This isn’t true, as you’ll understand in a few years when you catch sight of yourself in a mirror, back rolls on full display as a chunky hunk kisses you all over. Sex is for all consenting bodies, regardless of your weight or shape. Look forward to it!

While it might take years to funnel through the noise and work out how to love ourselves for who we are, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be having open, judgement-free conversations about our bodies as gay men – regardless of what we look like. There’s more than one way to feel and look sexy, just as there’s more than one way to live a healthy lifestyle. ‘Sexy’ and ‘fit’ don’t ever look one particular way.

What can I do now?

  • Hear from other young guys about how they deal with negative body image.

  • Get in touch with The Butterfly Foundation if you feel like you need some extra support.