Many gay men have body image issues. But when does it become a problem?
By: John Hollywood
To a greater or lesser degree, many of us in gaydom struggle with body image issues. Perhaps it’s just part of being gay – who knows?
If we’re not looking in the mirror to inspect our hair, we’re pinching our sides to check for fat. And it doesn’t help that we’re constantly bombarding one another with super sexualized male imagery.
How many times have you opened up Facebook to see a collage of shirtless men that look like they’ve jumped right out of an underwear catalog?
“Rate these three – who is the hottest?” someone usually asks.
While there’s nothing wrong with looking at attractive guys, the cumulative effect of this kind of cultural messaging can negatively impact self-esteem.
Here, I am talking about a thinking distortion that is not often discussed and widely misunderstood: Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
You may be wondering what that term means? In a nutshell, Body Dysmorphic Disorder (body dysmorphia) (BDD) is a psychological condition whereby a person becomes preoccupied with their personal appearance to the point that it can become debilitating.
Related: Do you play the game of comparisons?
Here’s what the Anxiety and Depression of Association of America has to say:
“People with BDD can dislike any part of their body, although they often find fault with their hair, skin, nose, chest, or stomach.
In reality, a perceived defect may be only a slight imperfection or nonexistent. But for someone with BDD, the flaw is significant and prominent, often causing severe emotional distress and difficulties in daily functioning.”
It is important to draw a distinction between a person who has BDD and clinical narcissism. Many people confuse the two because they hold similar characteristics. In truth, they really aren’t the same.
Related: Recognizing narcissism
So how do you know if you have body dysmorphia? Is there a way to assess for symptoms?
According to the authors of the book, The Adonis Complex: The Secret Crisis of Male Body Obsession, the answer is: Yes.
Given the importance of this topic, we’ve decided to list 10 signs of potential BDD, culled together from scientific literature. While not diagnostic in nature, they can be used to examine your own situation.
When you read these traits, it is important to view them in context. Think “big picture” and try not to focus on just one thing.
Are you ready? Let’s jump right in!
1. Preoccupation with physical appearance
- Excessive staring in the mirror; noticing only “flaws”
- Habitually asking others, “Do I look…? (fat, skinny, ugly).
- Inability to enjoy yourself in the presence of others because you are worried about how you are physically perceived.
2. Exaggerated negative perception of a body part
- You believe your nose is too big
- You think your genitals are too small
- You feel your biceps aren’t big enough
3. Refusing to appear in photographs
- Because you don’t like how you look, you refuse to allow your picture to be taken.
- You cut yourself out of photos when possible.
- If you must appear in a picture, you use photo-editing software to “fix” your perceived distortions.
4. Frequent cosmetic procedures but never satisfied with results
- You visit different Botox doctors, exceeding the limit of what is clinically suggested.
- You shop for new liposuction doctors because your current surgeon refuses to do a “new procedure”.
- You opt for to have another nose job because the last one didn’t fix “the problem”.
5. Constantly comparing yourself to others
- Excessively comparing your body to that of others and focusing in on your perceived negatives. Examples: “I wish my calves looked like his” or “Why can’t I have a chest like that guy?”
- Comparing yourself against male celebs. Example: “Why can’t I look like (fill in celebrity name).
- Excluding yourself from social activities because you feel you aren’t “hot enough”.
6. You’ve convinced yourself you are ugly
- You believe other men focus on your perceived negative body part (i.e. nose, baldness, body size, small biceps).
- You avoid mirrors because you can’t stand the site of your appearance.
- You won’t have sex with other men. If you do, it must be with the lights off.
7. You wear body camouflage
- You wear extra-large shirts to hide your torso.
- Because you think you are going bald, you always wear a baseball cap.
- You only wear baggy jeans or sweats to hide your lower extremities.
Below we have published a poll for you to vote in to assess how many of the signs listed here apply to you. Over the course of time, come back to this page to see how others voted.
Related: Picking a gay therapist
If you struggle with body image issues, it might be helpful to talk with a professional. It could be the healthiest move you’ve ever made.