October 05, 2016

The Truth About Body Dysmorphia in Gay Men - Zach Rawlings

Body dysmorphia in gay men can be incredibly challenging.I thought I knew the answer but I asked the question anyway. “Has coming out of the closet made your body image issues and eating disorder worse?” I asked my client.

“Absolutely 100 percent, yes,” he told me. “My eating disorder definitely got worse when I came out.”

My own eyes teared up as he talked. Coming out should be making this man’s life better, not worse, I thought to myself. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case for many gay men.

What is body dysmorphia?

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is recognized as a body-image disorder. Typically, people with this disorder become preoccupied with perceived flaws and defects in their appearance. Whether these so-called flaws are even noticed by other people is irrelevant. When you have BDD, your preoccupation with your appearance occurs for hours each day — maybe even all day — disrupting your daily functioning and leading to intense distress. 

Eating disorders and body dysmorphia in gay men

As a gay man, I regularly witness the uncomfortable reality that we live in. Gay men are obsessed with toned and chiseled bodies.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I am a proponent of physical health. I think looking your best is important (as evidenced by how much money I spend on face serums and creams). However, I am not a proponent of shame telling us that our appearances and our bodies are not enough.

Sadly, the number of gay men living with body dysmorphia, eating disorders and other mental health issues is growing.

Each CDC report published communicates the sad reality that our community continues to struggle when it comes to mental health.

My belief is that we take out these psychological struggles on our bodies. Rather than facing our painful shame gremlins and working to improve our mental health, we work on perfecting our physical appearance.

Can’t we just love ourselves as we are?

It’s true that gay men face unique challenges that may lead to body image issues and eating disorders. For many of us gay men, coming out was one of the scariest things we ever did.

Unfortunately, the body image problems that can plague us once we do come out of the closet can produce a different kind of fear — a fear of not measuring up to the supposed “gay physical ideal.”

As October 11 marks National Coming Out Day, we at Eating Recovery Center encourage you to do the following:
  • Reflect on how far you’ve come since coming out
  • Evaluate where you are with your own self-acceptance
  • Make a commitment to add more positivity to our community by promoting physical health, appropriate exercise and body acceptance
Start by accepting yourself and extend that self-acceptance to those around you instead of shaming and criticizing other gay men’s physical appearances. We all need a break from that.

Learn more about eating disorder signs and symptoms Zach Rawlings is a professional counselor, doctoral student, and mental health advocate. He’s a big fan of cool kicks, a good beat, and doing nothing—with people. You can learn more about his projects on TwitterFacebook and his website.
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