Liam Rhodes

COVID-19: Normalising weight gain in the gay community during the pandemic

COVID-19: Normalising weight gain in the gay community during the pandemic

Liam November 19, 2020
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I won’t make an apology for this because it has been on my mind for a very long period of time. I am sick to my bulging stomach as to why there is such a pressure on gay men to be so slim.

There are many articles – scientific- and non – which I’d like to introduce to this post. I will start with the non-scientific ones below, which I will not quote since they are based on personal experiences. I have offered three here, and I will not be your search engine for any more, but I will talk about the science.

There is a massive problem within the gay community with respect to this, and the straw that broke the camel’s back for me tonight was seeing this:

I have had enough of the “perfect body”. I see it on Twitter all the time. I see people “thirsting” after those with abs.

Earlier today – and I won’t embed this tweet considering that I don’t want to attract any attention to him and his body image issues (or attention-seeking) – I saw pre-lockdown and during-lockdown “comparison” photos. One of them featured a toned, abs-on-display body, and the other displayed some abdominal fat. Neither of them were unhealthy in terms of how the human body works: His BMI would be in range; and if it were not, it would largely be attributed to muscle and not fat.

It isn’t just that. There are many reasons why people gain weight, and within the LGBT community – and especially gay men – it is frowned upon. People gain weight due to depression and the side-effects of antidepressants including mirtazapine, fluoxetine, and a litany of other anti-depressants have weight gain as a side-effect.

What is more important?

Quite clearly, someone’s mental health, at the point at which they need to take an antidepressant, is more important than their physical health. This is, of course, providing that there are no underlying conditions.

I will “come out” and say that I am on ‘California rocket fuel’ at this point. Mirtazapine and its effects on hunger suck. My GP has advised me to “ignore the hunger,” and added that it is easier said than done. I’ve added things like oranges, sliced apples, etc., so that I try not to gain weight. The most important thing, however, is my mental health.

Scientific studies into gay men and weight

Here, we come to the nub of the problem. And I say this as someone who is gay. The science is below.

The most common type of antifat bias reported was rejection by potential romantic partners on the basis of weight. Both experiencing and witnessing antifat bias was associated with several types of body image disturbance. As a follow-up to Study 1, Study 2 compared gay and heterosexual college men’s expectations of antifat bias from a potential romantic partner. Participants rated how likely certain outcomes would be if they saw an overweight man hit on an attractive target (a man for gay participants or a woman for heterosexual participants). Gay men reported greater likelihood that the overweight man would be blatantly ignored, treated rudely, or mocked behind his back if he approached an attractive potential romantic partner.

Foster-Gimbel, O., & Engeln, R. (2016). Fat chance! Experiences and expectations of antifat bias in the gay male community. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity,

The problem goes deeper than that, too. As a consequence of the continuing pressure on gay men to have a “perfect body” as opposed to a “dad bod”, we see:

Participants (134 gay men, 119 heterosexual men) completed measures of body figure preference ratings varying on adiposity and muscularity, and measures of self-esteem and involvement with the gay community (gay participants only). It was found that both gay and heterosexual men desired to be thinner and more muscular. However, body dissatisfaction (discrepancy between current and ideal figures) was greater for the gay men. For both sexual orientation groups, dissatisfaction with thinness increased with age and was negatively correlated with self-esteem. For gay men, muscularity dissatisfaction was also negatively correlated with self-esteem, but involvement with the gay community was not related to body dissatisfaction. It was concluded that many men (gay and heterosexual alike) experience body dissatisfaction, but that this was somewhat greater for gay men.

Tiggemann, M., Martins, Y., & Kirkbride, A. (2007). Oh to be lean and muscular: Body image ideals in gay and heterosexual men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 8(1), 15–24.

This is a cultural thing within the gay “community”, and it is not something that is conducive to good mental health and nor is it conducive to physical health.

I have experience with my best friend who developed anorexia nervosa to achieve a perfect body image. That is why I was a trustee of First Steps ED for 18 months: I was trying to help prevent problems within other people through my marketing experience.

Getting back to the point, the male gay community does need to stop being so shallow as a whole. There are huge pressures on weight, and during lockdown, since everyone seems to have gained weight, we absolutely need to change this.

Social media is rife with people’s “perfect bodies” (I note that some people are attracted to those with a few extra pounds anyway). This needs to end because it puts so much pressure on gay teenagers way before they can even have a real relationship.

Like I said earlier, I am currently taking an appetite-stimulating anti-depressant (as well as one which quells it, but not very well — so I eat fruit, veg, soups, etc., when I get uncontrollably hungry). Even that said, I have no doubt that I will gain weight during this period.

But that’s it: It’s not just about me: It’s about all of us. The absurdity of seeing a “before and after” picture of someone from pre-lockdown to lockdown as it is and having just some abdominal fat made me genuinely sad. We should be better than this.

What happened to people fighting for rights solely to sleep in the same bed with another man?

If we do not do something about this, then we are all complicit in a collective self-hatred.

I am very sorry that I have left out lesbians and transgender individuals here, but I can only speak to my own lived experience.

Liam

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