As human beings men have evolved from the caveman on the journey through life; growing, developing, exploring and creating, and although some continents have got further or faster, some have encountered geographical difficulties with harsh terrain, climate, deserts and ice; one thing remains a constant - everybody wants a mate.
For the heterosexual male, child-baring hips may have been the be all and end all of romantic pursuit, and in modern day society the guy seeks an eye-pleasing figure as the first goal in the social hunt. So, is there really any difference in the gay world? It's true that the gay male community is split into many factions and types that all come with their various names: twinks, bears, otters and more, but the one thing they all have in common is 'the look'. Each type is based almost entirely on that person's appearance. You can tell the type by looking at them across a darkened room. None is based on hobbies or interests, intellect or background, but purely on basic body shape and appearance.
Dressed for success?
As with any outward appearance, there are a number of things one can do to make yourself more appealing to attract that mate of your desire. You can get a fake tan, you can even get a real tan. You can grow your hair long, or shave it all off. You can dress to impress with the latest fashions, spending the gross income of an entire African town on your 'going out' outfit, or you can wear the skimpiest of thongs and just let it all hang out. But what is it that a vast majority of pictures portray? The 'perfect' body of a built six-pack and rippling muscles.
Bear, otters, cubs... do you class yourself as any of these 'tribes'? Illustration: James L. Barry
Adverts portray this, magazines, television and the gay scene. Guys who have it wear the tight T-shirts or the muscle vest and proudly present their hard-earned torso to the entire town, dancing on podiums, poles and more and - of course - to every shop window and mirror they pass, a quick pause is in order just to make sure they look great!
Others dress less formidably. Perhaps covering with not one but two layers, the obligatory white T-shirt with a baggy, checked shirt over the top. Perhaps a size or two larger than they need, to give the impression of space. If one doesn't own 'the' body, then one has to hide and camouflage the excess bits with ever growing discreetness. But how do we feel about this?
That rippling, manly body is the must-have for any 'professional gay' it seems, and if you don't have it, you should be seeking it. Get that diet in order, get that gym membership renewed and keep at it week after week until you fit into those size 30 jeans, skinny vest and can proudly walk the street head held high. Then you will have reached the pinnacle of gay appreciation. But just how healthy is this?
Do you go to the gym to keep in shape? Or to build a 'better' body?
You've seen them, I've seen them, those profiles on various sites and phone apps, the profiles that if it isn't a straight forward dick pic it's the obligatory picture of a naked chest and abdomen. What happened to the appreciation of one's face?
The shape of things to follow
You know yourself that when a fit guy walks past sometimes your head spins round, and if you're in company a comment may fall from your lips. If alone, you may still take an appreciative second look and have an 'oh, wow!' moment in your head. What is this saying? Most of us don't possess the 'perfect' body. We may have the odd bulgy bit here and there, maybe a man boob that's hidden, a bit of a belly that you try to suck in when walking past mirrors and more than a little bit of shame each time junk food passes your lips.
Is it the case that we should be chasing these perfect bodies? Eating two lettuce leaves and a tomato each day, just so that we can fit in? Just so that we can feel like we fit in? Because the grass is greener? Because society dictates that 'this' body is the universal measure of a man, and one that if you're not fitting into, you are somehow odd. A misfit perhaps?
Now I fully support people having a healthy lifestyle, and I personally love exercise and promote it often. But there is exercise to be healthy, and there is obsession with building and creating this 'perfect' body... and who decided what was 'perfect' anyway? I can't help wondering sometimes, that some of the people that own such bodies would be more comfortable sitting in front of a mirror than actually engaging others in conversation?
Ego, Emo, Endo, Ergo
So what is the bottom line here regarding some men's body obsession? Is it purely an ego thing that some want to look good and be appreciated? Is it a health thing, that they want to 'feel' good? Or is it a social thing that they must look good because of others? So often society dictates the rules that others must follow, and with physical appearance that is an unspoken rule. An example that others must follow? Or is it deeper than that even? Is there some caveman hunter-gatherer thing still dormant deep within our brains, something that toys with the attraction centres and registers that a fit, strong and 'healthy' gay man would make a perfect mate for us because they would be good at catching the prey?
Is it a preference thing? That some are drawn to the fit, buff, beefcake of muscle just in the same way that others are drawn to the emo look? Why do we choose the look that we like in others and the look we want in ourselves?
Be proud of who you are and your body, whatever your size!
Ergonomics examines the look of how a human fits in with technology and their surroundings, but certainly the look of how the body shape fits with its locale I think has something to do with it. Everything is designed around human use, and if you do not fit those diametrics then you are socially outcast. A taller person who can't walk through an average door would be a classic example. A large person who doesn't fit an aircraft seat. That lift you get into at work that states it can carry 16 people, but you know that 8 of 'you' sized people would fill it up shoulder to shoulder, and of course, clothes being the greatest of them all. Most of us are happy to wear a medium. Some of us feel quite proud and a sense of achievement to fit into a small... (unless its a condom of course). But all of us start to feel more uncomfortable when we reach a large, and embarrassed at extra large. Clothing size is worked out on an average population basis, and medium is dictated to be the norm. If you fall outside of medium, things get uncomfortable (unless, again it's a small).
Gay guys and the LGBT community bring another dimension to this of course. Gay guys have always been illustrated as weak in various films, television and other media. Weak, camp, effeminate and generally lesser than a straight man. This has for ever haunted the gay guy, and so perhaps this is one of the reasons why the average gay seeks to be more of a man than he already is? There is perhaps an inbuilt need to recognise his place in society and to be more than this gives?
Of course, biologically, gay men and straight men would possess the same strength, and there would be those on both sides of the border who enjoy gym and exercise and aim for a fitter body. So with this in mind, and deep down all gay guys would know this too, why do they still pursue it? Ego still? Image? Striving to fight those opinions others have for so long cast over us?
Tom Daley and Gareth Davies, both gay sporting stars of huge strength and stamina could beat almost any straight man in their category, but if asked, I would imagine they would say they chose diving and rugby because they excelled at it and pursued it as a career choice, rather than because of image. I wonder what guys in a gym would say if they were asked?
It's all in your head
So I've asked many questions here and not really answered them. I believe there are going to be many different answers from each and every one of us, and some we can relate to, some we can identify with and others that are just alien to us. Gay people, like all others chapters of society, do not fit into one box easily, and there are going to be overlaps, bits that don't fit, differences and similarities across the board.
The bottom line is that for each of us there is going to be someone who likes us just the way we are. Do you want to struggle to attain the perfection, or do you want someone who likes you for just the very you that you are? •
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