Our goal with this project is to open a dialogue about gay, bi, trans, and queer men’s body image and its implications on health. One way we are beginning this conversation is with an informal survey of the GBTQ community that we conducted earlier this year.
We want to begin by talking about the ways in which the representation of men’s bodies in media and popular culture is problematic. We want to highlight its implications for body image, self-esteem and health behaviours. We also want to look at to what degree the health system provides relevant support for GBTQ men and where more support is needed.
Over the next few months we will be showing a number of the results from this survey, so keep checking back in with us. We also welcome you to join in a discussion in our m.bodiment Facebook group about the survey questions and results. Feel free to share your own answers to some of these important questions.
Here are some excerpts of the survey results regarding men’s body image.
About the qualitative data
As part of the m.bodiment health and wellness survey, several qualitative questions were included to learn about the lived experiences of Toronto-based, self-identified gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (GBTQ) men. Upon completion of the survey, Egale began the process of analyzing collected narratives. While our comprehensive examination is ongoing, the following outlines our current understanding of the body image and healthcare access experiences of Toronto-based gay, bisexual, trans, and queer men in their own words.
Schematic Summary of Findings
GBTQ Men Facing External Pressure
I find it hard to fit into the [GBTQ] community/I am socialized to feel bad about my body in certain situations.”
- Many participants feel significant pressure to meet the body image standards within the GBTQ community
- Participants also report feeling pressure to conform to cultural body standards as dictated by family, community, etc.
- Achieving societal gender norms – what is deemed ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ – is of primary importance.
Being fit to ‘fit in’: a desire to achieve the unachievable
- Level of attractiveness to others and ‘fitting in’ is a major motivator behind weight loss and muscular gain.
- The majority of participants associate the desire to be attractive, fit/toned, muscular, and ‘masculine’ with being healthy.
- Participants desire changes to ‘unfixable’ features, including skin colour, facial features, bigger penis, being taller, and having longer limbs. Many aspire to have invasive surgeries to correct ‘flaws’.
…to match what is portrayed in all gay advertisements”
Gay men usually focus their love of other men on their bodies. It’s something I want to have happen to me.”
Feeling ‘Fundamentally Flawed’
- The pressures to fit in and be liked results in many participants feeling shame about their bodies.
- Resulting body shame cause many participants to hide their body or avoid relationships.
…it would be nice to be able to go shirtless without feeling shame.”
Talking to a cis doctor about LGBTQ* issues can be difficult. I need to go in great depth to really get them to understand.”
- A lack of self-identified LGBTQ healthcare practitioners is a major barrier for help-seeking.
- Participants perceive and/or have experienced a lack of understanding and knowledge basis about GBTQ-related healthcare from non-LGBTQ healthcare practitioners.
- Lack of help-seeking and/or disclosure to healthcare practitioners is often the result of shame and fear of stigmatization.
- Participants often feel their health issues are not worthy of discussing with a healthcare practitioner or will not be taken seriously due to their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
- Participants identify physical barriers to healthcare access, including waitlists, financial constraints, and location.
Fear of judgment, denial, embarrassment, shame, feeling that I ought to know better.”
Some complaints, like fatigue, depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem, seem less important when it comes from a man.”
GBTQ Men are Not Readily Disclosing Serious Health Issues
Participants are struggling with a number of physical and mental health related concerns, many of which could be categorized as ‘serious’:
- Depression, anxiety
- Gender identity related healthcare
- Eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), and body image issues
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviours
- Suspected or previously diagnosed sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs)
- Untreated HIV/AIDS related health concerns
- Physical injuries stemming from sexual experiences
- Drug use and abuse