Body image & loneliness
You’re sexy and your loneliness hopes you don't know it
Very few gay men seek out and then read articles about loneliness unless they’ve come to the realisation that they’re lonely. The stigma and shame we feel is real, and it takes a lot of courage to even engage with the subject.
I’m proud of you for opening this article. I recognise and admire your courage. Now that you’re here, let’s start getting you connected to yourself, those most important to you and to your community.
I wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land this article was written and published on, the Ngunnawal people. I wish to acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of Canberra and the surrounding region. I would also like to acknowledge and welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may be reading this article.
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Body image is an ENORMOUS topic for us gay men. Each of you will have come to this article with your own thoughts and experience coming from the perceptions you have of your body.
How can I write about that?? There are a lot of resources and commentary available about how negative perceptions and relationships with our bodies, how we feed them, move them and use and abuse them. I could write a book on this topic (and many already have) but for the purposes of this blog, I’m going to keep my comments focused on how a poor body image can make us – you and me – lonely and what actions we can take to start moving beyond the fear of our bodies.
I certainly have struggled with my body image and I’m very sure that you have – or even continue to – too.
Why is it that so many of us gay men have a negative view of our bodies and how do negative thoughts and beliefs about our bodies make us lonely? I’ve got four reasons.
1. Check your social feed
It seems too easy to blame social media - and what we see in our feeds - for our loneliness. Blaming social media for what we consume is like getting mad at the postal service for delivering the electricity bill.
However, when it comes to body image, I feel that what we see in our social media feeds and in magazines is partly responsible.
If you’re on Instagram, go to your search page (it’s the page at the bottom of your screen with the magnifying glass symbol). There’s a photo of what I saw on mine a few days ago. If you’re gay and use social media – or engage with any gay-focused medium – you’re going to see images of beautiful men.
However, we need to remember that these beautiful men are often there to capture our attention to sell us something: the image, the swimwear or underwear, the holiday destination or event, the workout or supplement or the promise of feeling better than how you feel now.
It’s all designed to make us stop scrolling and then feel bad about where we are, who we’re with and what we’re not doing. They’re selling you a feeling by making you feel bad and then consuming – actively or passively – their product to feel better.
Are you making active choices to consume what’s on offer, or are you passively consuming what’s being sold? Actively or passively, you’re consuming the messages and promises.
When it comes to your body and your perceptions of it, what’s this consumption doing to you?
2. We must be our version of perfect to be attractive
It’s a self-evident truth but as gay men, we’re attracted to men. We seek out who we feel to be beautiful and attractive men to admire, ogle and lust after. When we consume media content (social or otherwise) or spend any time on a hook-up app, we see gorgeous men and zeroing in on those images and profiles of men who we find attractive.
When we see the man who we find beautiful, we admire that which we find attractive: everything from the hair on top of his head to the shape of his toes.
We become awash with happy hormones. Our hearts race, our cocks get hard and perhaps our holes twitch. We generate stories about what it would be like to have him there, what he feels like, how he smells, how he tastes and how he’s the perfect man for us. These stories are intoxicating and fun.
But soon the stories can turn to whether he would enjoy the experience with us. We scan his body and then do scan of our own. Except when we do this, rather than be as generous with ourselves as we are with him, we let our inner voice run riot. We remind ourselves of our failings and how no man could ever find someone as repugnant as ourselves attractive.
We compare our lived experience in that moment with the image of our perfect man and determine that we’re not physically attractive enough and unworthy of love and belonging.
Our loneliness deepens. [continued…]
3. A perfect body as armour against judgement
It’s hard to be a gay man. The judgement is vicious and takes many forms. It’s tempting to defend ourselves against judgement by becoming physically perfect. After all, physical perfection gives others one less thing to use against us.
I feel that we can all point to times in our pasts when we were judged for our appearance, our mannerisms, our speech or some physical attribute. Responding by striving for perfection is a common way to ensure that the pain of such judgement never happens again.
It’s like there’s a hope that a set of huge pecs will act as a real shield off which insults and judgements will bounce and protect our tender and scared hearts. Those pecs, the abs under them, the V-tapered back behind them and the peachy ass and thick cock underneath it all will be so perfect that no one will ever have cause to do anything but drool over us in admiration.
The reality for many of us is that exposing our less-than-perfect body feels too open and exposed. We hide ourselves until we feel ready enough.
Let me ask you two questions: what does ready enough look and feel like? And what’s the price you’re paying as you wait for perfection?
4. Compare to bring joy and connection
It’s an oft-cited maxim: comparisons are the thief of joy. And when we’re admiring perfection in others, we’re comparing how they look to how we feel. Joy does indeed get quickly stolen and we can get lost into the body comparison abyss.
But we’ve got a strategy to help us here. My friend Jesse Elkins wrote a blog post and chatted with us over coffee on my podcast in October 2020 where he provides some great support.
In his blog post ‘Comparisons CAN bring joy’, Jesse wrote that when we find ourselves negatively comparing ourselves to someone else, we must ‘shift the comparison paradigm’.
Rather than spiralling into withdrawal and self-hatred, we can channel curiosity and appreciation and have the positive power to start a conversation with them and ask if they are willing to share part of their journey, tools, and tips to achieve what we want.
This simple paradigm shift can help us connect and to grow closer to someone and build a support system. Slowly, and over time, we can build a new connection to share our work, our setbacks, and our triumphs, all while they feel heard and seen, and we feel heard, seen, and supported. We can now uplift their achievements while finding guidance to reach ours.
A connection win from comparisons!
For the gay man experiencing loneliness
Do you fear being seen, fear being heard and then wonder why you feel lonely and feel that you don’t belong?
I fear that our body image – and the perception that we have of not being attractive/hot/ripped/skinny/hung/big enough – stops us from putting our real, authentic selves into the world.
I struggled with my body image for much of my life. I constantly compared my body to the athletes I saw on TV, the fitness models on the covers of Men’s Health, the men of gay porn and the real-life men I saw around me at the gym and out in the world.
In my mind, I was always the skinny, awkward 14-year-old who equated acceptance and belonging with having a great body and sporting prowess. However, no matter how many push-ups and sit-ups I did, I still didn’t feel like I belonged. So I did more. And more. And yet more.
I got fitter and bigger, but I was never big/attractive/hot/ripped/hung enough to be confident enough to be me and be me in the world. Does this sound familiar to you, too?
In doing Mike Campbell’s coaching course – on which I’m now a coach – I learned the power of a paradigm shift. I learned that I had spent much of my life hating myself into a form that I was never going to be.
I learned that rather than loathing my body, I could choose to love it and accept it for what it was.
It was a powerful shift for me and helped give me the belief that I belonged.
(I’ve got a blog post and a podcast episode on belonging and loneliness that you may also find helpful)
I did an exercise during the program that scared the shit out of me, but transformed how I look at myself. I recall reluctantly looking at my naked body in a mirror at the beginning of the exercise and then marvelling at my naked body by the end. I appreciated that my body - imperfect as it is - is the only vessel I have that gets me through life. It’s the vessel that allows me to explore, engage and be in the world and feel, taste, smell, see and hear everything around me.
I marvel at my body every day since. I love how I can – in my mid-40s – put runners on my feet and go for a run. I can put speedos and goggles on and go for a swim. I can lift heavy things and move my body better than when I could in my 20s.
I focus on how my body feels and keeping it moving and I’ve found that my relationship with how it looks has improved. I finally feel comfortable in myself and in my body, so comfortable that I can engage on The Loneliness Guy socials shirtless and – recently – ventured to clothing-optional beaches and been naked in public. I could not have done that a few years ago.
I understand that advice saying to actively decide to love your body sounds trite and probably a little corny to you if you’re in the depths of the thoughts and feelings associated with poor body image.
So, let’s take a step. I’ve got some questions for you to help get you started:
What’s the status of your relationship with your body?
Does the status of your relationship with your body prevent you from showing up and being seen and heard?
Can you see your body a vessel of awe and wonder as it is right now?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this blog and how you relate to your body affects your ability to connect with your self, those most important to you and to your community.
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This is a big, sensitive topic. You may need some help. That could be me through my mentoring services. That could be a therapist or a counsellor – including a crisis counsellor. That could be a coach. That could be someone in your orbit who you know is trying to put themselves into the world just like you are. It could be a combination of all.
Be sure to check out my resources page if you need help – including crisis help.
You can also join the growing community of other gay men in the exclusive Premium Connection Lounge on Facebook. It's a space for gay men prioritising their connection according to the three pillars of connection. I help the group to set weekly connection intentions, share my own and then help to keep them accountable in a supportive way.
Want to chat more about body image and loneliness? Join me and Mike Campbell for a coffee and a chat in the upcoming episode of my podcast for gay men ‘Connection over Coffee with The Loneliness Guy’ from Thursday 14 April 2022.
Where to now?
Connection is the antidote to loneliness. Join the mailing list (free) or join the premium connection lounge on Facebook (free) and let’s stay connected as we work to de-stigmatise loneliness and promote authentic connection for gay men.
The exclusive group on Facebook is a place where we have regular video chats and help and support each other as we put our real, authentic selves into the world to get the connection we need. We’d love for you to join us!
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Thank you for reading this post. I hope that you’ve found it helpful.
I’m now asking for YOUR help.
Sharing my work really helps it reach more gay men and helps us all to de-stigmatise loneliness and promote authentic connection for gay men globally.
You may not feel lonely and have just the right amount of authentic connection in your life but sharing this article could really help a friend or relative who may be quietly struggling with the thoughts and feelings of loneliness and disconnection.
Indeed, I'm looking to build an evidence base to test the hypothesis that people who share content that de-stigmatises loneliness and promotes authentic connection for gay men globally make better lovers.
Please share this post by email, a message in a chat app or by sharing my post on social media (hit a social media icon below to share) and let me know if the hypothesis is true.
~ Thank you ~
Important notice: All views expressed above are my own/the authors and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Resources page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.