Like many stories about weight and queerness, the battle over my body started at an early age. I have been chubby since I can remember, but it was not until middle school that weight became an issue. I began to weigh myself daily. I would sneak into my parents bathroom, strip naked, step on their battery-operated antique and zealously wait for the numbers to appear. This happened for years—complete with yo-yo dieting, body dysmorphia and chronic probes of my full-length mirror. Then I left high school, moved out of home, accepted myself for who I am, and came out as gay. Briefly arrested by the idea that coming out would invariably lead to romantic and personal fulfilment, a new pressure to inhabit a certain archetype consumed me.
Coming out entices immediate interest (even fetishisation) within the LGBTIQ+ community. The more I immersed myself, the more I felt a crippling desire to conform to a certain lean and muscular physique to achieve the ‘ideal’ body. Queer people are often sexually objectified, with much more attention paid to our appearances in the media and society.
This puts a lot of pressure on how we view our bodies—biceps, jawlines, cheekbones, body hair, physique definition, waist size, abs—everything is placed under an erotic and microscopic gaze. With this sexual objectification comes dangerous coping mechanisms for queer men: binging, purging, bulimia and obsessive body checking. Marginalised via social exclusion and homophobia in broader society, the rigid ideals of beauty and attractiveness within my own subculture made me revert to the mirror; not in vanity, but in sadness. If you are overweight in our community, you become invisible.
Not being able to love and accept yourself personally, especially in your own relationships, is an additional and arduous challenge. Until recently, there has been very little research into the intersection between body issues, diverse sexualities and relationships—even less so for non-binary and transgender people, who face unique challenges around image and weight anxieties, and deserve more attention.
Alex Day, a psychology honours student at UNSW, found that both homosexual and heterosexual men receive more negative weight commentary than lesbian and heterosexual women. The study researched the connection between relationship dissatisfaction and body perception, sampling homosexual and heterosexual men and women.
Measuring on a ‘never to always’ scale, the questionnaire asked participants to identify with statements such as “I’m preoccupied with a desire to be thinner” and “I wish I was muscular”.
In calculating the pressure to be thinner, the study found that men prefer slender and more attractive partners. Women did not have as much of a preference on their partners’ appearance, and received less negative weight commentary than men, particularly in the lesbian sample.
In the responses of homosexual men, their partner’s muscularity, weight and appearance were pivotal to their relationship satisfaction. This reflects the very internalisation of socio-cultural ideas around the ideal body shape within the gay community. While concerns about body image have traditionally been associated with women, the study reflects that gay men are also at risk for body dissatisfaction and the development of disordered eating.
My first relationships, both casual and long-term, were sources of self-esteem. They were healing, therapeutic and an explicit reclamation of a sexuality and a body I was now ready to express. Yet, weight perception is regrettably associated with partner preference.
In my experience, the sharing of queer bodies and experiences through same-gender comparisons can cause subtle competition and self-consciousness. Working out together, sharing clothes and styling each other all offer arenas for commentary.
As a community founded on inclusion, the irony of pervasive fat and femme shaming is not lost on me. The assumption that the safety of coming out is assured in the post-plebiscite world is wishful thinking, and queer teenagers deserve spaces where they can unashamedly embrace who they are, regardless of their bodies. In our bars, on our apps and in our relationships, we must realise that perfect bodies do not exist, and we are all so much more than the skin we occupy.