You don’t have to look any further than your Insta or TikTok feed to find an endless sea of men taking shirtless selfies – predominantly showcasing chiselled, perfectly-defined bodies.
The vast majority – and most basic – of these selfies are taken at the gym. The gym selfie seems to have become obligatory for every gay with a gym membership. Beyond the obvious flex of “look how desirable my body is”, there’s also the explicit acknowledgment that it’s muscled physiques that get our attention, it’s muscled physiques that we find sexually attractive, and it’s muscled physiques that are aspirational.
The desirability of a muscled physique is constantly reinforced to us through online dating apps, advertising, and our everyday interactions with other gay men.
While maintaining a toned physique has definite physical health benefits, it seems clear that many gay men are in pursuit of a perfect body not just for the sake of health, but because it has become a gay standard to live up to.
We’re not spending hours in the gym and following a strictly controlled diet so that we can compete in the Olympics, we’re doing it because our sexual currency and our self-worth depends on it.
Having a gym-toned body also intersects with social status. Looking good does not come cheap – achieving and maintaining a muscular physique and a well-groomed appearances requires time and money.
There’s also a fair bit of evidence to suggest that a fixation on having the muscular physique that you feel you should be aspiring to can trigger body dysmorphia. Symptoms of body dysmorphia include depression, poor job performance, sexual anxiety and high-risk behaviours. Some physical issues include steroid abuse, muscle injury, an over-reliance on dietary supplements, and eating disorders. Body dysmorphic disorder is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder – this translates into an obsession with a perfect body through hours spent in the gym and obsessing about food consumed.
The University of Melbourne has launched a study of the body image of gay men, specifically focusing on ‘bigorexia’ – an obsession with achieving a muscular physique.
“There is some evidence that gay and bisexual men are more vulnerable than heterosexual men to eating and body image disorders…” confirms Dr Scott Griffiths from the University of Melbourne. “This also applies to using appearance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids.”
Obviously, there are some gay subcultures that celebrate different body types.
Bears are guys who are big and hairy.
Twinks are guys that are small and slim.
The fetish community is generally more interested in what you’re wearing and what you’re into than how much you’re lifting.
If you love your time in the gym, then that’s cool – you do you. But it’s important to try and keep some balance in your life.
Just because you’ve got the body of an underwear model doesn’t make you an interesting person.
Remember, there’s a lot more to a person than what you see on first impressions.