Every year, thousands of gay men vow to transform whatever version of themselves they see staring from the mirror into the body of their dreams. Yet the goals we place on ourselves are often too radical to achieve and we inevitably end up failing. This perpetual loathing of our bodies is because our goal is to never just be fit, but to get that “gym body.”
Quite simply, the difference between a fit and healthy body and a gym body is that the former is achievable by anyone, no matter their genetic disposition, and the latter is an utter fallacy. No matter how buff, no matter how lean, the “gym body” is a never-ending work in progress. And just like anything else that you want so badly but can never attain, the quest for chiseled abs and massive muscles can leave you absolutely miserable.
We’re not all meant to look the same and striving for that look has us trying to cram into boxes we’ll never fit in.
Let’s face it, there is a very small window of variety when it comes to what most people view as the perfect body. But the truth is, the only people who seem to personify the Adonis that many try to be only look that way because of genetics — either that, or they take drastic measures and risk their health (and their hard-on) by using steroids.
Yes, for some, the price of using steroids to be the hottest boy in a tank top comes at a very steep price. For those who aren’t genetically predetermined to have washboard abs or gigantic pecs, the cost for these things may include blurred vision, cataracts or glaucoma, high blood pressure, increase in body hair, breast tissue, osteoporosis, liver cancer, heart attacks, and on and on. Did I mention it could also deform your face? For those living with HIV, the pressure to work out, build muscles — and avoid any suggestion of the wasting that was once a characteristic sign of AIDS — can be even more intense; and even more dangerous.
But when so many of these side effects happen years later, and the pool party is next week, it’s tempting to live for the moment. As a former body-obsessed, gay 20-something, I know all too well how the quest for a perfect body can leave you worse for wear. In my early 20s, I exercised constantly but could never quite get to the size or the shape I wanted. Although I didn’t use steroids, I did use incredibly dangerous over-the-counter prohormones. These pills did exactly what I wanted to do. My muscles grew, my six-pack popped out, and I finally had that “look.” This, however, started the chase of the dragon. No matter how I looked, it was never enough. I was never finished, never enough, and never, ever happy.
My story is a common one. It’s the silent epidemic among gay men, who are six times more likely than straight men to use steroids, abuse testosterone supplements, or locate a doctor who will find the smallest reason to diagnose them with “low T.” Simply put, my genetics told me I was to look a certain way, and I said, “screw that.” Doing so screwed me up in the process. Five years later, I’m finally getting back to good.
Gay men are stereotyped for our bodies and held to an impossible standard of perfection, second only to women. And just like a healthy, inclusive version of beauty is a part of the foundation of women’s rights, a body-positive image of what gay men look like needs to be a part of gay rights.
So what is a fit body, then? It’s hard to define because it is what you look like when you are living a healthy life. It is exactly not what the man across the gym looks like, because you can never look like him. In fact, it isn’t a look at all, but a feeling. A fit body can change, but that change is only the benefit of a healthy mind.
The journey to a fit body and a fit mind never has a stopping point, either. But unlike the journey to the gym body, each day of healthy living can feel like a success all on its own.
It’s time to make every day a victory. Quit worrying about everyone else’s hot ass, and find a way to worship your own.