Homo Erectus: Not Show Ready

By : Dr. Steve Yacovelli
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Steve Yacovelli

Steve Yacovelli

A “bear” in the gay community is a larger gay man who tends to be hairy. A bear isn’t hung up on the svelte, gym-toned, hairless, Abercrombie body—but a natural presentation of their physical selves.

Bears tend to have the healthiest perspective of what an attractive male physique looks like and tends to appreciate people more for who they are versus how many abs they have.

Last weekend a friend had his “Start of the Pool Party Season!” pool party. It’s actually a fun ritual to hang out with friends both new and old and talk without Facebook. But there’s this unspoken rule about looking your best in your T-back during the pool party season.

I was unable to attend but still found myself telling friends who asked if I was going that, “this body isn’t ‘show ready’ yet!”

Body dysmorphic disorder happens when people compare themselves to extremely high standards of physical qualities like the Hollywood-Handsome, the Pornstar-Pecs and the Athletic-Ass…ets and feel inferior.

Many gay men—myself included—are impacted by this to some extent, thanks to the signals we receive through the media featuring the attractive gay couple frolicking in the surf or the gorgeous grooms exchanging vows. Sex and attractiveness sells, and we’re continually bombarded by what gatekeepers “think” the ideal should look like.

A 2011 British study found that 48% of gay males would give up a year or more of their lives in exchange for a “perfect body.”

“Today gay men are under enormous pressure about their bodies, and we believe that a lack of body diversity in the media, including the gay press, and a relentless focus which values people based on appearance, may in part explain why gay men are particularly susceptible to this issue,” explained co-sponsor of the research Rosi Prescott.

And while I question this particular study (pretty tiny sample size), I think Prescott’s point is spot-on.

So with all this pressure for gay men to “look the ideal,” what are we to do? There are three paths all men within our community will ultimately take: strive for that ideal at any cost—the perfect path; work at it but in your own terms—the turtle path; or “Let It Go”—the fuck-it path.

From 7 days a week gym regime to a diet of protein shakes to some more extreme measures, some folks throw themselves down the “I must look perfect!” path. Sometimes people temporarily go on this path to get ready for that annual pool party. One giant pothole on this path is the potential to short-cutting measures like steroids. I know a few acquaintances who—while they have not admitted to me personally in partaking in the ‘roids—suddenly blew up into these HeMan-like physiques seemingly overnight, and you can venture a guess what little chemical had helped.

Then, a few years later they have health issues: heart problems, kidney issues, etc. While no one deserves their body to go against them in these terrible ways, I keep waiting for one of them to say, “Hey kids, I think this situation was caused by me and my quest to get that perfect body by using steroids, so use my experience to learn from.” With the perfect path comes the danger that we must be ideal or we won’t be liked or loved.

The fuck it path should not be seen as a path where folks don’t care about themselves physically. These folks know what they have going for them, where they could improve if desired, but take their body image as it is and to hell with what others say. I think this is the path a lot of my bear friends take, and perhaps the fur and the bellies make them wonderfully immune to the self-imposed pressure to look “perfect.”

Their body image is one of individuality and reality, and I think a lot of us can learn from this perspective.

I think I’m on the turtle path. This path might still have some of the same desired end-game as the perfect path, so I envision it running slightly parallel to it on the road of life but with a difference.

Yes, diet and exercise are part of the path, but so is a realistic expectation on the results. I’m in my 40s. I’m not going to have that 20-something body no matter how hard I try. Nature and genetics are conspiring against me. But I also want to keep my heart in the good condition that it is, I want to remain limber and Gumby-like as I age and I want to retain and gain strength and muscle tone. But also know that the only six-pack this “skinny-fat” otter will own is the one I buy at the closest Wawa. But I go to the gym to be healthy for me, not for pool party season or Gay Days.

There are positives to each path as well as pitfalls. But one must understand why he or she is on a specific path. Are you on the perfect path because that’s what the images say you should be? Are you running down that fuck it path because you’re tired of trying to be on one path and not having success, so you’re giving up? Is the turtle path only a temporary pit stop while you vacillate between the other two paths?

Self-analysis is the key to making sure you’ve a healthy perspective on what you “should” look like, and taking steps to make that path a reality.

As I finish this article, Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” is playing in the background— a wonderful earworm of a tune that honors women’s perception of beauty and how to embrace oneself. Maybe someone needs to write a similarly-themed song for gay boys to the tune that “we’re all always show ready,” no matter what path we’re on.

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