Body Image

“Gay men spend a lot of time in places that place a premium on physical appearance: bars, gyms, and sex clubs. We live in a sexualized subculture that places a premium on physical beauty, and media and advertising bombard us with images that reflect an impossibly high standard of physical beauty. Under circumstances like these, it’s easy to confuse who you are with how you look”. – Dr. John R. Ballew, 2014.

Body image involves:

  • How we make sense of our bodies visually
  • How we feel about our physical appearance; how we think/talk to ourselves about our bodies
  • Our sense of how other people view our bodies
  • Our sense of our bodies in physical space
  • Our connection to our bodies


Negative body image (not feeling good about ourselves physically, feeling obsessive or compulsive about our bodies) increases the risk for weight and body control behaviors. Some of these behaviours can include: extreme dieting, over-exercise, laxative use, vomiting, smoking and use of anabolic steroids have been associated with negative body image.

Our body image (good or bad) is shaped by a variety of factors:

  • Comments (good and bad) from others about all bodies
  • Ideals/norms that we develop about physical appearance
  • Comparing ourselves to others
  • Exposure to images of ‘idealized’ bodies
  • The experience of physical activity
  • The experience of abuse, including sexual, physical, and emotional abuse
  • The experience of prejudice and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, ability, sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Sensory experiences, including pleasure, pain and illness


The Imagine Men’s Health Study (David Brennan, University of Toronto) was a community-based research study designed to examine 1) body image, 2) health and 3) well-being among gay and bisexual men of colour. Participants indicated that these men (gay/bi) of colour experience body image differently from white counterparts.

Three major themes emerged from the focus groups and interviews with 61 participants:

  1. Men of colour face lots of cultural pressure to meet body image ideals within the predominantly white gay community in Toronto.
  2. Racism and other types of social oppression have a negative impact on men of colour and their well-being.
  3. Men of colour face challenges and show resistance against culturally dominant body image ideals.


Essentially, these men talked about how mainstream (white ideals) about body types had a lasting impact on their own self-image. But, despite this, many gay/bi men of colour are able to resist the pressure to conform to these ideals – this included the experiences of being fetishized and eroticized based on race and body stereotypes.

The GMSH hosted a winter webinar on David Brennan’s research project about body image called: “What’s Body Love Got to do with it?”

Food for thought: feeling good about ourselves and our bodies help the kinds of sex we have.

According to Dr. Ballew (2014), if you are having trouble accepting your body, consider the following:

  1. Take your concerns seriously
  2. Try to re-develop a sense based on all your attributes and values
  3. Try putting your body “back together” – get in touch with it – stretch, yoga, massage, erotic/sensual touch
  4. Indulge in body pleasures like long baths, massage, masturbation, walking/running, dancing, piercing, tattoos, BDSM, etc….
  5. Try to appreciate all body shapes and sizes – avoid negative comments about ‘extreme’ body types – the buff body, the round body, etc….
  6. Seek alternative role models
  7. Pay attention to the way media/advertising portrays/manipulates beauty and uses it to sell products – talk about this with your friends
  8. Challenge homophobia, internalized homophobia and heterosexism!


Ballew, J.R. (2014). Body Image Pressures on Gay Men retrieved from
Brennan, D.J., Souleymanov, R., & Asakura, K. (2013). Colour Matters: Body Image, Racism and Well-being among gay and bisexual men of colour in Toronto – a report of the Imagine Men’s Health Study. The University of Toronto. Retrieved from


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