It’s almost summer, and we are officially into Pride Season. Along with hotter months comes, for many gay men, the anxiety of are we “beach ready” in terms of our bodies.
Part of this is fun; it’s a good impetus to motivate us to get in better shape, and it can be rewarding to have a sense of “belonging” in the gay male community by having a good physique. It can be a healthy community ideal to see who can have the best, healthy diet and who can exercise in various ways that pay off in a good physique. But there can be many down sides to this, too, which I work on with my clients in-person in my office. This season can provoke feelings of low self-esteem if your body isn’t exactly what you want it to be. The season can put extra pressure on you to be a part of a larger, gay male cultural norm about body image, and we have to meet this with lots of self-empowerment and critical thinking.
Wikipedia has a great description of the Adonis Complex, with the link below. But I believe there is a huge gray area between a healthy community tradition of good diets/fitness and true Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a serious psychological condition. Many gay men fall somewhere in the middle, and most of us need to remind ourselves of some points to help cope with this.
To make the most of the “Season of Shirtless”, I recommend the following coping strategies to my clients:
1. Accept yourself first for who you are: You are NOT your physique. You are a three-dimensional person, with many different traits and aspects that make you wonderful and interesting. How closely you resemble a magazine fitness model has little to do with your success in life or how happy you are; it’s only one element. It does you no good to hate yourself and beat up on yourself for not looking like a magazine cover. Love yourself first, “warts and all”, then go about making any changes you want afterward with confidence and hope, and a sense of joy.
2. Health First: If you have a great physique and you enjoy this, go for it; relax and appreciate it. But if you don’t, you have to be realistic about what it would take to get it. You might not have the genetics, age, time to exercise, or opportunities to get the exact body you want. Focus on overall health by working with a doctor to achieve the best health state you can; don’t focus merely on external appearance.
3. Have a Plan: If you do want to embrace a plan for weight loss or body sculpturing, do so with realistic goals and in coordination with qualified professionals who can help you. These certainly include your doctor, who can discuss realistic and safe weight loss goals. It can include a personal trainer, if you have the time and money to get one, or trusted books/magazines if you need less expensive instruction and guidance. A therapist can help you with the cognitive (thought patterns) and behavioral (realistic actions) plan, self-motivation, and assessing your self-esteem.
4. Strive for balance: If you want a better physique, you have to balance this with the need for a good career, a safe/comfortable home, adequate leisure activities, good relationships, sound finances, and other demands on your resources of time, energy, and money. Make sure your efforts to improve your physique have their proper place and don’t encroach on other, more important areas of your life that need attention.
5. Keep Perspective: Remember that the gay male community is unusually focused (obsessed?) on youth and beauty. We don’t need to abide by this, except to the extent that we want to. Youth is inevitably fleeting; fitness and health should be a lifetime focus. There is a difference. Focus on healthy and happy first, aesthetics second.
6. Keep Priorities: Recently at the beach, I saw an attractive guy with a great physique — smoking! If you work out, eat right, and then undermine yourself with smoking, drinking, or drugging to excess, you will be pretty on the outside but unhealthy on the inside. Not a good combination. Consider the whole package of what makes you feel good, look good, and BE good in terms of your internal health. Engage in any debauchery in relatively small doses of “selective hedonism” and practice Harm Reduction whenever you indulge any vices (email me for more information on the Harm Reduction work I do with my clients).
Summer is supposed to be a time for enjoying what Nature gives us. Live in gratitude that we can enjoy the Sun, water, warmth and camaraderie of being with others. These are enough; “how you look” doing it is just icing on the cake — or rather, peanut butter on the celery. Gotta watch those carbs.
For help with how you feel about yourself, and how to improve it, I’m here for you — either in-person for counseling or by phone or email consultation (outside Southern California).
Wikipedia Link to the Adonis Complex: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adonis_Complex.
Success Story: You Go, Go-Go Boy!
My client, “Nick”, was a very serious Aeronautical Engineering student. Yes, he really was a rocket scientist. But years of school at a chilly New England campus had left him a little overweight and with a very developed mind and not-so-developed body that got through many year of school on venti coffees and whatever snacks he could find. His career was going great, and he was in a good relationship, in a comfortable home. But he wanted just one more thing: a little brawn to go with the brains. His goal was to dance on a box in a club, like his buddy Charlie, who “ruled” as a local go-go boy. In therapy, I helped Nick identify some realistic short-term goals, referred him to a gay-savvy physician who could advise on the physical goals, and helped Nick stay motivated and focused on what he was trying to achieve. Nick made a plan, and most mornings before his work at an aerospace firm, Nick some kind of exercise: weights, Pilates, cardio, swimming. He enjoyed each one and the varied routine never got stale. Over time, the work paid off. Nervous and apprehensive, he auditioned to be a go-go boy at a new club (there’s always a new club, right?) and to his astonishment, got the job. Work and his relationship prevented him taking too many hours working at the club, but the chance to finally live his dream of dancing on a box after first becoming a rocket scientist made Nick feel like a very well-balanced guy, which made him delighted and proud.
He learned that with help from others, personally and professionally, when he put his mind to something for short- and long-term goals, great things could be achieved.
For Nick, balancing the brains with some brawn made him feel self-empowered in all aspects of his life. And learning the skills of self-empowerment can help you to…Have The Life You Want!
(All depictions in success stories are altered to protect client confidentiality, and include an amalgam of different cases seen in actual clinical practice.)
Watch for my new book, “Self-Empowerment: Have the Life You Want!”, coming SOON