It’s a balmy night in 2014.
I am at an LGBT party in the suburbs with a drink in my hand and grinding couples on the side. I feel a tap on my shoulder. It’s Daniel, an American expat who moved to the city almost a decade ago. I smile.
Our relationship can be summed up by ‘pokes’ and staggering witty banter on Facebook. It’s one of many dalliances I’ve had that die an early death, even before numbers can be exchanged. He squints at my face.
“You look a lot different than in your pictures; have you been drinking a lot?”
I suck in my stomach and my self-respect. Is it that last French fry that I just popped into my mouth? Is it too much alcohol? Is it too less sleep? A heavy bone structure? Just bad genes? Or simply the fact that I have my heart in my throat?
I mumble out a lame excuse and blend myself with the background. Daniel busies himself with a pretty boy by the bar, as I exit out of my guest-starring role in their soon-to-be love story. I can walk back home in shame, but this is 2014, and I don’t have a Fitbit to count the calories I will burn.
If you are a human being who wasn’t born with a set of six packs to flaunt at the beach, you’ve probably witnessed it firsthand — every gay man has either been at the receiving or serving end of body shaming (or sometimes even both) — it’s like Mean Girls but with men. Don’t believe me? Just walk into the next LGBT party.
Or simply log into Grindr.
You’ll hear a storehouse of excuses. He’s too fat. He’s too thin. He’s too skinny. He’s too chubby. He’s too square — the entire concept of the perfect body is almost as fictitious as Donald Trump’s chances of winning the presidential election. (I wrote this before the results were out, sadly). While the glorification of the male body has always been an important part of gay culture, social media is partly to blame. Hiding behind Instagram edits and Snapchat filters, it only becomes easier to project the most perfect versions of ourselves. Plus, you can do this while scoping out the competition and secretly judging everyone who doesn’t look good in a tank top (Side note: I have a love-hate relationship with tank tops. I’d love to wear them, but they hate me.)
As a self-deprecating, but self-loving gay man, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t done the same. Are we trained to put the more gym-toned, ripped men at the top of the pedestal, at the very height of the LGBT food chain (right next to the celebrity A-listers)?
We pump ourselves with protein supplements, count our meals by calories and sync our steps with fitness apps, while laughing at the ones who don’t. Think of it this way: Every time you do, more and more men are pushed back into oversized cardigans and Internet diets. More and more men are pushed into eating salad as an actual meal.
Let’s be honest.
It’s body shaming and we do it to each other and ourselves. It might be in the form of ribald jokes at the gym, hushed whispers at a party or drunken barbs on a date, but it still doesn’t change the fact that these are negative connotations that single-handedly target someone’s image issues.
Fawad, a business mogul, moves between London and Bombay every other month — his hectic life keeps him busy enough to not bother himself with weekly dates, but he still partakes in the occasional drink. Unlike Daniel from 2014, Fawad is a friend. A friend who told me about a date that went disastrously wrong.
“What else would you call a fat person, if you don’t call them fat? Cellulite isn’t sexy,” he scoffed. Clearly, the date in question wasn’t an Abercrombie & Fitch underwear model.
I gently push away the pizza we are sharing. Four hundred calories that’ll never help me find true love. Fawad, with his fitted shirts and angular cheekbones, on the other hand, has it all. Apart from my respect in the given situation.
“I don’t see what the problem is,” he says nonchalantly, sipping on his gin and tonic. But one wouldn’t expect men who wear fitted shirts to understand the problem in the first place.
Body shaming in the gay world is as serious as global warming — think of people’s feelings as the ozone layer. You are depleting them, and you aren’t helping the world by doing so. Want to do your bit to change the world? The next time you even think you might be body shaming a fellow gay man, just make sure you aren’t saying any one of these things:
“I feel so fat. Do I look fat today?”
“You probably shouldn’t be eating that…”
“Those pants don’t look good on you at all. What were you thinking?”
“Did you see the love handles on that one? I swear he had a muffin top…”
“‘You want to get with someone? Why don’t you just lose a little weight?”
“His ass is flatter than a plasma TV.”
“I swear he had boobs.”
“I wish I was as skinny as you, damn. I wish I was anorexic.”
“He gained so much weight after we broke up. I clearly won the relationship.”
“… At least you are not a twink!”
Let’s face it, we come in different shapes and sizes, and it’s unfair to think that we can be all cast from the same mold. Whether you are skinny and thin, big and muscular or a Venti and decaf (that’s just my coffee order), you need to know that everyone is unique in their own way — the first place to start over is your dating profile. What you say out aloud or through those 250 characters can say a lot about you. After all, when you say “No fats, no femmes” on your Grindr profile, you aren’t critiquing the kind of men you wouldn’t want to charm over dinner, you are critiquing yourself.
After all, we don’t need to pack ourselves with protein, boys, we just need to pack ourselves with positivity. And that’s something you can share over a plate of fries.