The Perfect Body
As many of you may have read, in a study from the UK, almost 50% of gay men in the survey said they would sacrifice one year of their life for the perfect body. What an alarming indication of the emphasis on extroverted physical values to feel attractive and worthy of attention. Yet I would suggest that this reveals a tragically missed deeper soulful meaning about ourselves as gay men that is needed to stand up against a fiercely consumeristic, one-sided body-centered narrative of gayness that often masks the anxiety-ridden lonely existence so many gay men experience.
When I came out and started going to the gym in my 20s, I was shocked to see my body respond noticeably to a rigorous workout regimen of weights, running, and nutritious eating. Soon, in the mirror I saw a muscular smooth body that made me feel more desirable and got me more attention at the gym and gay clubs. What a change to start feeling good about myself. My growing muscles and desire for the perfect body defined me, albeit anxiously, as a gay man someone would want to be with. In hindsight, this became in part, an unconscious effort to make unprocessed loneliness, inferiority and self-loathing, go away.
We gay men grew up with different versions of relentless daily brainwashing from families, schools, classmates, religion that we were bad, deserved being picked on, and/or that we were effeminate, sissies, and not masculine. The psychological trauma to our sense of self and self- worth was severe, brutal and soul-crushing. This filtered down to our relationship to our bodies. As a young gay boy, my lack of interest in sports and awkward self-consciousness in “normal” (code for heterosexual) boyish play was one big arena where constant comparing instilled deeply embedded shame with a fear of being found out for who I really was.
To survive these traumas we formed powerful defenses and armor that don’t just go away when we come out, because the underlying feelings don’t just go away feelings of emptiness, toxic shame, fear, isolation, and hurt/rage that we had to shield ourselves and others from. Very understandably, we might want to leave all that behind us and feel good about ourselves. Yet too much focus on physical appearance as the leading aspect of self-assurance and pride in our gay identity ignores those old hurts and repressed feelings that don’t just melt away like body fat. All the perfect muscles can too easily become, in part, another kind of armor. A more wholesome self-care calls for a physical workout that allows us to take care of our bodies in healthful supportive ways, along with a healing inner workout engaging the mind, emotions and heart.
What would gay-centered inner work look like? The empowerment we seek through a hot buff body would get grounded in an understanding that psychological life inside the mind is real, just as real as our physical experience of ourselves. From a Jungian and gay-centered psychological lens, we can actively imagine the yearning for that beautiful handsome man that makes our hearts go pitter-patter and our groins ache also symbolizes an erotic gay soul inner figure sourced within us, where our homosexual being is inherently powerful, worthy, loveable and not because my well-trained body or the perfect boyfriend will make me feel this way.
When we think our self-esteem requires us to actually look like a Tom of Finland character, or have a boyfriend that looks like a hot porn star, we are literalizing a psychological projection of a hot soulful felt experience to be found within us! These projections aren’t meant to be actualized physically in order to feel worthy and loved, yet this misperception explains how we can get caught in an obsessive search for physical beauty in either how we look or what we want that elusive special man to look like. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t workout or that we don’t deserve to find another man to explore love with. As important as a regular workout schedule, holding onto this powerful mysterious soul figure image as a representative of a numinous relationship within ourselves takes dedicated effort in ongoing inner work because internalized homophobia has convinced us that
we are not loveable. This inner critic repeatedly screams out that we are hopeless losers, and that to feel worthy we must meet a shame-driven unachievable standard of perfection.
Current body fascism expects perfect pecs and abs and overlooks the greater and richer complexities of a psychologically and spiritually embodied gay self. This distorted emphasis on appearance is sourced in a homophobic lie betraying true gay love by insisting that a life of meaning, romance and love exists by only protectively keeping it all on the surface and that we just “let go of the trauma and pain of growing up gay by bypassing difficult feelings and our perceived self-defectiveness.
By empathically confronting and challenging these negative thoughts and beliefs, this hot inner soul buddy can inspire us to balance out a physical workout with a gay-centered inner work process where we courageously begin to integrate shadowy split off parts and powerful feelings we previously tried to avoid with extra sets and more weights. Often requiring a therapist who shares this vision, as we develop inner muscles to integrate the gay shadow within, our libido brings authentic aliveness and vitality not through pumped up externally based efforts, but from a soulful place of meaning that recognizes untapped potentials in homosexual personhood. Celebrating our bodies and sexuality can now include real romantic love that takes us into a magical visionary relationship with our whole feeling life, one that might be shared with another man engaged in his own journey of the gay self, and that this soulful transformation within the gay heart is the real wish behind the desire for the perfect buff body.
Published on: The Fight Magazine
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© 2016 Thomas Mondragon