The internet is a place of entertainment and outrage these days. Its power has brought forth the best and the worst amongst us. But for queer people, it has also been a space of community, where we can share our culture and come together. This is especially important when our day-to-day lives may be lacking that representation and sense of belonging many of us need to survive.
For gay men in particular, however, it is also a wellspring for validation. From Instagram to Twitter to LinkedIn, gay men have long used the internet to seek the approval of their peers. Our individual problems, we believe, can be at least temporarily resolved as long as we get enough likes on our selfie to make us feel secure enough to leave the house. The problem is that the validation primarily operates in a system that reinforces whiteness, having abs, and distinct masculinity as the things that are most desirable.
This gay body fascism has been reinforced community-wide through queer publications and a nightlife culture that tells gay men their worth is determined by their race, waist size, and their proximity to masculine beauty standards displayed by straight counterparts. Representation of alternative body types is practically nonexistent, and they remain widely uncelebrated. If anything, subcultures and communities outside of mainstream queer representation (bears, cubs, etc.) are pilfered or fetishized by those who are not a part of them.
With growing awareness of this underappreciation and marginalizing of queer bodies that aren’t deemed “beach bodies,” gay men on the internet have taken the initiative to create a new normal. Those of us with large body types are feeling comfortable celebrating who we are using words like “THICC” and “chunky” in captions or even just celebrating our bodies as a point of gay pride. This growing trend in gay body positivity has made a space for fat, chunky, or thick queers to garner the validation and likes only previously issued to those who have substituted creatine and racism for calories.
The pervasiveness of these toxic body fascist ideals, however, has become more apparent as these muscle bound gay men have now begun to gentrify body positivity. We see tweets of gays with six packs and 32” waistlines calling themselves “thicc,” and even those who complain about how they can’t fit old clothes because they’ve gained so much weight (which the photos reveal are just pounds of muscle). By co-opting terms like thicc, fat, and chunky for their own shirtless selfies, they have taken words historically weaponized against other gay men that are under reclamation to be seen as a point of pride to center themselves. This act makes non-muscular gay men feel on the sidelines for being who they are; it maintains supremacy by affirming a body type they don’t have and redefines a movement’s words to make it applicable to themselves.
It’s either the relaxation or the rosé, but this vacation has me loving my body. So gay twitter better be prepared for it pic.twitter.com/jnafqIDY70
— Kevin Atkinson (@IKEAtkinson) May 21, 2018
What’s even more insidious about this behavior is that it’s part of a need for constant validation, because they also want to be reminded that they aren’t thicc, fat, or chunky. They’re looking to be reaffirmed that their bodies are worthy and “summer ready,” even if it comes at the expense and degradation of others.
The byproduct of all this is not just the lowered self-esteem of those who now feel ostracized from their own identifiers, but the exacerbating of it under the guise of body dysmorphia without accountability. So often, gays who claim body dysmorphia and body positivity go hand in hand don’t take into account that, well, they really actually don’t, especially when you’re using one to perpetuate the other. The thing is, the idea that “I have body dysmorphia so I need to post selfies for validation, to ‘check in’ and you shouldn’t begrudge me for that” is absolutely right, but only in that very narrow capacity and that narrow capacity alone.
Shawn Mendes is one thicc bih pic.twitter.com/rJfym16moR
— Shawn Mendes Spotify (@shawns_spotify) June 1, 2018
There is seldom any accountability and discourse about how those very gays commit the same infractions they claim to be victims of. The “pretty” (usually white) gays that have risen to whatever level of social media attention people have found themselves complaining about have managed to capitalize on a source of validation others can’t. Worse, their actions of gentrifying body positivity for themselves show they don’t want others with bodies not like theirs to capitalize on that validation. They only dole out that validation and support to bodies that look like theirs or that look the way they aspire to for themselves; an exclusionary practice that is definitionally not body positive.
In order to overcome these obstacles, we as a community must discuss and reconcile with the fact that we operate and exacerbate a system that socially pressures individuals and appraises our community value based on our bodies. We have to stop the toxic cycle that contributes to more and more gay men suffering from this pressure and subsequently body dysmorphia. The problem is that once we do, the validation and attention stops carrying the clout it currently has. That reality is frightening and too much to bear for many who don’t know who they are without it.
Gays on both sides struggle with this issue. We’re all conditioned, partly through our own doing, to pick apart not only our own bodies but those of others; to aspire past where we currently stand because our entire social capital is reliant on it. These ideals benefit on a privileged few and make them villains of a story we all wish would come to an end. In thinking about pride, we need to make sure that we’re able to exert that pride inside and out and allow it in others. In fact, we should aim to bring it out in others.
Image via Getty