I had swapped one form of body dysmorphia for another. First I hated myself for being too fat. Now I hated myself for being skinny. And for still having slight love handles. And for the stretch marks that came from losing weight so fast. And for the fact I was always hungry. The problem was, because of the fact I had been fat in the first place, the amount of work it would take me to get to - and maintain - that ideal bodyshape would be enormous. And so, reluctantly, I came to terms with the fact the ideal was unattainable.
Gay men of my generation have been surrounded by images of the idealised male form our whole adult lives. On the one hand we want that in a boyfriend and on the other, we want it for ourselves. And the two are not mutually exclusive. The assumption is that to get that coveted ripped boyfriend, you have to be ripped yourself and the better you feel about yourself, the more you look down on others who aren't trying as hard as you. It's a constant cycle of placing yourself in a pecking order, surveying the room and thinking "where do I fit here?" I had even come up with a system: Five Leagues of Attractiveness, in which you should aim for a partner within or above your own league. And what was it all based on? Entirely on looks.
Of course not everything can be blamed on the media. Walk down Canal Street on a Saturday night and you'll see men who possess that coveted bodyshape on full display, while those who don't are completely covered up. And even within a relationship, you find men comparing their bodies with each other's; sometimes in a rivalry to look the best, but more often self-conscious because of the issues with own their physique. And that's what I think is the saddest about this culture; the prized goal at the end of all this image-centric body obsession is a relationship that transcends aesthetics... but then people now seem to believe they can't maintain it on love alone. With the assumed probability of a direct body comparison within your own relationship, either by yourself or your partner, how could you ever actually be free of body dysmorphia, even when you've found that boyfriend? Because that was the goal, wasn't it? Or was it?
Of course fashions change and the idealised body image has swung in different directions even over the course of my lifetime. I see pictures of the boys I fancied in the 90s and their skinny androgyny is far from the bronzed and muscular ideal nowadays. For me, now the popularity of the brawny lumbersexual is in full swing, a bodytype that is both attainable and appealing to me is very much in fashion, but why does that matter? Why is there a changeable ideal for the shape of our bodies when surely fashion is about what we wear on them? So I guess we're right back where we started. We find attractive what the media shows us and for the last few years, brawn is back. But how long before it swings back to the emaciated heroin-chic of the 90s? Or the steroid-culture of the late 80s?
Now I'm not going to stop going to the gym anytime soon, nor am I going to say that people should live on a diet of Fray Bentos pies and Penguin bars (yes, this was me at 21), but wouldn't it be nice if people began to change the way they look at themselves? "Fat" is a word so laden with stigma that it's almost become a swearword. So let's stop using it and instead start looking at ourselves as healthy or unhealthy. Because to anyone watching Will & Grace, Will looked like a man who took perfect care of his health. The joke was that gay men hold themselves up to such high standards that they become impossible to achieve... sound familiar? I was straight skinny, but gay fat and still am. But to all intents and purposes I lead a very healthy lifestyle and it's time I took my own advice. Our general health is more important than just the way we look and the irony is, the healthier we are, the better we look and the better we look, the happier we feel. If we really are attempting to feel better about ourselves, then surely this is the best way at looking at things, right? Though I'd sincerely love to be able to practice what I preach.