It’s no secret that gay men are particularly susceptible to the myth of the ideal body, which is further exacerbated by mass and social media. Who better, then, to speak about body-image issues than gay men whose very livelihood is dependent on perceptions of their physique? These five fitness experts may possess the markers we now use to define beauty (desirability, Instagram followers), but they’re still not immune to societal pressures or bouts of insecurity. Here, they discuss how exercise can build not only your body, but your confidence.
Kevin Carnell, Model: At 19, I was newly out, trying to figure out who I was, and sleeping with guys in the hopes that their attention would fulfill me. I needed to find a way to love and embrace myself without sexual validation. I set a goal, prioritized my mental and physical health, and started from within. I promised myself I was worth more, and fitness helped me to realize that.
Dave Coast, Founder, The Healthy Camper: After coming out, I decided it was a good idea to get a personal trainer. I wanted to get big. I gained 40 pounds in six months and was teetering on 200 pounds, then it finally occurred to me: I was worried people would perceive me as weak because I was gay, so I’d gotten big to make sure that never crossed their minds. I realized what I was doing, quit the trainer, started running, and returned to my natural body weight.
Jared Keith Lee, SoulCycle Instructor: I’ve always been naturally small, and I had little to no luck attracting men I was interested in. Fast-forward to me working out and putting on muscle: I began to learn that the insecurities that plagued me before the fitness didn’t go away. I tell my clients that the change we seek in our bodies is secondary to the changes that manifest in our attitudes. We need to focus on the relationship we have with ourselves.
Cody Rigsby, Peloton Instructor: It’s so easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves to images we see. I remind myself that Instagram is about good lighting and perfect angles. Also, the way people use Facetune would lead you to believe everyone has a degree in graphic design.
Matty Maggiacomo, Master Instructor/East Coast Marketing Manager, Barry’s Bootcamp: Base your body goals on an old photo of yourself, when you felt you were at your physical peak—not on magazine covers or social media—and do your best to achieve more. Don’t compare yourself to someone who isn’t you.
KC: My fitness mindset is built on realistic goals. I don’t think about numbers, measurements, or what someone else looks like. I think about how I feel. I’ve pushed myself to try different things, ask questions, and seek advice to figure out new methods to keep my body guessing, but I’ve also taken time to mentally reinforce the fact that my body doesn’t define me.
MM: It’s important to try everything—group fitness, yoga, competitive sports —to understand which part of fitness you love the most. If you don’t love it, you’ll do it begrudgingly, or not at all.
DC: The advice I constantly give myself is to work out to feel strong, increase flexibility, and spend time outdoors. That's why I love hiking, running, and yoga. I’ll never have the “perfect” body, but I’m grateful to be in a place now where I feel healthy in my own skin.
MM: Perfection is impossible. It’s better to concentrate on whether or not you’re living a healthy life and being genuine.
JKL: I’ve come to the conclusion that being happy isn’t a moment in time at which you magically arrive—it’s a conscious decision you have to make every day