Scrolling through Grindr recently, I confronted an onslaught of the typical sculpted cis white guys that grace most mainstream representations of the gay community. But it wasn't the square photo tile of a Josh, Tyler, or Kevin in my five-mile radius that stopped me in my tracks. It was an ad for a New Year's special, "$500 off your first fat removal procedure."
While I don't shame anyone's right or reason to get cosmetic surgery, It was a bit overwhelming being faced with such a proposition on an app that seemed already intent on toppling my self esteem.
"Body dysmorphia is very prevalent in the gay male community, and this issue has been exacerbated by hookup apps and social media. As a community, we tend to place a focus on how we are perceived by others at the cost of our own internal experience," says queer psychotherapist, Nick Fager, whose practice, Expansive Therapy, focuses on LGBTQ patients.
"This is based on old survival strategies from childhood. Our own internal truth was too dangerous to tap into or reveal, so we began to prioritize others' perceptions of us and became hypervigilant, crafting ourselves for acceptance instead of living authentically. This sets the stage for body dysmorphia later in life because it instills perfectionism. Perfectionists will always find flaws in themselves because if they didn't, their identity as a perfectionist would cease to exist, which is a scary concept."
It's not new information that the gay community has a serious issue with body shaming. Earlier this year, a study by The Trevor Project and the National Eating Disorders Association found that 54 percent of LGBTQ youth had been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and 58 percent of those had considered suicide. God knows I've been turned away by more than one Grindr acquaintance because they weren't expecting the body that sits below my selfies.
But this time of year certainly exacerbates that seasonal sense of body dysmorphia. The entire culture of New Year's resolutions seems to hinge on shallow forms of pseudo self-improvement. And advertisers have only capitalized on this concept more every year.
"It goes beyond health and wellness and taps into our shame, because shame is a more powerful motivator," Fager says. "It's easy to buy into these narratives because they are all around us at this time of year, and they catch us at an especially vulnerable time right after the holidays."
I'm not arguing against self-improvement by any means. And even though you should be able to make that decision at any time of the year, if it takes the first of January to light a fire in you, then why not? But self improvement shouldn't mean changing yourself to satisfy those that tear down that self esteem, let alone should it mean going through such drastic lengths to do so.
If everyone lost the weight they said they would after the New Year, we'd all look like supermodels, and the world would be an episode of Riverdale without the Greg Berlanti aesthetic or the teen soap drama. New Year's resolutions like losing weight are not nearly effective as every body shaming ad for your local large-chain gym would have you believe. Are these marketing attempts really worth your self esteem?
"If you're going to make resolutions, be gentle and kind with yourself instead of harsh and critical," Fager adds. "Make goals that bring you closer to yourself instead of further away, and make them simple and manageable so you don't set yourself up for failure. Creating resolutions that you have no realistic chance of maintaining can be another way that we reinforce our own shame."
If fitness and diet make you feel better, you should pursue that. But self-improvement should mean being healthy both physically and mentally, with more than just the abject, facile goal of firming your abs and ass. It seems a more logical resolution to learn to love yourself at any size rather than to try and change, hoping it will result in a better sense of self worth.