Sometimes I wonder what to write about in my columns. This week, I didn’t have to wonder for long. Two media images hit me over the head like a hammer:
‘We’ve assembled the hottest guys” claims a gay website with a photo of a beautiful young man in a Frankenstein-like laboratory. The image encourages us to see men (and women) as a kind of “machine”…only as good as their assembled parts: Both heterosexual and LGBT media invite us to scrutinize each others’ “parts” and ignore the whole person. Have you ever noticed all the ass or dick pictures on websites like Adam4Adam? We choose our best “parts” and then advertise them in the hopes of finding sex/love/whatever.
A (heterosexual) national men’s magazine gives us this cover line: “America’s New Male Body Obsession: from film to fashion to fad diets”. Reading this, I naively assumed that the magazine would address the sickness of body obsession. How wrong I was! They ENCOURAGE it! I guess I have been working in mental health for too long; I’ve forgotten how print and electronic media will do anything to promote the products of their advertisers.
A healthy body image won’t sell many products. But the “new male body obsession” is a virtual motherload of neurosis, designed specifically to get us to buy stuff: like the cover story says: “from film to fashion to fad diets”. This magazine so graciously points out the movies that we should see to see just what kind of body we should be obsessing over (Ryan Gosling and hunky vampires) and the kind of fashion we need to buy to best advertise that body (Tight clothes. Expensive and uncomfortable). Even after all of this, I still had a fragment of hope that the magazine would debunk some fad diets. But no! They just tell you all the different fad diets you can choose from, and encourage you to buy the books that promote them.
Let’s be clear: this isn’t about self-improvement. It’s about unhealthy, self-absorbed narcissism. To quote the magazine: “look in the mirror…because, in the end, we all want to look as good as David Beckham does in briefs.” Really? Is this a high priority for most men you know? What about qualities like integrity, charm, personality, intelligence, kindness and courage? It’s all about being David Beckham’s body twin. Ugh.
A confession here: I go to the gym regularly, love my yoga and aspire to eat well. But I do it to please myself, stay healthy and feel good…not to look like some celebrity. I don’t think it’s the activities, food or clothes we choose that matter as much as it is our INTENTIONS behind our choice of exercise, diet or fashion.
If you were my client and your intention was to look like Ryan Gosling, I would ask you: Why is this important to you? What do you expect from looking like that? If physical beauty meant automatic mental happiness, I’d sign up too. But, it doesn’t. And physical beauty is temporary. Ryan Gosling won’t look like that forever, but, since he appears to be a young man of depth and intelligence, it probably won’t devastate him.
As men and women – regardless of our sexual orientation – we are being strongly pushed down the path toward unhealthy body obsession and seeing ourselves as a series of attractive or unattractive “parts”. You know the drill: “Oh she has a great ass but her face isn’t so great.” Or “He has a great chest but his legs are too skinny.” Forget the whole person; it’s all about the parts. Dr. Frankenstein, here we come!
Have we really sunk this low? Are we this easily manipulated? Are we really happy to be a “Man Machine” or a “Woman Machine”? Isn’t this what’s called sexual objectification? Ironically, this is what the heterosexual world used to accuse gay men of: obsessing on sex and our appearance? From a mental health point of good, feeling good about how you look is great; feeling obsessed to look like a movie star is not. Once again, fellow LGBTers, it’s up to us to lead the seemingly-disillusioned heterosexual world out of this dead end path.
We are more than good-looking body parts, we are not machines. We are men and women of depth, character and wisdom…and capable of so much more.