Recently, we talked about eating disorders in the LGBTQ community through a body-positive framework. This week, we continue the discussion by focusing on gay and bisexual men and plastic surgery.
In a society where the pressure to be fit and good looking increases with age, it’s easy to fantasize about plastic surgery as picking up the slack where gym memberships won’t. And if you’re a gay or bisexual man used to navigating a world full of obstacles—and take your pick, they’re out there—the road to plastic surgery is practically yellow brick. LGBTQ friendly plastic surgeons are eager to cater to the community, often with niche offerings. Given the fierce pressure for fitness and health within the gay community, “beauty lies within” starts to resemble an outdated, home-grown adage.
Plastic surgery’s popularity in the male gay community is on the rise. But the relationship between plastic surgery and body image remains unclear. Can it help with a body image related issue, hurt it, or leave it in neutral territory? This article will explore plastic surgery in the male gay community, so that you can understand how it affects you and whether or not to receive it.
The Rise of Plastic Surgery in the Male Gay Community
The conversation on plastic surgery in the male gay community is undeniably wound up in the issue of body image. A study by Gay Times found that 59% of gay and bisexual men feel pressured to resemble the images of highly fit models that sit on newsstands. Of those same men, 30% had botox, 23% laser hair removal, and 17% had received liposuction. Additionally, 25% had tried diet pills. Another 10% had taken laxatives, and 15% said they had tried vomited after eating.
These behaviors, which range from benign to harmful, must be understood in the context of the male gay community as a whole. An article by the Atlantic entitled “The Tyranny of Buffness” describes how “gay men on average tend to experience more body dissatisfaction than heterosexual men.” The article explores different arguments for this dissatisfaction. Perhaps the AIDS epidemic left the queer community wary of thin, underfed physiques. Perhaps the media is to blame for propagating stereotypes of the buff, hyper-sexualized gay man. Whatever the case, the bottom line remains: “the tendency to conflate muscularity and masculinity is widespread throughout gay culture.”
As a result of this conflation, while certain subcultures like the bear community celebrate big men, mainstream gay culture tends to to shun them. Many gay and bisexual men desire more chiseled physiques and features, and will use plastic surgery as a measure to obtain it. The question is: does it help?
When Plastic Surgery Helps, and When it Just Hurts
Research suggests that the dividing line for plastic surgery’s effect is less about the surgery than it is a person’s underlying self-esteem. A study published by The American Psychological Association says that plastic surgery can have positive outcomes, such as improvements to body image and quality of life. Men whose bodies have changed considerably due to weight loss, aging, or other factors, may find that plastic surgery provides a boost for attaining the physique they desire.
However, people who “hold unrealistic expectations or have a history of depression and anxiety” are more likely to experience poor outcomes. These are the patients who receive the same surgery over and over again, never liking the results, or receive a new face altogether. These individuals may be dealing with deeper body image issues, including body dysmorphia. They won’t necessarily feel happier or more fulfilled after a procedure, because the underlying reasoning is ultimately an emotional and psychological issue—not a physical one.
If you want to get plastic surgery, there are a few questions you can ask yourself. Has my body undergone major changes recently? Or do my insecurities control what I see in the mirror? If so, would spending time learning about myself and my environment help alleviate these issues? Or do I feel a deeper sense of anxiety, uncertainty, or even depression over how I look? If you feel that your answers skew towards the latter, then be aware that plastic surgery won’t alleviate those feelings in the long term.
How to Decide if Plastic Surgery is For You
Ultimately, plastic surgery can only enhance the inner work you’ve done towards loving and accepting yourself, and not the other way around. If you’re feeling insecure about the way you look, take a step back to examine these feelings, and where they’re coming from. Just because society sends a message of hyper masculinity as desirable, does not mean you have to try to fit that mold. Keep in mind that if you feel pressured by your community, family, or loved ones to look a certain way, and that pressure brings you down, there are other men who hear that same message and feel the same way. Choosing to embrace your body can empower not only you, but other men as well. Taking a stand to be comfortable in your skin is the first step towards helping others do the same, and giving that message less power.
On the other hand, it’s your right to be comfortable and stand proud about the choices you make for your body. No one should judge or shame you for choosing to exercise, eat well, or get plastic surgery if it’s what makes you feel good. The most important thing to keep in mind is to be aware of when this behavior stems from places of deeper inadequacy. In these instances, actions taken to curb that negative feeling—whether it’s botox or exercise or diet—won’t resolve that underlying conflict. If anything, blindly following these impulses to look and feel a certain way will only feed that negative feeling. The shame that you feel about yourself will find another thing to latch onto once you solve the specific problem you are focusing on, until you turn and face that shame and work through it in a safe and supportive environment.
If you feel intense dissatisfaction with your body, there’s a chance that you’re suffering from body dysmorphia or another body image issues. In these cases, it’s wise to consult a therapist or other professional help.
Lighthouse is proud to offer a wide range of LGBTQ affirming providers who can help individuals who are struggling with body image related issues, from low self esteem to body dysmorphia. These professionals will affirm and understand what you’re dealing with in a safe and supportive environment. Click here if you would like to connect with one of our providers.