Gay Men’s Bodily Attractiveness: Why a Higher Standard?

The recent viral online articles, “It Gets Better, Unless You’re Fat” and “A Straight Woman and a Gay Man Talk Body Image,” have garnered much attention in that they both offer novel insight into the difficulties that gay men face regarding their bodily attractiveness.  It is evident that many gay men feel a constant pressure to look a certain way. Some of these idealizations include but are not limited to having six-pack abs, a V-cut body shape, toned arms and legs, and having little to no body fat in the midsection. Although these desired bodily features are not impossible to attain, they become unrealistic in the sense that gay men expect themselves and others (friends and dating partners) to meet these standards. But why is it that gay men feel that they need to meet these specific physical standards? And is it true (as the writers from Slate.com point out) gay men have higher physical attractiveness standards than do straight men or straight women?

physique image

These questions are tricky because there is not just one simple answer. I will point out a two perspectives that might shed light on this issue.

1. Creating a High Standard through Target Marketing

One reason gay men might place such a high premium on their physical attractiveness is that they are constantly being exposed to an ideal. This ideal can be seen in various media and business advertisements targeted towards gay male consumers, and these almost always depict shirtless, muscular gay male models (note the image). It is very common to see this marketing strategy used in the gay community. Many gay businesses, bars, and events utilize the attractive appeal of a male model in order to attract the attention of young, gay audiences. Let’s not forget Grindr! However, by exposing gay men to these ideal standards, gay men may feel a need to change their behavior (exercise, eating, etc.) in order to reduce the discrepancy between how they look and how the standard is supposed to look1. Though, this may be no different from the process that straight women and straight men go through to meet similar standards. For example, straight women are also exposed to fashion and beauty advertisements depicting thin, attractive women. Nonetheless, it is important to note that even though women are constantly striving to achieve an “ideal thin” body size, gay men feel a need to not only be thin, but to also be muscular2. This key distinction may reflect the higher body standards for gay men and the increased pressure to meet these standards.

man in mirror

2. Perpetuating the Standard through Partner Preferences

Although quite intuitive, another reason why gay men may feel a great desire to have an ideal body is to attract high-quality dating or romantic partners. There is evidence to suggest that gay men place exceptionally high value on physically attractive partners, similar to straight men3. Unlike straight men however, gay men have an increasingly difficult time finding a romantic partner because gay men represent a significantly smaller percentage of the population. Imagine taking your potential dating pool and shrinking it by 80-90%. Because of this, gay men may perceive a greater urgency to emphasize their bodily features in order to attract suitable partners that are not as abundant in the general population. In turn, this may cause gay men to be extremely picky when it comes to selecting a partner as well.  For instance, it is likely that a gay man will want to select among other gay men who meet or closely resemble the bodily attractiveness standard. This may cause other gay men (those do not meet or resemble “the ideal”) to feel rejected or generally uncomfortable with their body because they are not able to attract a desirable partner.

Body image is a huge concern among many gay men, and the standards for a desirable body are getting higher. Even though straight women and straight men face similar concerns in regards to their body image, it is important to understand that gay men are under extreme pressure to conform to these standards, which may be the result of the different dating and marketing environments that gay men inhabit.

References:

1. Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (1998). On the self-regulation of behavior. New York: Cambridge University Press.

2. Yelland, C., & Tiggemann, M. (2003). Muscularity and the gay ideal: Body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in homosexual men. Eating Behaviors, 4, 107-116.

3. Bailey, M. J., Gaulin, S., Agyei, Y., and Gladue, B. A. (1994). Effects of gender and sexual orientation on evolutionary relevant aspects of human mating psychology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 1081-1093.

The “Gay or Straight?” Game

One interesting thing about straight women and gay men is their mutual attraction to the same gender. Not do they share an appreciation for attractive men, but they are usually willing to talk about them for hours. When women and gay men get together over coffee, lunch, or dinner, men never seem to get left out of their conversation. While it is true that gay men and straight women can be seen discussing other topics, a great chunk of their time together may be discussing how to snag a guy that they are both checking out.

gay straight game

The Game. For gay men and straight women, one of the more unique and fun aspects about “playing the field” is deciphering the sexual orientation of a cute guy.  When an attractive guy passes this couple on the street, you can almost always expect them to ask one another: “Whoa, do you think he’s gay or straight?” This simple question may turn into a little game for gay men and straight women. Although it is not uncommon for gay men to hope that the attractive man in question is homosexual, rarely do gay men impinge on their female friend’s romantic opportunity if the male in question is in fact heterosexual. The reverse is also true.  Females usually do not encroach on their gay friend’s romantic opportunity with another gay man. In fact, women may find joy in being able to set up their gay friend with another gay man who is attractive1.

“When we walk down the street together, a gay friend will often say, ‘Oh, that guy was checking you out,’ and I’ll say, ‘No, I think he was looking at you,’ and we’ll both walk away feeling better about ourselves.”  (Hopcke & Rafaty, 1999)

Hating the Player and Not the Game. Even though this game can easily be played between two gay men (which is done pretty frequently), a couple of complications may arise. First, gay men may take the game too competitively with other gay men. Imagine an attractive man walking past two single gay friends at the mall. Naturally, both gay men may lock their eyes on him. However, rather than mutually expressing their attraction to this man to each other, one of them may hold back while the other might insinuate asking him out. This may become problematic if both gay men desire this particular man.

Second, gay men may experience hints of jealousy when they play the game with one another.  Because gay men’s mating opportunities are quite limited compared to straight men’s mating opportunities2, gay men may place exceptionally high value on an attractive guy, especially if they are attractive themselves.  If one gay friend is slightly more attractive than the other, the gay friend that is more attractive may have a better chance at “winning” the game. Ultimately, this may cause a sense of tension and jealousy between these two gay men.

References:

  1. Hopcke, R. H. & Rafaty, L. (1999). Straight women, gay men: Absolutely fabulous friendships. Berkeley, California: Wildcat Canyon Press.
  2. Russell, E.M., DelPriore, D. J., Butterfield, M. E., & Hill, S. E. (2013). Friends with benefits, but without the sex: Straight women and gay men exchange trustworthy mating advice. Evolutionary Psychology, 11, 132-147.

Forget Grindr: 3 Ways Women Can Help Gay Men Get Dates

On smartphones, Grindr may provide a useful way for gay men to meet one another, but gay men may also want to consider the help of their female friends. Here’s why:

1) Connection:

One big dating dilemma that gay men have is the difficulty of finding other gay men. Not only must gay men find other gay men who represent a smaller portion of the population, but they also must figure out if a particular man they are interested in is gay or straight. Women may be able to help alleviate this problem. It is very common in this day and age for a woman to have at least one gay friend. Because most straight women love the company of gay men, it wouldn’t be surprising for a gay man to discover that his straight female friend has a connection with another gay man. Thus, gay men may find it valuable to meet other gay men through their female friends1.

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2) No Threat:

One of the most beneficial things for gay men about having female friends is that they are “worry free.” In general, women will not go chasing after their gay male friend’s potential mates, nor will they attempt to sabotage their relationship. Both straight women and lesbian women tend to stay in their own dating lane when it comes to assisting their gay male friends with finding another guy. Even though gay men provide great networking and dating opportunities for other gay men, there is always a hint of competitiveness that may interfere.

3) “Matchmaking Fever”:

It may come at no surprise that straight women love setting up gay men with one another. When women arrive with their single gay friends at a party, gay bar, or special event, they are almost always itching to set each one of them up. Women are not usually shy about approaching an attractive gay stranger to introduce herself and her gay male friend.

“I think it is hilarious when my female friend tries to fix me up with men – particularly since she seems to concentrate solely on looks, ignoring little details like age, intelligence, and employment prospects. But she certainly does know a cute guy when she sees one.” (Hopcke & Rafaty, 1999)

However, many women are more discriminating and have an eye for a gay man her friend might find attractive as a dating partner2.

“I don’t want my gay friends to think I’m just assuming all gay men are compatible with one another. I have introduced larger groups of gay men from different parts of my life to each other, letting my theatre friends meet my other friends at a party, and this has worked better than a one-on-one fix up.” (Hopcke & Rafaty, 1999)

References:

  1. Russell, E.M., DelPriore, D. J., Butterfield, M. E., & Hill, S. E. (2013). Friends with benefits, but without the sex: Straight women and gay men exchange trustworthy mating advice. Evolutionary Psychology, 11, 132-147.
  2. Hopcke, R. H. & Rafaty, L. (1999). Straight women, gay men: Absolutely fabulous friendships. Berkeley, California: Wildcat Canyon Press.