Off my tits on Lemsip Flu Plus, I battle with body image, media depictions of gay people and so much snot. Not an easy one to get done, this. (And not just because of all the snot.)
A young gentleman invited me round to his house the other day. One of those toned, six-pack sporting sorts of guys. Everything pert and firm and lovely.
We’d been chatting for a while, which is how I prefer to take things when I’m meeting a guy for the first time. I prefer not to rush into these things. I’ve never had much luck with the ‘Hey, I’m horny, let’s meet right now’ approach. I’m never THAT horny, for one thing.
And there’s only so many times you can sit through stories about keeping chickens, or wake up staring into the eys of a portrait of Margaret Thatcher before you learn to balance the desire for instant gratification with a healthy dollop of “Hang on, what if he’s an idiot?” - You’d be surprised how often it comes up, to be honest.
He seems cute, he’s flirty, he’s interest… Oh, wait, no. He has a cat. He’s Mental. Move on.
Besides, I’ve never encountered someone in the ‘horny. Must have sex now’ mindset that was actually in the mood to be fun in bed. The number of times I’ve looked at my watch after that kind of encounter and thought “I could have had a wank in half that time. And it would have been better, too… Pffft. I’ll not bother next time.”
So, anyway, I got to this guy’s flat, he answered the door in a towel. Pert tits and washboard abs on show, as droplets of water ran down his toned skin. He looked at me in the doorway as I smiled and said ‘Hi’... Oh. He said. I don’t think this is going to work. You’re much hotter in your pictures.” and he closed the door.
Which, I suppose, was admirable, in a way. At least he knew what he wanted and wasn’t about to settle for anything less. Had things been the other way around, and I was meeting up with a guy (apparently) less hot than I was expecting, I’d probably have thought “Well, he’s here now, and he looks so keen…” and then had sex with him anyway, out of politeness. I blame my parents for bringing me up with manners.
But he didn’t do that, he stuck by his guns and told me to my face that I wasn’t hot enough for sex with him. So, off I went. It hurt for a little while, if I’m honest, but I did my best to be philosophical about it. No-one is everyone’s cup of tea, and if everyone I fancied fancied me back, I’d ‘ve died of exhaustion by now.
I think I was mostly annoyed at him implying I was sending misleading photos, as I always keep them quite up to date to avoid stuff like this. No point pretending I’m hotter than I really am, because this sort of thing happens when you meet up in person.
Anyway. He’d sent me lots of photos of him not wearing much, so I went home and looked at those for a while. Like I say, it was probably better than the real thing.
For a normal person, this would probably have been the start of a spiral into depression, or a Rocky-style hardcore workout montage, but I’ve never quite mastered ‘normal’. Thing is, I’ve never really been happy with my body in the first place, so it’s not like someone else having the same reaction shocked me very much. I’m not going to say I’m ‘big boned’, but I do have quite a barrel chest, so clothes don’t always fit me that well, shirts do that annoying ‘gape’ thing around the buttons, or I buy a bigger size and then they’re and I’ve always been conscious of feeling bigger than my ‘skinny’ mates.
I remember once being laid in bed with a young man, and as he looked at my body, he said ‘Wow, you’re so… 3D!” which is a nicer way of putting it than I had thought of up to that point...
When I turned 30, I did start eating healthily and exercising. Not because of guys like the one I mentioned, but because of me. Facebook started doing that ‘Memories’ thing and showing me photos of myself in my 20s (I cringed so hard I nearly dislocated a shoulder) and realised that I didn’t want to look back when I was old and nearly dead of photos of myself in the prime of my life and think “Is that the best I did with that body?”. So yeah, I work out. I eat healthily. But not so you’ll sleep with me. This is pure vanity.
I dated, all too briefly, a guy with a really hot body once. Seriously, he was perfect to look at - there was not an angle from which he wasn’t stunning, and I checked. I remember sitting with him once, on a beach, him looking bronzed and pert, catching the eye of all the other hotties around us, while I sat next to him and tried not to blind anyone as the sunlight reflected off of my super-white skin…
As we sat in this perfect place, I asked him if there were any part of his body that he didn’t like. He looked at me funny, snorted and said “All of it?” as if this were the most obvious thing in the world. And if this ridiculously hot man wasn’t happy with his body, what hope was there for me?
Eventually I realised that the problem isn’t my body. It’s my head.
And still now, almost 4 years later, when I look at myself in the mirror, all I see is a pale, saggy, squidgy lump. Oh, I can see the difference to the bigger, squidgier lump that was me in my 20s, but on the inside, nothing’s changed.
But then I realised that that’s exactly what we’re supposed to think. Everywhere I looked on TV, in films, magazines, everywhere, were beautiful sculpted adoniises. Adonae? Adonii? All of them screaming that we shouldn’t be happy with the bodies we have, instead we’re constantly told to compare ourselves to other, near-impossible ideals and be aiming for that. Because, as with everything, if we’re happy with what we have, then we won’t want to buy anything new.
I can understand it with stuff like TVs, although I don’t personally care, I can see how it works: You’ve got a TV. But is it flatscreen? Is it HD? Is it a Smart TV? Is it 4K? What about 8K?
But to start thinking about your body like that is incredibly unhealthy - lose some weight, get fitter, get a six pack, get bigger arms, run a marathon, wait, no, because somehow that’s soft. Do a Tough Mudder because that’s more manly and on and on.
Magazines like Men’s Health telling us how to get abs in 6 minutes a day. Which is really a brilliant bit of mind-fuckery, because the implication there is it’s your fault you don’t look like the guys on our magazines. As if there’s no excuse why we’re not all muscle-bound hunks, because it’s so easy when you follow our 5-step programme…
Problem is it’s not as easy as that, of course. If any of their articles worked the way they claim, that magazine would have gone out of business years ago - they’d have had nothing new to write. The idea isn’t to attain what they’re selling, but to keep us chasing it, so we’ll keep buying their products.
And gay magazines are, if anything, even worse.
Growing up on the mean streets of Doncaster, I didn’t really have any kind of role models in terms of what a gay man looked like. I was 17 before Queer As Folk came along, and even then, the young gay man was blonde-haired, blue-eyed and slim, toned muscle. So for a while, Gay magazines were the only representation of what happy gay people looked like was the superfit perfectly-styled 20-year olds laughing while posing in designer underwear.
Recently, someone must have got a message through to whatever A-Gay runs one of those mags, as they did a ‘Real Bodies’ issue. Well, the message got half of the way there, at least. Maybe it wasn’t covered in enough protein powder to get all the way into his brain, as they put Tom Daley on the cover. Tom Daley the Olympic athlete. On the cover of their ‘real bodies’ issue.
But it’s ok because in the interview he did explain how people shouldn’t feel bad when they don’t look like him because he’s trained 6 days a week for the past 20 years. And I get that his body is ‘real’ in that he hasn’t had anything surgical done to look that way, but I think they’re still stretching the definition a bit.
Where are the skinny boys who look like the bastard son of a toast-rack and a deckchair? Where are the curvy boys? The ones with a little podge, or more than twelve body hairs? The ones who you wouldn’t describe as ‘stunning’, but you’d probably snog with if they bought you a drink...
The thing, the really stupid thing, around the idea of body image is the way we can’t win - shamed if we don’t work on our bodies, but then if we do, words like ‘manorexic’ get thrown around, and to anyone who uses that word, I would say: Go fuck yourself.
It’s bad enough that young people nowadays are struggling with a weird and skewed sense of masculinity and have to deal with this idea that their body is a commodity, and if it’s not up to standard then it’s ok to shame them about it, but then to flip a table and shame those who actually do make an effort to reach this stupid and unattainable goal of the ‘perfect’ body by accusing them of the height of vanity is hypocritical and downright dangerous.
I work out because it makes me feel good. Then I go home and eat my bodyweight in pizza, because that makes me feel good, too. And, if in between those two activities, there’s a friendly young man or three who want to join me in the showers, then that’ll make me feel good too. And, since I’ve made my peace with not having that perfect body, I’ll seduce them with my charming penis and enormous personality.