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  • Al Jennings

"No fats, no femmes" - Fat Shaming in the LGBTQ Community

I don’t pretend to be something that I’m not. I’m very realistic about myself and I know that I’m no oil painting. I’ve had issues with food for many years – going all the way back to when I was a child. It took a long time for me to understand them and to finally do something about it.


This was about 18 months ago. I was at my lowest point. I weighed about 25 stone and I hated everything single thing about myself. I had just had a completely fantastic weekend in Brighton celebrating Pride and watching Kylie Minogue belt her way through two hours of hits. I remember sitting on the train back home and thinking that; I although I had met and had been surrounded by an incredible bunch of people, I couldn’t help but feel completely alone and isolated from the rest of the community.


In the gay community there are such high expectations and to fit in, you have to look a certain way. To be accepted by the community, you have got to have washboard abs and an amazing physique. That is just the way things are – or, at least, that was the way I perceived it to be. I haven’t been always this shallow-minded. There was a time that I thought that the gay community was an accepting place to be. That all shapes, colours and sizes were welcomed. That is what the gay community seemingly promotes; an all-inclusive, welcome and non-judgemental space to be who you want to be. I guess - I’ve learnt over the years that, this is in fact bollocks.


I’ve spent so many years hiding my flaws away from the world. From buying clothes that are about three sizes too big, to actively working out ways to hold my stomach in when in public or standing for photographs. Every conceivable way of hiding myself, because I’ve felt ashamed. I have felt ashamed for being who I was, and a part of that shame was actively hiding my true self away from the world.


Fat shaming isn’t a new phenomenon, especially within the gay community. It is something that is rife. Body issues aren’t unique to gay men, but toxic thoughts that have an impact on your self-worth and physical care are so widespread within the MSM community that a dangerous precedent is being set. Queer psychotherapist, Nick Fager, whose practice, Expansive Therapy, focuses on LGBTQ patients has said “Body dysmorphia is very prevalent in the gay male community, and this issue has been exacerbated by hook-up 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.”.


Nick then goes on to explain that this “is based on old survival strategies from our 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 instils 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 just the physical community, but online it’s so much worse. If you open an app like Grindr nowadays you will be greeted with body-shaming phrases left, right and centre. “no fats, no femmes”. “gym fit only”. It’s not fat-shaming. You see all sorts; Transphobia and racism are rampant throughout some of these platforms.


Nobody has the right to say something like that to another person – it is wrong on so many levels. I mean it’s one thing to say something off the cuff that might be a bit short or a little bit too honest or uncalled for, but to actively go looking at people profiles to say negative and nasty things about them is downright horrific. I just don’t understand the reasons behind it. Does that make them feel good about themselves? Or are they simply projecting their own miserable existence onto someone else in an “if I can’t be happy, then you’re not going to be”- sick and twisted kind of way?


Like many of you that will be reading this, I have had many messages from blank profiles saying disgusting things about my appearance. Normally they don’t get to me, and I normally just block their profiles, but today one comment really got to me.


I’ve worked hard over the last eighteen months and I have lost a considerable amount of weight. I started to take my diet seriously and invested in a personal trainer to help me. I’ve documented my weight loss journey on my Instagram as a way of holding myself accountable for the things that I do. For me, posting that picture of me after a gym session helps me, because when I look at it, I know that I’ve worked hard for the last hour or so.


During this time, I came off dating apps like Grindr and Tinder, as I knew that they were having a negative effect on my mental health. Going back on Grindr was quite a big step for me, and it was mainly to connect with some friends that I had met on there, but when you create a profile like that, you spend hours decided what text to put in there, or what profile picture to use.


It’s not the first time I’ve received nasty messages from other guys online because of my size. One lovely person once said that they would “only fuck you if your face down so I wouldn’t have to look at you”. Well, that does wonders for a boy’s self-esteem, doesn’t it? So, when I received a message today that said, “you’re a fatty, wearing baggy clothes doesn’t hide you’re a fatty”, my initial reaction was; “so what”, “I’ve heard worse”.


Then it manifested. The profile then went on to say that “you should stay out of site (sic) when in public”. Now, that hurt.


Nobody has the right to say something like that to another person – it is wrong on so many levels. I mean it’s one thing to say something off the cuff that might be a bit short or a little bit too honest or uncalled for, but to actively go looking at people profiles to say negative and nasty things about them is downright horrific. I just don’t understand the reasons behind it. Does that make them feel good about themselves? Or are they simply projecting their own miserable existence onto someone else in a “if I can’t be happy, then you’re not going to be”- sick and twisted kind of way?


I can’t understand why I today I had such a reaction to these messages. I guess a part of me was tired of it. I’ve had so many positive responses to my weight loss, maybe I have become disillusioned that everybody else will see the same in me – but not everybody knows me the way my friends do. To other people, I am still that obese, non-attractive, repulsive person.


Going back to something that Nick Fager said earlier on, and the idea of perfectionism. This is something that I can relate to because I am a perfectionist. I set very high expectations of myself, and if I don’t meet my own expectation, then I will consider myself to have failed. I am, however, realistic enough to realise that somethings I may never be perfect at, and that’s okay. You can’t be perfect at absolutely everything. Not all of us are going to have the perfect body or the perfect life, and that’s fine. We just need to be a little bit more realistic.


The problem is more than the individual. The problem is widespread. Fat shaming is a pandemic within the gay community, but how do we fix it? That’s a question that I don’t have an answer to, but what I do know is that it starts from within. If each of us could take a moment to say something nice to somebody who is going through a hard time, and maybe if we could maybe take a second before we post that nasty or negative tweet, to have a thought of the impact it might have on somebody, because at the end of the day, it goes back to the old saying doesn’t it? if you don’t have anything nice to say, then simply don’t say anything at all.

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