It’s been almost two years since I decided to move from Venezuela. I was both excited and scared about finding a job, a new place I was going to call “home”, making new friends, fitting in the American Society, but also fitting in with the Gay Culture. As a young single man, I started to go to clubs in order to make new friends. One day, a friend told me about a mobile application called “Grindr”. He explained that this app was capable of locating people around your area for many purposes, such as dating or sexual encounters. Seduced by the curiosity, I started using it and I Immediately realized the social rules that people follow in order to fit in that culture. Something that really called my attention was the criteria that people use to choose other people. Being rejected for being too thin or not being muscular or lean is something than thousands of gay New Yorkers face every day. And as a consequence, they force themselves to be someone they are not by changing their life style into a superficial model that can make them feel artificially happy.

After using Grindr for a few months, I realized that this is definitely something that could be increasing eating disorders in the LGBT Community. The era of AIDS may also have played a role with HIV-negative men wanting to create a healthier, more muscular appearance to distance themselves from appearing ill, and hence further stigmatization and rejection. More recently, HIV-positive people with recovering health from newer antiretroviral medications may also feel the need to create a healthier look to distance themselves from their own illness. Physical appearance has always been equated with one’s health status, despite not being an accurate marker. Thus, negative health myths about being skinny or chunky abound, while muscularity and leanness is thought to automatically connote good health.

In terms of eating disorders, recent research shows that men are much more likely to have an eating disorder than we previously thought, and this could be due to our definitions of the disorder. For instance, excessive exercising may be a more common method of purging for men (compared to women) as it is considered more socially acceptable. Certainly, for gay men trying to obtain a lean, defined body, exercise is perceived as the route to take. Typically, they increase the amount or length of their workouts each time, schedule all activities around their exercise, and feel guilty and worthless for missing a workout. Because of the initial body changes that occur with the exercise and calorie reduction, they often receive positive attention from others. I started to see this behavior in some of my friends and honestly I almost fell into that pattern too. When I was in my early twenties back in Venezuela, I was cruelly critiqued about my weight. So I decided to try and be what people wanted me to be, and not what I wanted to be. At the end, I realized that people can always find something negative to say. If you are thin, it is because you don’t eat and you are anorexic. If you look muscular, you are superficial and use steroids.  If you look lean, you are not smart and warm as a person. Thanks to the support of my family and friends, I realized that we need to be who we want to be and we have to look the way that we feel more comfortable. Nowadays, I am in a relationship and I feel like I don’t need to look in a specific way to find love and be loved. So for all the young gay guys who may be experiencing the same situation, open your eyes and always be who you want to be and look.

Written By: Ruben Rios

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The Institute for Latinx Health Equity is a growing collaborative of public health researchers, behavioral scientists, community leaders, capacity building specialists and social justice advocates. We strive to disseminate information about issues pertinent to health disparities and inequity. Follow us, join us, comment and add your voice to ours.

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