By Gareth Johnson | @GTVlondon

I have a confession to make. I am gay-fat. I’m not overweight or obese by medical standards, but I don’t have any ‘abbage’. I am gay-fat.

This isn’t a plea for sympathy or a friend-tervention. I’m just re-aligning my self-perception and accepting a body image that I have been trying to resist for longer than I can remember.

I was in Australia over Christmas, and it was when I was trying to hold my stomach in while jumping waves with my friends that I realised that my recent habits of traveling a lot, and eating and drinking whatever I felt like, had really taken their toll.

I used to have a lean and defined physique. I know what it takes for me to achieve and maintain the look that (thanks to fashion, movies, and porn) most gay men would see as aspirational and sexually attractive.

Contrary to the myths pedalled by magazines such as Men’s Health, it’s not just a case of doing a few sit ups to ‘get rock hard abs in seven days’. But also it’s not rocket science – it requires a fair bit of targeted exercise and a tightly controlled diet. When you say it quickly it sounds easy, but for me this meant working out in the gym four to five times plus three sessions of water polo each week.

Exercise is important but diet really is the key – for years I didn’t eat any processed carbohydrates, avoided sugars, didn’t drink beer, ate a lot of meat, drank a lot of protein shakes, and took a lot of supplements.

My most extreme diet regime was in 2010, just before the Gay Games in Cologne. With each meal (of meat and vegetables) I would take a fibre supplement and eat a raw red chili. It was fairly painful and unpleasant on all fronts, but I looked really lean and defined so in my mind it was totally worth it. In retrospect it was probably all a bit masochistic – not necessarily an addiction but definitely an obsession.

I wouldn’t say that I was unhappy at that time, but I was very self-focused. It can be good for your self-esteem to get compliments on your body, but if all you’ve got to talk about is how much you lifted at the gym and what you can’t eat, then it doesn’t make you very good dating material.

I’ve recently gone a bit to the other extreme. My work schedule has meant that it’s been difficult to get to the gym or go swimming. I’ve been eating food that is quick and convenient, and I’ve rediscovered my love of beer. I really like beer.

It’s not surprising that one of the key pillars of our self-esteem is our perception of how we look. Whether or not you feel confident or good about yourself as a person is likely to be strongly influenced by whether you feel that you look good and, perhaps even more importantly, whether you feel that other people think you look good.

As gay men we’ve set this bar fairly high for ourselves. There’s always been a high proportion of our people who are prepared to put the hours in at the gym in order to stay lean and strong, and the ripped physiques of our porn stars make it hard to imagine having sex with someone who doesn’t have huge arms, massive legs, and pecs so hard that... well, you get the point. All of this has been heightened in recent years by the wave of location-based dating apps which rely on a killer profile pic in order to initiate contact – consistently reinforcing that your appearance is what gets you noticed, that your appearance is what attracts other guys, and that your appearance defines who you are.

It’s too simplistic to glibly say: “Don’t worry about it! You need to love who you are! You’ve got a beautiful soul! You’re so funny!”

None of that makes you feel any better when you’re asking for a ‘table for one’ and your dinner companion is a tea light candle.

I used to have a personal trainer called Ro (who I worshipped). One of his favourite appropriated platitudes was: “You are the sum of the people around you.”

The relevance of that is if you surround yourself with people who are vainly obsessed with their appearance and spend hours in the gym perfecting their steroid-enhanced physiques, then you will inevitably be influenced by this mind-set and see it as normal behaviour. Likewise if all of your friends abhor the gym and would prefer to sit at home playing video games and eating pizza than perhaps going out occasionally, then this will be the predominant influence on how you spend your time.

One of my New Year’s resolutions has been to get a bit more balance in my life. While it would be nice to get a bit of abbage back, I don’t want to be that extreme with my exercise or diet it takes over my life again. However I like the feeling of being healthy and energetic that regular workouts can give you.

I’m going to be embracing my sporty and active friends, but also spending quality time with my cultured and artsy friends. I’m deleting all of the location-based dating apps on my phone – focusing on chatting with real people who might actually be interested in me as a person and not just for a quick hook-up.

This year my aspirational role model will be Jack McFarland: “I’m looking good and smelling great. If I wasn’t so busy I’d date myself!”  

Work that inner body 

Gay men, like anyone, are always going to have hang-ups about how they look. Pressures come from everywhere, from the TV we watch to the popstars we worship, not just from our own community. However data shows that gay men who are content with themselves are less likely to put themselves at risk of catching an STI or HIV.

Matthew Hodson of GMFA told us: “It’s been established that feelings of depression or low self-esteem can lead to men taking risks. At the same time, feelings of over-confidence can blind people to the risks that they are taking. When it comes down to sexual health, you’re better off if you know that you are neither a monster or Superman. Chances are you’re fine just the way that you are.” 

There is nothing wrong with hitting the gym or boasting a bit of a beer belly – the main thing is to do it for you and to make yourself happy. We gay men tend to work too much on our outer appearance rather than our inner self. The best way to overcome body image issues is to try and take care of your mind before you take care of your abs. You might find you’re just that little bit more satisfied.

If you would like to talk to someone or feel you need support the following services can help:

London Friend – offer one-to-one counselling and support for LGBT people. Call 020 7833 1674 or visit

Friend or Foe – a weekend workshop from PACE on self-esteem for people living in London. To book a place, visit

Lesbian & Gay Switchboard – Support 24 hours a day about love, life and safer sex. Call 0300 330 0630

For more info on sex and sexual health, visit

This article was taken from FS magazine issue 140. 


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