Yes, by body is flawed, but I still have fun. Some might say too much. I like fun, and I like the ways my body can give me, and others, fun.

A review I saw of Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock made the point that when you compared the original footage of Woodstock to that used in the film, one of the biggest differences was the appearance of the men. No soft, slim, slightly flabby bodies of men in their early 20s dancing in the mud and rain, as in the original footage; in the movie you saw rock hard gym-toned perfection. And that is increasingly the way men, and gay men especially, are conditioned to see themselves. This is how we are supposed to look, apparently, and some of the guys I see out and about make Michelangelo’s David look out of shape.

But we do live in our bodies. Even though we take them for granted when everything is fine, we are very much our bodies. Face it: no body = no you. This is really brought home when something goes wrong with them, and this has certainly been the case for me, dealing with the effects of long-term HIV infection and all that goes with it.

Yes, by body is flawed, but I still have fun. Some might say too much. I like fun, and I like the ways my body can give me, and others, fun. Yes, even HIV+ gay men in their 40s still fuck. I know only too well that my body isn’t perfect, especially in the way that gay men today are taught to think of a perfect look, but I still like myself and what my body can do. Mostly.


I’m constantly bombarded with images of ‘perfect’ male bodies. Beautifully sculpted, airbrushed men with physiques requiring years of work in a gym selling me everything from insurance to sex-toys. There’s been an increasing trend over the last 20 years to show these men as hairless, shaved, lasered or waxed. Beards, moustaches and chest hair are seen by the industry that feeds us as undesirable, in contrast to the 70s and 80s when there was an emphasis on gay men appearing masculine and rugged.

But I don’t fit the current mould – I even have a hairy back, and I have no desire to pretend to be anything else. Why should I? More and more, gay men are being marketed to in very much the same way that straight women are. All the marketing techniques so relentlessly employed by the industry to capitalise on women’s ‘anxieties’– how they look, their weight, the clothes they wear – are now used on us, and many homos take it for granted that this is how things should be and how they should look. Body fascism and the beauty myth aren’t just for women any more.

Yet all of our bodies are flawed in some way. I know mine has lots, but I’ve known and had affairs with spectacularly handsome men who still aren’t satisfied with how they look: they need to do more work on their pecs, their abs, get rid of that little bit of fat, have that hair on their shoulders lasered off, get their teeth whitened. It never ends.

How did we end up in this position? The early Gay Liberation movement was politically radical and wanted to change the world and how gay men saw themselves. Instead of being sissies who hid in the shadows, they called on us to come out and be proud of who we are. We’ve come a long way since then, and not in the direction that might have been expected.

You might ask “What’s wrong with working to make your body look and function as well as possible?” To which the answer is “Nothing, if it’s really what you want to do.” But do you? Or have you been conditioned to think it’s what you want? And do you really have to have a perfect six-pack to be functioning and looking your best?”

The thing is, this pressure for perfection doesn’t just affect gay men. Straight men are getting more and more caught up in this as well. Feminism showed women that they didn’t need to shave their legs or armpits to be who they are, but today most of the Feminists I know do prefer that look. I teased a dyke friend about her shaved legs a few weeks ago and she said “well, I just think it looks better.” She’s a politically aware woman, and knows that the idea of how we look isn’t just something that happens or is ‘natural’ – it’s socially constructed.

And now men are shaving their bodies too. Instead of being liberated from body fascism, as feminism wanted women to be, men have now succumbed to it. My point is this: These changes in how we view ourselves creep up on us, but don’t just come out of nowhere. Someone somewhere is making a buck out of this, and by increasing the number of men who aim for a totally unnatural style of physical perfection, they get to increase their market share. Unrealistic expectations of what we should look like and be like don’t make us happier, they raise our anxieties and leave us feeling like we’ll never be good enough, while making money for those who sell us the image and products.

And hey, if at nearly 50 with a body like mine I can still pull, is it really worth all the effort and angst?

— Michael Stevens


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