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The Ashley Factor

The Ashley Factor

Ashley Judd sent some fairly significant waves through social media recently with a piece she wrote for The Daily Beast. Judd took aim at misogynistic media (this misogyny being fueled by both male and female writers) for making hay out of her alleged ‘puffy’ appearance.

In a cogent, thoughtful and pointed way, Judd took to task those who constantly call out women on their appearance, assuming and ascribing surgical enhancement as the culprit. And then she went beyond the surface and examined our society’s need to slice and dice women’s bodies, as Judd wrote, “to the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification.” This has deeply damaging results on the psyches of young—and not so young—women when it comes to their sense of self, body image and self-esteem.

Good for Ashley Judd for standing up and using her intellect and wit to call out the culture who on the one hand are obsessed with the female form and on the other hand dismantle that form with brutal stealth and gleeful menace.

Gay men, queer media and iconography are savaging the self-esteem of gay men.

As I read her piece I started to feel like I could relate to much of what she was saying. But wait a minute I’m not a woman. Then the penny dropped. As a gay man, I have been raised with a very similar scrutiny from within my own community when it comes to the body beautiful and the body politic. Gay men, queer media and iconography are savaging the self-esteem of gay men.

Although it has been changing a little the past few years, the ideal gay man—the ideal form we should all aspire to—is, first and foremost white, under 30, hairless, ripped, slender-yet-muscular and perfectly coifed. One stark example that comes to mind is Andrew Christian, the purveyor of men’s under gear.

Ok, who doesn’t like to look at a hot model or attractive guys cavorting on under gear, bathing suits and jockstraps? Cavort away! But while watching the media produced by Andrew Christian, I notice sameness, uniformity in the men. They look like a kick line from Radio City Music Hall: about the same height, the same age, the same body type, and so on.

Like much of this type of advertising, it’s not just about the product; it’s about the aspiration to look like the person wearing the garment. The idea: if I wear this item, I will be imbued with the sexuality and fuckability of the model. It’s the same basic principle women face with clothing from, let’s say, Victoria’s Secret.

We constantly compartmentalize people, their bodies, their skin type and colour.

The ideal male body in the gay world is slowly evolving but it’s less about acceptance of variety and more about fetishizing different body types, different size, and even different cultures. While this may seem like we are embracing diversity, we are actually creating a menu from which the dominant (read white) culture gets to choose. This isn’t diversity per se; it’s a form of sexual degradation…and not the fetish kind.

We constantly compartmentalize people, their bodies, their skin type and colour. We break them down body parts: ass, cock, chest, nipples, thighs and calves. It sounds like a sexual butcher shop. In the gay culture we aren’t the sum of our parts; we are just our parts. This plays havoc with a gay man’s self-esteem and self-image. Couple this with the barrage of negative messages about being gay and you have a recipe for some serious self-loathing.

This self-loathing can manifest itself in myriad ways: drug and alcohol abuse, compulsive sex, avoiding sex and eating disorders, to name just a few. Sadly, too many gay men spend so much time obsessing about their—and other people’s—bodies that they miss out on the things that make an individual interesting, unique and sexy.

Is this need to compartmentalize, compare and criticize each other an extension of the homophobia we have been raised with? Have we become our own aggressors? Perhaps. It’s human nature to ‘size up’ the competition. Testosterone makes us vie for dominance and view each other in a somewhat adversarial way. Maybe it’s time we rise above our biological imperative and cultural conditioning and start practicing some genuine acceptance. As hard as it may be to believe, we are worth more than our physical selves.

photo credit: practicalowl


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