Body Image: A Handbook of Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice

By Thomas F. Cash; Thomas Pruzinsky | Go to book overview

30
Gay and Lesbian Body Images

ESTHER D. ROTHBLUM

Discontentment with one's body is so common in women in the United States and other Western nations that this phenomenon has been called a "normative discontent." Yet it was not until the late 1980s that the first articles appeared about lesbians and body image. Sari Dworkin postulated that women in Western societies, regardless of sexual orientation, are told how to look and thus are preoccupied with weight and appearance. Laura Brown, on the other hand, drew a parallel between oppression of lesbians and oppression of fat women, arguing that lesbian communities are more accepting of body weight.

The impetus for studies of body image among gay men came from clinical observations in the United States and Europe that gay men were overrepresented among eating-disordered patients. Thus this literature has often focused on clinical samples. For example, although few patients in eating disorders clinics are male, one study found 30% of those few men were self-identified as gay. More recently, there has been discussion of how gay male communities accentuate appearance. For example, Lahti describes how gay male media and erotica highlight and exaggerate gay men's physical proportions, especially muscles and genitals. As a result, gay men are likely to be more dissatisfied with their bodies than heterosexual men.

Another way about thinking of sexual orientation in relation to body image is to include conceptions of both gender and sexual orientation. For example, it has been hypothesized that people sexually involved with men (heterosexual women and gay men) are more focused on appearance than are people sexually involved with women (heterosexual men and lesbians). The result is an interaction of gender and sexual orientation on body image concerns.

As of this writing, data on bisexuals' body image are lacking. This is an important area for future study. It is possible that bisexuals fall somewhere

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