There's an article up over on Oprah's website: 11 Ways to Feel Beautiful. In between a few fairly obvious suggestions - like "Don't base your body image off fashion mags!" and "Wear clothes that are appropriate for your size!" - is this:
Recent research shows that our social networks have a profound effect on our behaviors and attitudes--including how we perceive our appearance. "It's hard to feel good about your looks if you're surrounded by people who criticize their own," says Etcoff. "Spend time around people who are confident in their bodies, and you'll find yourself following suit." And if you don't already have a few gay men in your circle of friends, you might want to add some: A study published last year in the journal Body Image found that friendships with gay men can elevate women's body esteem.
Gay friends, a woman's best accessory.
A while ago, back when I lived in the Phoenix area, I fell in with a group of friends, mostly women, who saw themselves as fag hags and me as a nameless homosexual. It was a breath of fresh air, considering I had just escaped exurban Indiana, but it started getting obvious, I suppose, that I was being valued more for what I was than who I was when one person told me that she just thought it was crazy that she couldn't go shopping with me because I had been denied my gay birthright: impeccable fashion sense!
Never mind the fact that she was a terrible dresser and I was more just... a nerd. Sorry, I had just left an Indiana high school where I was the president of the Science Olympiad team and the top-ranked policy debater. Fashion sense just wasn't expected out of me.
Since then, I've had plenty of friends, gay, straight, bi, men, women, and I'm anti-social enough to choose them well. I've encountered a few mindless please-please-let-me-be-a-cool-fag-hag types, but I know the warning signs and it's not a problem I think about any more.
But that's not really the issue with that O article. The chic gay friend has been a tired cliche for over a decade now that it's almost ridiculous to see it again in a mainstream lifestyle magazine in 2010. In 1990, it was an edgy subculture waiting to be exploited by media mongers like Oprah. In 2010, it's like writing that boys don't like girls who are too smart. It was done a while ago.
As is the typical gay response to it. About ten years ago, this comment from The Advocate probably would have been the most common response from the community:
The worst thing a person can say to me is, "Oh my Gosh! I LOVE gay people! Let's be friends and you can help me go shopping." Never mind the fact that I'm into hiking, bicycling, rugby, etc...So what I do now is ask myself, "Would this person be my friend if I was straight?" If the answer is yes, you've got a real friend. If no, then DEALBREAKER!
Nope, no one's overcompensating for a sense of lost masculinity here!
Here's a sampling of the actual most common response, from today:
We're so cute, we're almost real. Deny us all of our civil rights and make us your eunuch servants, hairdressers, and therapists. Since gay is the new black, it's time we follow how black people moved from slavery to talk show hosts and the president, and start the revolution!
How nice! They use us to make themselves feel better but when we campaign for the right to marry whom we love, they tell us that our love is not the same as theirs! With friends like that who needs the Christian Right?
Nice. Gays are the new accessories for 2010. Just don't let us get married or enjoy any equalities past our second-class citizenship.
Advice like this cracks me up. Like every gay man is just DYING to be your own personal therapist. I think its insulting to try to make friends based on someone's orientation. If you want gay friends, then start getting involved in activism and gay/straight alliances.
The gays today and their rights. It's almost like the kids today and their texting. Before you know it, gay kids will be texting about their rights, amiright?
But that study actually did happen. Some Canadian scientists wanted to know if having gay friends would help women's self-esteem, and it did:
Women who associate with gay men are often portrayed as physically unattractive and lacking in both self-confidence and attention from straight men. However, many women report enhanced self-esteem and feelings of attractiveness as a result of attention from their gay friends. It is well established that body esteem can be negatively impacted by certain peer processes, yet there is a dearth of quantitative research on positive peer influences on women's body esteem. We tested two hypotheses: (a) women with gay male friends have poor body esteem and are rejected by heterosexual men, and (b) more contact with gay men is positively related to body esteem. Participants were 154 heterosexual women, who completed measures of their friendships with gay men, straight men and women, body esteem, relationship involvement and break-ups. Results supported the hypothesis that women's body esteem, specifically feelings of sexual attractiveness, is positively associated with friendships with gay men.
Now, that doesn't make it "true." They should continue to study the issue and there'll have to be more studies to see if this is just a fluke. But, in the meantime, maybe we ought to consider withholding our magical, self-esteem-boosting friendship until ENDA gets passed.