Mark S. King

Does the Gay Men's Health Summit make me look fat?

Filed By Mark S. King | August 31, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: HIV/AIDS

I took more time than usual choosing an outfit this morning, because of two terribly conflicting forces. First, I was on my way to the 2010 Gay Men's Health Summit and, diametrically opposed to this fact, I went shopping for pants yesterday and discovered I now measure a 36 waist.

Scale.jpgBelieve me, I know I have my priorities screwed up. And I should celebrate the fact that I have now been smoke-free for seven months, and clean and sober for 21 months. Funny how quitting cigarettes and crystal meth can wreak havoc with your waistline.

But I've bought into gay cultural norms all my life. The hair, the body, the gym membership, the dance floor, you name it. My recovery process has rid me of a lot of my old ideas, but standing in a Niemann Marcus dressing room trying to squeeze into a size 36 definitely tests everything I've learned about loving myself and accepting my aging process.

(Watch a video on gay body image issues from the Summit after the jump!)

Fate laughed at me in that dressing room, and kept right on cracking up when I arrived at the conference today and saw the first scheduled workshop: Body Image and Weight Issues Among Gay Men. Hilarious.

The video blog will introduce you to some of the fine people at this conference, and a discussion with the facilitator and another participant after the Body Image workshop (sorry for the intermittent audio track problems). You'll notice I layered my outfit, to little avail. Tomorrow, I'm considering a caftan. Or I'll realize what a silly old fool I can be, and return to the comfort zone of my worn 501's.


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Dear Mark,
I'll be interested in hearing your off-camera assessment of that session on body image. I was surprised to hear the one guy say that being obese is an enviable freedom. You could apply his logic to almost any drug or addiction in which there is surrender of personal accountability and care.

Oh by the way, you look hawt.

Honestly, I cringed when the facilitator said that overweight people "don't have to worry..." but I thought I'd just let that speak for itself. Considering I've worried myself sick over gaining an unremarkable amount of weight, I doubt that those who are obese are entirely carefree.

I'd also underline the point that the goal of HIV medicine seems too focused on "correcting" our appearance through steroids or facial fillers or working out. I've been guilty of all of that and now I question what (and who's) standard I'm trying to maintain.

Ironic that the guy who tried to emphasize the positives of obesity also lost a lot of weight himself due to his own childhood obesity.

I had an interesting conversation with a physical fitness trainer who is also a doctoral student in physical activity and health studies. He said that the most important thing to consider is level of fitness. He explained that body size does not necessarily correlate with being healthy or physically fit (i.e. there can be large people who are more fit than thinner or more muscular individuals all things being equal). Plus, "fitness" is more achievable for more people than specifically trying to develop and maintain a certain body type.

BTW, what Father Tony said about you being hot, Mark.

The best measure of fitness is being able to exercise or run or play (that includes sex). The second is "body composition." Health problems increase as body fat increases. New scales can analyze your percentage of body fat in seconds and that's much more important than pounds.

I think that's what the trainer was trying to get at; my description of it was not as clear as yours.

Mark-

1. That guy's v-neck was very distracting. Here's hoping American Apparel will go out of business soon. Its scar on the landscape of American fashion will take centuries to heal.

2. I've found bear culture to be just as clique-ish and ostracizing as twink culture or circuit culture. Some of the most unfriendly gay crowds I have seen are bear parties. As someone who is no longer a twink, but not yet a bear - its frustrating.

3. I was curious do HIV meds still have the horrible stomach side effects? I also thought that those would make it hard for HIV poz guys to keep on weight.

That was a great high kick you did. Impressive.

The "Crixivan belly" you speak of is out of fashion, as are Buffalo Humps, this season. They've been replaced by the hot new trend of facial wasting and hyper-vascularity. Most people on meds eventually find a regimen that suits them, but side effects can persist.

I nearly broke a hip about 1.5 seconds after that high kick, thank you. That's why the frame freezes with me in the air. ;]

I am so very jealous! I wanted to make the trip down to Florida. I've been reading about these summits for several years now, oh well, maybe in 2012.

The body image piece is so complex in Gay Men's culture, it connects with so many of our inherited insecurities about fitting in, being accepted or liked, and ultimately with how we define and accept ourselves. I think you and Lark raised very good points about body image, especially in relation to HIV status. I found it a bit unfortunate that the other chap would 'sacrifice time with friends' to his workouts - but then here am I now ... judging!!

Can't wait for more posts. Best!

PS. I agree with Father T!

"Body Image" aside - being fit is healthy. It takes some work, but it is worth it.

A body image discussion among gay men? Impossible! Notice that some people in the comments are already tearing away at what was said in that video with "Food is an addictive drug" and "Don't think or analyze or criticize; being thin is better." We have so many problems with this that I don't think gay men will ever be able to have this discussion honestly, although trying is better than not trying.

As someone pointed out above, this deeply affects the way we interact with one another. We want to be accepted, so we think we have to have a certain body not for health or anything, but just to have friends and have the confidence to think people aren't judging. Coupled with the fact that so many of us were rejected when we were young as well as the fact that insecurity about body image can cause some gay men to repel others who remind them that fat people exist. People with eating disorders are usually those who are the meanest to real-live fat people.