I’ve fallen into a pattern that I need to figure out. I am a bigger guy and because of this dating has never been easy. I’ve been blocked so many times by guys on Grindr just because I’m fat. Recently, I’ve started posting pictures of myself naked on Reddit in threads for lovers of overweight gay men. When I do this, I am immediately flooded with validation and praise. I take a disgusting picture of myself in the mirror, throw it up on a lonely Saturday night, and sit back and enjoy the tsunami of comments and private messages about how beautiful and sexy I am. The rush from this is so strong is feels almost like an addiction. Suddenly I feel so much better about myself. I used to only do it every now and then but lately it’s been a couple of times a week. So, I’m wondering if this is OK, or is this behavior is weird or somehow dangerous for my mental health?
Porky but Praised
Dear Porky but Praised,
I can understand how it can feel good to be complimented for something you’ve been shamed for in the past. We know how superficial gay men can sometimes be, especially in places like Grindr (“no fats, no femmes”), so when you get a different reaction than you might be used to, it can be intoxicating. My concern is that in using this kind of anonymous validation as the path towards self-esteem, you’re opening yourself up to the occasional troll who may try to eviscerate you and that you’ll end up focusing on that, and it could upend you.
Ohio State University did a study measuring brain activity in 1998 that concluded, “negative stimuli have a greater impact on our minds than positive stimuli.” We tend to focus more on negative comments than positive ones, and allow those to overtake us. If you set yourself up to generate self-esteem from the opinions of others, your self-worth is then teetering on a weak foundation of outside views that you have no control over. One contrary opinion and that house of cards will fall.
Instead, I invite you to consider other options for self-worth. The only person’s opinion that ultimately matters is your own, because that’s the only one you have control over. Practice being kind to yourself when it comes to your weight and appearance. For example, I noticed you called yourself “fat” and used the word “disgusting.” What if you weren’t quite so harsh towards yourself, and viewed yourself as “a work in progress”? The tone in which you talk to yourself matters. Therapy can be a great sounding board for being aware of how we talk to ourselves, and honing new language. Practice self-love. Although it may not be as immediately gratifying, it’s ultimately a more stable foundation.
You also have to think about the long game here. Online validation might feel good for a moment, but ultimately when the private messages stop and the feeling you get fizzles away. If you get your self-esteem from somewhere else, it may not be as intense in the moment, but it will last a lot longer. Ask yourself, perhaps with a therapist, what else makes you feel good about yourself? You may discover things like doing things for others, being true to yourself, making people laugh, talking with a friend, achieving a goal, or being self-sufficient are what truly matter.
While you may want to reach for social media or chat boards for a quick fix, remember that it’s only a band-aid, and that it could be ripped off at any moment. Think about joining a community that’s based more in values rather than superficial qualities like appearance. The road to self-worth is longer and harder, but much like your body parts in those Reddit photos, you’ll be as free as the wind.
Jake Myers the Founder of LGBTQ Therapy Space , the first LGBTQ owned and operated national platform for teletherapy. He has a Masters in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University Los Angeles, with a specialization in LGBT Affirmative Psychotherapy, and is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in both California and Florida.
You can also email Jake at [email protected]