Let’s face it, when it comes to hookup apps, physical appearance matters. Nobody cares what arthouse cinema you’re into, or what book you’re reading, or what you do for a living. We’re judged immediately on our physical appearance. Our bodies are essentially our “currency.” They determine whether we connect with one another.
Like a lot of gay men, it took me a long time to be OK with my “currency,” er, body. I used to look in the mirror and all I could see were flaws. I was constantly judging my stomach. I would look at my hairline and compare it to where it once was. I’d look at my skin for any tiny blemish or imperfection. A wave of disgust, shame, and self-hatred would creep over me. Why couldn’t I look more like the guys I saw on Grindr?
I consider myself a handsome guy today, but it took me a while to realize that everyone curates themselves online to look as perfectly as they possibly can to maintain their “currency.” Therefore, you’re not alone if sometimes you come across of sea of flawless torsos and think, “I don’t look like that! I’m obviously not hot enough.” Just remember, the standards for what’s “hot” are totally slanted. If you’re constantly comparing yourself to only what you see in everyone’s very best version of themselves (sometimes from five or ten years ago), it’s easy to fall in that old trap of feeling “less than.”
(SPOILER: There are way more “average” guys out there than you’d think, but it’s hard to know that based on what people show–or don’t show!–on the apps.)
One interesting thing I’ve noticed in my psychotherapy practice is that many gay men don’t judge others nearly as harshly as they judge themselves. They may even be attracted to “average” guys, but the thought their bodies being “average” is totally unacceptable. Obviously, there’s a double standard happening here. We hold ourselves to some idea of unattainable perfection, while giving others a free pass and sometimes even admiring them for their imperfections.
So how can you learn to befriend the mirror again?
For starters, it’s essential to drop the idea of maintaining any kind of “perfection.” No one is perfect, and the concept itself is illusory because attractiveness is entirely subjective. What might be hot to one person is totally uninteresting to another. We all have pros and cons when it comes to our physical appearances. Focus on being grateful for your pros, and work those to your advantage.
Also, know that others do not see you as you see yourself. There are tons of guys out there with all kinds of various preferences, and full communities to support them–from bears to twinks, cubs, and otters. If you embrace what you have to offer, others will too. Practice sending yourself positive messages of acceptance.
Which leads me to my final point: Have you ever noticed that you find someone really attractive, even though he may not have your typical “model” looks, because he carries himself with a certain swagger? Having an aura of confidence is sexy, and can make someone you’d normally deem a 7 jump up to a 10.
If you practice loving and accepting yourself, your confidence will extend outward to how others see you as well. This isn’t always an easy road of course, and talking to a therapist can often be an important first step.
Jake Myers is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and the founder of Gay Therapy Space, the first online therapy platform for and by the LGBTQ community. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, with a specialization in LGBT Affirmative Psychotherapy.