Sex/body positivity as a ‘Skinny’ man.

And as a gay man, it’s all the more complicated.

Yes, there is masculine privilege in living in a male body inherently, but that thinness is still gendered, socio-economically driven, related to issues of mental health, nutrition, biology. Furthermore, speaking as a gay man, if one is ‘too’ thin, one is assumed of being ‘dirty’, conjuring up stereotypes referencing either disease or hard drug use, which the recently out bi celebrity, Aaron Carter showed in recent press exposure. 

One example of how our practice of thin shaming in men is the video game character Slenderman, the popular horror/survivalist genre character, played in the hyper-masculine video game communities of YouTube, is the ‘creepy thin man’ trope made new to scare and literally cause anxiety in the player.

While the masculine social implications of thinness in American society, and especially in the white-gay male world of ‘twinks’ and/or ‘otters’ are privileged, it is hard at times to keep a positive self-identity around one’s body. These ‘cultural privileges,’ are in conflict with what are traditionally ‘positive’ masculine attributes of size, equaling power and ‘safety,’ or protection, wealth, individual health, heterosexuality, etc. These all interplay within sex and body self-identity for myself, and it is a very conflicting space.

At times, I don’t even feel the cultural space to ‘appropriately’ bring up the intersectionality of this, for fear I already have too much privilege to discuss the issue. There are also problems in creating and finding the spaces to discuss body-positivity issues for men. In light of a cultural reordering around plus-size body positivity in men and women, but women especially, skinniness is being stigmatized more.

For me, I have always existed in a ‘skinny’ body. It is hard to find positivity around this in the current cultural climate. At times, it feels like one is complaining that one is privileged. It is taken as a joke to speak out as a man about body dimorphic feelings; while women have more successfully created spaces and pushed back against hurtful and external appraisals of their body image.

Boys’ entertainment hyper focuses on the large and ideal ‘male’ bodies or on size in general. For example, Superheroes, large monster trucks, warrior/soldier figures, professional wrestlers bodies in revealing speedo-trunks, and Transformers, all embody connotations related to size and masculinity in male body image.

Thin male actors have been wearing long sleeves and hoodies for decades to cover up their arms on screen, the most visible site of thinness in males. J.J. Walker on Good Times, always in long sleeves, Abed from Community, always in a hoodie, Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, always in long sleeves AND a T-shirt over it.

I’ve had random women and men come up to me in public and tell me to “eat something,” or grab my wrist to show how their fingers can link around my appendage, to depict and further prove their points that they do not think my body image is normal for a man.

I believe discussions around male body image and skinniness, discussed in a cross-cultural/racially conscious way in American society, could lead to more spaces for men to discuss broader societal challenges we uniquely experience, outside of trying to co-opt women’s spaces or others particular cultural discourses to discuss our body-positivity.

Further study into body positivity fields in masculinity:

UCLA transnational study into male muscularity desire

— NW

NW is currently a student in WMST 595, Sexing the Body. Chime in with your thoughts in the comments section!