Words by Stuart Haggas and Ian Howley | @GetStuart | @ianhowley
Photo by Chris Jepson: © www.chrisjepson.com | @chrisjepson


AND OUR SURVEY SAYS...

When FS set out to explore body image issues, we found that gay men were more vocal about the gay media section than any other part of our survey. Many felt that the gay media, including FS, is to blame for the rise in body image issues in the gay community. We asked the editors of three of the biggest UK based gay magazines to comment on the suggestion that they are to blame for gay men’s body image issues. But before we get to their responses here’s what gay men in our survey said about the gay media.

We asked: Do gay magazines do a good job of representing the diversity of gay men?

  • Sometimes - 49%
  • No - 44%
  • Yes - 6%

We asked: Which magazine does the best job of representing the diversity of gay men?

  • Attitude - 51%
  • Gay Times - 32%
  • QX - 5%
  • Midlands Zone - 5%
  • Boyz magazine - 4%

We asked: Do you think gay magazines do a good job of representing you?

  • No - 47%
  • Sometimes - 44%
  • Yes - 8%

What the comments said:

“I feel like gay magazines play up this stereotype of the gay ‘whore’. I enjoy sex as much as the next guy, but I’m not crazy. I like guys who have a future, like myself. Not these party boys that will likely never accomplish anything.  

I know that I’m playing up the stereotype as well in my description, but I feel like gay magazines worldwide depict the gay lifestyle as completely about sex and not about who we love.”

“As a non-white man I feel very under-represented in gay press.”

“As an older man I feel under-represented generally.”

“Magazines generally focus on youth and beauty – it’s what sells to be fair but everyone is either slim/twinky or muscle jock and never obviously over 30. Even serious publications like Pink News go beyond what is reasonable, for example, fawning over Tom Daley.” 

“I’m pretty average, and I think I’m repesented in there. Maybe not as much as the drop dead gorgeous guys, but the magazines are just doing what they know will sell.” 

“I think Boyz is the worst offender, full of Muscle Marys and drugged up scene queens, DJs and rent boys. I loathe it. QX is marginally better but really you rarely see average looking guys with average bodies, because sex sells and the commercial gay scene is shallow. I have never felt I fitted into the scene or any of the stereotypes such as bear, otter and so on.”

“I read them as light entertainment. I don’t expect them to represent me. They rarely have features that are interesting to me.”


We asked: Do you feel bad about yourself after reading a gay magazine?

  • No - 58%
  • Sometimes - 25%
  • Yes - 16%

Comments:

“If I’m already feeling low, seeing all the gorgeous guys just kills my self-esteem. If I’m feeling all right at the time, it usually doesn’t bother me too much.”

“I’m secure enough in myself that I don’t need to feel bad after reading a magazine. Magazines contain things maybe to aspire to but that’s it.”

“I’ve never felt bad about myself after reading a gay magazine although sometimes the images are so perfect that they don’t feel real.”


We asked: Does it matter who is on the cover of a gay magazine?

  • No -  41%
  • Yes - 31%
  • Sometimes - 27%

We asked: Would you be more or less likely to buy a magazine if the person on the cover...

Top 5 answers: 

  • Is shirtless - 43%
  • Is toned - 38%
  • Has muscles/abs - 37%
  • Is in his 30s - 22%
  • Is white - 16%

Comments:

”Although I don’t think gay magazines are representative of the gay community as a whole, I can see why they are the way they are. We like looking at attractive people.”

“I like to look at people I find attractive. That’s the whole reason magazines put who they do on their covers. It’s what most of their readership want.”

“The more ideal the cover, the more likely I am to buy. It’s punishing myself but it’s also fun to look at.”


We asked: If you could change one thing about the gay media what would it be?

“Gay people want to see attractive gay men. The media supply this. Gay men sometimes say they want all types of body/person represented, but they would not buy it. Change needs to happen in gay culture, which comes down to a variety of factors. The gay media makes quite a minimal impact.”

“I would love to see a magazine that appealed to men who happen to be gay, and not gay men. I am my own person, not my sexual orientation. I am glad that I’m gay, but it does not define me. I would like the gay media to stop focusing so extensively on sex and more on the real world, like culture, politics, news, and incorporate sex and sexuality into it all.”

“There’s a huge focus on sex – not safe sex, but sex.”

“Stop placing all of the emphasis on body type. Some gay men will always be gym bunnies but it’s not nice when all of us feel the pressure to conform to that.”

“I know it’s hard to achieve, but more coverage of the diversity of gay lifestyles and activities.”

“Make it relevent to people today. The gay media seems to be stuck in the 20th century.”

“Cover more than just the commercial scene – there’s collusion between advertising and editorial. There’s a growing alternative gay culture.”

“Acknowledge those of us who exist outside of those defined ‘categories’, or identify with none. Please, a publication that acknowledges our lifestyles where being gay isn’t the sole driving force of our identity.”

“To make it more representative of the diversity of gay people and their interests. Not everyone has a six pack, goes to gay bars and listens to poor quality music.”

“To actually give a shit about gay men and know that they are making a lot of people insecure and feel bad about their bodies. I think most gay media organisations are probably full of the same types of people they promote and who live similar lifestyles. They just can’t change because their aim is to make a profit and sell magazines.” 


WHAT THE GAY MEDIA SAY

“Anybody who says they don’t like to see hot bodies is lying, something that is reflected by the fact that magazine covers with hot bodies sell more copies,” says Matthew Todd, editor of Attitude.

“But we do try to have a balance. We run lots of non-shirtless covers including with Stephen Fry, Beth Ditto, Jonathan Groff, Marcus Collins, Daniel Radcliffe, Waheed Alli, James Franco, Kele Okereke and many more. We run a monthly feature called Real Bodies with a ‘normal’ shirtless guy – whoever applies goes in, something I don’t think any other gay magazine in the world does, and there are lots of regular guys throughout the magazine including on the dating pages, relationships pages and so on.

There’s an element of hypocrisy. Someone complained to me that we only put shirtless ripped men on the cover – and on the shelf that month was Andrew Scott for Pride, a handsome man but not shirtless or ripped. The places I see the most body fascism are on apps and social media, propagated by other gay men. There is a larger question about self-esteem. I wrote about this in our ‘Issues Issue’. Many of us, including myself, have a hangover from growing up and living in a homophobic society, which can make us feel bad about ourselves from very early on. 

Often we strive to outrun these feelings, sometimes with drink, drugs or sex and sometimes by feeling we need to have perfect bodies, jobs, relationships, friends, whatever. That can leave us feeling that nothing is ever enough, that we are never good enough. To me this is the basis of so many of the problems that LGBT people have – from body image issues to depression to drugs and even unsafe sex.”

“It’s not true to say that the gay media only show shirtless, fit and young models,” agrees David Bridle, MD at Boyz. 

“Any cursory glance at Boyz covers and features over this year would show that all ages and body types are represented – especially when you look at photo coverage and features for clubs like XXL, Eagle London, The Hoist, SM Gays and many others, along with pictures taken at bars like Halfway and Two Brewers which attract a wide range of ages and body types. I think it’s too easy to generalise the arguments about body image which are not based on the reality of editorial coverage. 

In Boyz we do genuinely try to be as representative as we can be. Having said that, it does mean sometimes our cover will feature a cute muscle boy from Ku Bar or WE Party but such guys want to be represented too and the gym fit guys make up quite a big part of the gay scene.”

“The problem is that often people don’t distinguish between fantasy and reality. I think these problems begin in the fact that schools still don’t address LGBT+ lifestyles like they should,” adds Cliff Joannou, editor of QX

“Gay men grow up with shame attached to their feelings. They seek examples out online, in print, in film. There is currently no requirement for schools to teach young people any type of sex and relationship education. As such young people go to the media and search the internet for information and to find gay representation, and this carries on in life as they get older. There’s nothing wrong with fantasy and looking at sexy hot guys with their clothes off, but when people aren’t being educated about the reality of gay lifestyles at young ages, fantasy becomes the only source of information. Magazines are a representation of fantasy.”

“Like TV, music videos or films, what we need is for gay relationships to be treated on a par with heterosexual lifestyles at an early age so that gay men don’t grow up only seeking out the answers to our questions about our sexuality through porn and fantasy images.”

“Going forward we are always open to discussing these issues and where we get it wrong we apologise,” adds David. 

“However I invite you to check out recent spreads in Boyz from XXL for instance and you will see that we feature lots of larger, bigger guys of all body types. Guys who don’t fit the stereotype muscle guy will see themselves represented, but Boyz is in the entertainment business and so we do produce a magazine with a good selection of classically sexy guys of different ages and types. 

I think what matters more is whether our readers feel we are caring for them and helping them enjoy their gay life, giving them advice and information about HIV and drugs, etc. 

We try to make Boyz an ‘older brother’ for our readers, but to do this job we need to get them to pick the magazine up. Sexy pictures of cute and hunky guys help us do that – but there are bears, chubs, drag queens and ‘ordinary guys’ pictured in there too.”

FS editor, Ian Howley says: "Let’s be honest here, it’s unfair to blame gay magazines solely for body image issues. We can clearly see from the survey that there is a lot of aggression towards gay magazines. The community still looks up to a lot of the publications so I can understand why gay men feel angry but we need to realise that the people in charge have a job to do otherwise there will be a lot of people unemployed. 

“However saying all that, the magazine industry does need to realise that for a lot of younger gay men, their publications can be the first point of contact with gay life.

“That 14-year-old boy who snuck a copy of Attitude into his bedroom will look to the magazine for guidance. Does this mean that Attitude, Gay Times, Boyz, QX and FS shouldn’t put shirtless or naked men on the cover? In my opinion it’s about having a correct balance - mixing hotness and health issues together. 

“The issue here shouldn’t be that gay magazines are making you feel bad about yourself. It should be why you are letting a gay magazine make you feel that way. 

“In an ideal world who we put on the cover of our magazines shouldn’t have a negative effect on how you see yourself. We all need to work on helping gay men build their self-esteem and confidence. 

“I can’t speak for any of the other editors, but here at FS we will try to get the balance between hotness and health correct.” 


This article is from FS magazine issue 146. Read it for free below.


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