Discussing body image in the context of the LGBTQIA+ community

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Issues of body image permeate through society, with constant messages about appearing a little thinner, a little taller, a bit more physically fit, or otherwise look different. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels.

On April 1, the Women’s Center and Rainbow Center collaborated to host a discussion on body image and its impact on the LGBTQIA+ community, helping participants to take steps towards dismantling these harmful constructions. Issues of body image permeate through society, with constant messages about appearing a little thinner, a little taller, a bit more physically fit, or otherwise look different. The event touched upon how sometimes these messages can be less subtle or outright discriminatory. It was discussed how in order to better fight against these standards, it is critical we work to understand them and how they impact our lives.  

Body image is particularly important to discuss in the context of the LGBTQIA+ community, due to the prevalence of eating disorders and similar issues that disproportionately impact those who identify as LGBTQIA+. The event discussed how fatphobia has proven to be a problem on queer dating sites as well, with users facing discrimination based on weight. While not exclusive to the LGBTQIA+ community, members have been shown to be high risk for these experiences and the complications that come with them. 

In addition to discussing weight-related topics, perceptions of disability were mentioned as a critical part of body image discussions. Similar to fatphobia, ableism is a problem often faced by the LGBTQIA+ community. Disabled members are labeled as “undesirable,” or are pushed out of queer spaces. Events such as Pride parades and places like gay bars and clubs were provided as examples as inaccessible for individuals with disabilities.. This heavily impacts the social lives of disabled members of the LGBTQIA+ community, the event explained. 

To kick off the discussion about these problems, participants were invited to examine how different groups within the LGBTQIA+ community are subjected to stereotypes for appearance and behavior, as compared with cisgender heterosexual people. The hosts opened a Jamboard for everyone to share their ideas. This exercise allowed everyone to think critically about how members of the community are perceived and depicted.  

Notably, each group was stereotyped as white, thin and able-bodied. This speaks volumes about how we see the LGBTQIA+ community, and how there are often misconceptions that a person is limited to one identity. A large portion of the conversation centered on the media and how representation can play a role in the development of such stereotypes, as well as how these stereotypes impact the community as a whole. 

Following this activity, the attendees reflected on the experiences of those who did not fit into these expectations. As part of a series called Kindr (produced by the dating app Grindr), users of the app described how they had been affected by comments on body image during their time on Grindr. They cited instances of rejection and discrimination because of their bodies, and how it impacted their experience as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. 

“The community I was supposed to be a part of wasn’t a community to me,” said one user. Similar sentiments were shared by many other interviewees, with several people reporting that they were discriminated against by those who they thought would accept them.  

The event continued with a discussion, which allowed all attendees to share their thoughts and experiences with the group. Each person brought a unique perspective, creating a more well-rounded conversation. This emphasized the importance of recognizing how intersectionality impacts our understanding of body image.  

The event discussed how not only do people internalize messages relating to body image, but they also change the way they act, often in order to better fit the expectations imposed on them. Comments such as, “You don’t look gay,” or expecting androgyny from a nonbinary person can influence how one might present themself, forcing them to conform to the standards that are in place. 

“… [D]iscussing body image issues in the queer community is crucial to combatting deeper-rooted stereotypes and prejudices present in the queer community, such as in the dating scene, in transitioning, in the perception of the community and more,” said Tatyanna Molina, a sixth-semester women, gender and sexuality studies and sociology major. Molina was one of the event hosts, and works in the Rainbow Center as a part of the student programs team.  

Throughout the discussion, participants traded stories and ideas on how body image has influenced how they act and feel about themselves, or how it has influenced others. Although the experiences proved to be diverse and unique, it was clear that everyone has been affected by body image in some way. 

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