It’s Pride Month again! The time to reflect on the journey the LGBTQ community has made to get where we are today. We still have a long way to go, but there is also a lot to celebrate. Years ago, it was referred to as “Gay Pride,” and fortunately the name has changed to become more inclusive. However, there are some things that stay the same over the years: the “Pride Body.” Working in the health and wellness space, I frequently hear phrases such as “I gotta work on my Pride Body” or “I gotta hit the gym all month if I want that Pride Body!” Whatever your definition of a Pride Body is, it positions a particular body as acceptable for Pride celebrations while other bodies (those deemed not ready) are unacceptable.
What is a “Pride Body”?
You’ve likely heard of a beach body or bikini body – similarly, a Pride Body is a goal body type rarely achieved by most. This body is often based on the desire to change the way one’s body looks in order to make it more desirable to others. It is rooted in shame and negative self-beliefs about one’s current body. Simply, it is comparing one’s body to an ideal body which is typically overrepresented in media and popular LGBTQ culture: thin, toned, muscular, white, cis, able-bodied, and expressing their gender in conventionally masculine ways. These bodies are used to advertise Pride events and lure in spectators, sponsors, and participants. A Pride body takes effort and time, diet and exercise, and it is best dressed in as few clothes as possible.
Pride is a celebration of the entire LGBTQ community. However, gay men have been historically overrepresented in Pride media, which has led to the current landscape. Gay men’s bodies have long been defined by standards of masculinity, which in Western culture is defined, in part, via the expression of sexual desire and power. Thus in gay male culture there exists an intense focus on masculinity, sex, and desirability.
In the 1960s, when the gay liberation movement emerged in the United States, body standards were the thin, androgynous hippie-style. As the Gay Rights Movement advanced, body standards for gay men became more idealized, unattainable, and rigid. In the 1970s, white working-class gay men wearing masculine fabrics such as denim and leather and a mustache or facial hair became the de facto icon. In the early 1980s, with the arrival of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, body norms shifted further to the ideal slim, toned, white, and able-bodied aesthetic. While contemporary public opinion depicted gay men as diseased, the ideal body aesthetic of the time was one that connoted health, cleanliness, and physical fitness in the form of muscularity. Despite the anti-identity movements of the 1990s, such as radical queer and transgender movements which gave rise to other gender and sexual norms and further subcultures, the gay gym aesthetic still predominated in the mainstream.
The adulation of the “Pride Body” creates a hierarchy in which we deem conventional masculinity as most desirable. Those who possess softer, “feminine” personality traits or whose bodies are “soft,” “curvaceous” or “fat” are shamed and positioned as undesirable. On the other end of the spectrum, supposed exoticism and hypermasculine traits often lead to overt sexual objectification, most prevalent in the Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) community.
As a health coach, I feel it is only appropriate to discuss how dieting for Pride can also result in serious, long-term health consequences. Restricting food intake triggers an evolutionary famine response within the body. The body feels as though it is starving and subsequently moves its natural set-point weight higher in an attempt to avoid a future famine state. “Yo-yo dieting”–the cycle of weight loss and subsequent weight gain often experienced by dieters–is itself a cause of weight gain — not one’s undisciplined habits or behaviors. Thus anyone who feels pressured to diet in order to fit in may as a result end up at a higher weight than where they started, negatively impacting their physical and mental health due to the yo-yo cycle and further feelings of disconnection.
Pride should fill us with energy and hope–not anxiety and stress. Pride should be “come as you are,” not “only if you meet certain standards of acceptability.” This should be true for people of all genders, sexualities, races, and abilities. Pride is replacing the norm with variation, embracing all bodies as well as other forms of difference, because Pride for some isn’t really Pride at all. A Pride Body is any body belonging to a member of the LGBTQ community that is present at a Pride celebration or event. All bodies are worthy of joy, satisfaction, pleasure, and respect.
If we truly desire to create a more inclusive space, we need to start by examining our own lives. Are our friend groups homogeneous or diverse? Do we speak out when we see transgressions from others within the LGBTQ community, not just from outsiders? Do our words welcome those who are different from us, even when not in public spaces? What words do we speak over our own bodies? Are we willing to accept that we already live in a Pride Body?