It's easy to villianize those who have won the genetic lottery. You know, the ones with the amazing metabolism that had abs before they even began working out. Or the ones that have ten thousand Instagram followers -- that they didn't buy -- due to their exceptional selfies.
Beauty culture plagues all of us in our respective communities. In the queer male community, beauty is highly envied and tied to status. I sat down with gay male model Barrett Pall to discuss some aspects of beauty culture in the community and to receive some insight on what it's like to be on that side of the vanity mirror.
Many of us who are socially or professionally familiar with models know that these beautiful people often face self-esteem issues. Despite being desired by the masses, many models seem to be the most anxious about their appearance. Supermodel Cameron Russell gave a TED talk in 2012 and revealed the extreme pressure she felt to always look her best. Cameron's message from inside Fashion HQ was that "looks really aren't everything." How would you rate your self-esteem? Do you feel pressure to always look perfect more from the queer community or more from your work in modeling? Do you ever leave the house without worrying what you look like?
I think my self-esteem has evolved as I have matured. Like most 20-something's, I am constantly in a state of development, figuring out and growing. As I have become more confident in other areas of my life my looks have taken a step back, which I think is the main reason why modeling shouldn't be anyone's only job. Having such intense focus and scrutiny on your appearance will leave you picking yourself apart, finding illegitimate flaws and playing mind games with yourself. All the attention that is put into this craziness could be directed at something so much more productive. It wasn't until I figured this last step out that I was able to move past wanting to be a model, and looking into my true passions for happiness. I don't know how I would rate my self-esteem, but I suppose if I had to go on a scale of 1-10, I would say I am about an 8. I feel like I know what I want in life, I am confident with how I look, and I am enjoying life. There is always room for growth, but I truly feel like I am in control of my life, and nothing feels better than that.
I think I always feel pressure in general; however, I would say I feel more pressure from modeling. I am required to look a certain way to fit a certain idea in order to maintain a career, make money and live my life. If I don't look a certain way in the queer community I may have disadvantages, but I am not going to lose a job.
The queer scene in N.Y.C. is very much image-driven. Check out the advertising on all the best summer parties to see what everyone wants to see. Sexy is apparently young, tan, and perfectly toned. How does it feel to know you're "hot" by those standards? Do you worry that others only like you for your appearance? Are your friends "hot"? What do you look for in a man? Is appearance the most important factor?
To be honest I've never identified with the word hot. I find it weird hearing my name in the same sentence as that word, but like everyone else I do want to hear that word. I have always placed a lot of value on my education and intelligence, so I find that as complimentary as it may be, it is not the compliment to drive me in any setting. I'd rather talk about the world, travel, music, or an array of other things over how "hot" we are.
I think we all worry about why people like us. Yes, I am aware that many people only want to know me because of how I look, but I have found it is easier and easier to weed out who these people are as I have grown. For this reason alone I have found it hard to make new friends and date since moving back to N.Y.C. from L.A., where this in my opinion is even worse.
My friends are beautiful people. Some conventionally beautiful and others not so conventionally. I place a lot of value on someone's heart. I wouldn't say I roll around with a posse of models, but I have some of the most beautiful friends in the world. I truly look for goodness in someone I am looking at as a possible partner. I value maturity, honesty, kindness, passion, drive and openness above appearance, but I would be lying that I don't place any emphasis on looks. I am someone that has tried online dating, but found it to be contrived. I am big on energy and you cannot get that from someone's perfectly angled picture. I want to see you in a crowd and think there is something special about that one. Looks draw you in, but what is inside is what keeps me around.
So many young queer men are utterly terrified of turning "old." Any chance of social and sexual success is assumed to be over around the age of 25. I think it's fair to say the scene is fearful of losing grip on beauty. Does it scare you to think about the prospect of outgrowing your youth? How long do you plan to keep modeling and what do you plan to do when the time comes to walk away from the cameras?
I think there is something incredibly sexy about getting older. I have said this since I started to understand my own life a little better. For me it isn't about a number, but a confidence, and I truly believe as I have aged I have only become more and more confident. Being 26 is great, and I do not want to rush the aging process, but I think that as one ages with dignity and a sense of direction there is nothing to fear. You are able to look at your life and see the true beauty within yourself. You have more life experiences, more knowledge, and understandings; how could this not be a good thing? Sure, we all want to keep our youthful appearances, but I think the only people who fear losing this are the ones who have nothing else to offer.
I plan to model for as long as the industry will have me. I have taken long breaks from it already to focus on myself, and what I really want from life. This past year was really about me finding my true passions, and exploring them in a grander way. I have always made sure to have other opportunities and options happening as I model because I know this isn't a career for 99.9 percent of people. Becoming a professional model is harder to do than becoming a professional athlete statistically. I have four other jobs that I do concurrently with modeling, so if there comes a time when there is no camera I will already be well on my way to something else. I have a B.S. from NYU, I am the Project Manager of a new health food company called Ortaggi, I am a Barry's Bootcamp Trainer and I write. It is so important to be a well-rounded person, and to not rely on your looks. I wish more people could understand that behind all the glamour that is modeling is a lot of people who never expected to be models, and have aspirations to do much bigger things. Again, this is not everyone, but I have met models, who fell into it and do it while also going to medical school, working for charities or playing professional sports.
The point of my series is to examine beauty culture within the LGBT setting. Last week, I discussed some of the effects of those standards including eating disorders and mental health issues. There seems to be a unique beauty standard for, specifically, American queer men. What do you think are some pressures you have dealt with as a gay man that you otherwise wouldn't have?
I think the biggest challenge that I would say I had to face was understanding that being a man didn't mean I had to have a wife, kids and throw my masculinity in everyone's faces. Being a man means many different things to many different people, but for me what it meant was being a leader, taking a stand for things I believe in, being in control of my own life, learning to say no to people and being ok with having feelings. I was scrutinized for pretty much everything about me at one point in my life, but to be able to look at yourself in the mirror, and say, "Hey, we are doing pretty great right now," is a feeling that I wouldn't trade for the world, and is made that much sweeter because I did go through so much. I think we all deal with pressures from society, family, friends, but it is how you deal with them that makes someone a true man or woman. Being gay comes with its own set of hang-ups. As gay men, we at some point in our lives have to question everything we know that is thought to be "right," so for that there will always be some added pressures, but when you get past these stereotypes the world becomes your oyster.
*This is the second installment in a series dissecting beauty culture in the LGBT community.*