When we talk about the body positive movement as it relates to women, we’re often quick to point to the progress or lack thereof with regard to broad acceptance and inclusiveness of bodies of all sizes. But the pursuit of self-love is hardly a female-only problem, and the movement frequently fails to acknowledge just how much the burden of poor body image affects men.
Mina Gerges is an Egyptian-Canadian model and LGBTQ advocate. He’s on a mission to change the way men think about their bodies, and he’s doing it in the nude. The 23-year-old posed completely naked for the first time for a spread in Toronto’s NOW Magazine this month as part of his efforts, pointing out the pressure he feels to look a certain way as a gay man.
“In the LGBTQ community, we put guys on a pedestal who have one particular body type,” he told the magazine. “I wanted to reclaim the narrative that my body needed to look a certain way for me to love it, and to show people who have stretch marks, extra skin and love handles that they should feel confident.”
Following the shoot, we chatted with Gerges, who first went viral in 2015 for his flawless impersonation of Beyoncé (amongst others) about the expectations he feels exist surrounding body type in the LGBTQ community, his experience with eating disorders and the ways toxic masculinity prevents men away from talking about their own insecurities and feelings surrounding body image.
What did you learn from the experience of posing completely nude?
Our bodies are very political, and to pose nude in my skin felt like a protest against every brand and magazine that has ever made me feel like my body wasn’t good enough, not thin enough, or not toned enough for me to love it.
It was also great being a part of this shoot because my experience in the male modeling industry thus far has centered around a lot of rejection and being told that my body “isn’t the right fit.” This lack of opportunity and access to work shows that there still needs to be a huge cultural shift towards inclusion and body diversity that’s beyond just using the term “body positivity” as a surface-level buzzword.
How do you think that message, of one body type being the “right one,” impacts men?
The idea that we have to be athletic and muscular with thin and chiseled bodies is spoon-fed to us in our early teens and sometimes before that. We’re told our whole lives that we should aspire to achieve a certain physique and that we should normalize diet and gym culture in pursuit of that body at whatever cost it may have on our physical and mental health.
I think a big part of it is that toxic masculinity makes it seem as though experiencing these very real, common insecurities emasculates us and makes us weak; it’s not masculine for us to be vulnerable.
I felt so alone when I went through my eating disorder, so now, openly talking about it on my Instagram is my way of helping others know they’re not alone.
What parts of your body are you vulnerable about?
For me, it’s this flap of extra skin that hangs under my stomach. I remember buying all sorts of different tightening creams and doing crunches to the point of throwing up trying to get rid of it and get those “V lines” instead.
Knowing that this would be visible in this shoot, and that this shoot wouldn’t be airbrushed at all, was so scary, but I always think: Imagine how incredible it would’ve been for my younger self to come across this image, and how maybe that could’ve helped him not hate his body or want to change it. And that’s what got me through it.
What impact do you think participating in this shoot will have?
As someone whose eating disorder was heavily influenced and reinforced by my desire to look like the thin, chiseled men all over Instagram and magazine covers, I kept thinking of the power these images may have on someone who’s desperately trying to live up to those unrealistic beauty standards that impacted me, and that they may see my photos and think, “Hey, I look like that, maybe I can be kinder to myself!”
I felt so alone when I went through my eating disorder, so now, openly talking about it on my Instagram is my way of helping others know they’re not alone and break through that stigma we associate with opening up about eating disorders.
Why is it important to you to talk about how body image impacts the LGBTQ community specifically?
I think the community as a whole perpetuates a sense that desirability itself only comes with a six-pack and chiseled good looks, we see this on every dating app where men will openly and unapologetically write “Muscular, fit men ONLY” or “no fats,” disguising their fat-phobia and racism as “just their preference.” And it’s so ironic because we’re a community that’s built on the notion of inclusion and acceptance, but sometimes it feels like belonging comes with a requirement of being white and having a six-pack. And I think one of the worst things about the LGBTQ community is that these problematic attitudes are so normalized, and even though so many of us publicly talk about how harmful these attitudes are, they still persist.
We all understand the tremendous pressures gay men face to have the “ideal” body, and the lengths so many of us go to in pursuit of that physique, often at the expense of our physical and mental health, and yet we’ve normalized it as simply what we have to do in order to be desired, fit in, and gain social capital within the community. And it’s so complex because it’s not just about bigger men; both thin and muscular men experience body dysmorphia and it shows that no matter what our bodies look like or how much we weigh, we have a tremendous dissatisfaction with our body image and feel like we need to change it.
Besides putting yourself out there, how else do you think that mindset can be challenged?
I wish I had a solution, but I truly think that the more we start sharing these stories and listening to and making space for more marginalized groups within the community, the more change we can begin to create.
I think that breaking the stigma associated with sharing our insecurities, breaking through the toxic masculinity that makes us feel ashamed about talking, addressing why as a community we regard thin white chiseled bodies over all other bodies, and making sure there’s body diversity and inclusion in both LGBT and straight media, that we can be kinder to one another and hopefully create change within the community.