When I had to select a "body type" on my OkCupid profile a few years ago, I was presented with about 12 different options. These options included "thin," "overweight," "jacked," "a little extra" (whatever that means) and "rather not say."
I was 6'3'' and 170 pounds. I'd "rather not say" how much time I put into mentally laboring over how to answer this seemingly simple question, but for the sake of this post, I will:
A lot of fucking time.
On my confident days, I'd select "thin" or "skinny." If I'd made it to the gym for a few mornings in a row and avoided beer that week, I'd switch over to "athletic" and watch my inbox balloon. Sometimes, I just played it safe and went with "average." But every time, I'd nearly break out into a cold sweat.
Selecting my body type shouldn't have been nearly as complicated as all that, but a warped body image can turn even the simplest task into a massive existential undertaking.
The root of my anxiety was fairly standard: An obese childhood followed by a thin adulthood tainted with the struggle to always lose those last 10 pounds — all while surrounded by naturally athletic boys as a kid and impossibly fit gay-bots as a man. But while my own insecurities and neuroses were to blame for much of the unnecessary mental anguish that went into identifying my body type, the chronically body-obsessed environment of dating and hookup apps didn't help matters.
If you're single, it's fat-shamey AF out there.
A body-shaming tale as old as time: Body policing in the gay dating world is a long-chronicled issue, stingingly captured by writer/activist Larry Kramer in his controversial 1978 novel Faggots, which critiqued gay men's perceived hyperpromiscuity and suggested it was rooted in a preoccupation with idealized male bodies. The novel describes its protagonist, Fred Lemish, as having "built up his body into a fatless state of being in Great Shape," yet consistently failing in his "desperate search for permanence, commitment and love."
One need only tap around on the gay hookup app Grindr to see this script played out today, nearly 40 years later. "No fats" is a common refrain accompanying many of the app's many meticulously sculpted torsos, and even when the preference isn't directly voiced in a blurb, it often comes up soon enough. "I can tell you that I deleted Grindr after one night when a stranger messaged me to let me know that if I shed a few pounds I 'might actually be cute,'" BuzzFeed's Louis Peitzman wrote two years ago in an essay titled "It Gets Better, Unless You're Fat."
Indeed, while Grindr may be known as a sex-crazed meat market for the dick-obsessed, my past experience on the app has largely mimicked Peitzman's, finding that the ultimate deal breaker is simply a soft body.
"Can I get a shirtless pic?" more than a few dudes asked me during my stints on both Grindr and OkCupid, presumably to ensure I wasn't a low-key fatty before agreeing to meet for drinks. Such would always be my cue to ghost out, sure in my belief that a mirror selfie of my belly would only be a disappointment.
The one time I actually did muster up the courage to go out with a guy who (correctly) labeled himself as "Jacked" on OkCupid, my worst fears were confirmed at the end of the night when he straight-up called me fat — after we had already slept together.
We then kept hooking up for a few months, because I really, really hated myself at the time.
When the fat-shamed becomes the shamer: One of the biggest issues with body image and online dating is that when you're dealing with your own insecurities, it's all too easy to become a hypocrite. As a single gay man on dating apps, I often fed the cycle myself, ignoring messages just because the attached photos had either failed to pass my subconscious hotness test or reminded me of something I hated about my own physical appearance.
And so I ended up rejecting probably-great guy after probably-great guy, all the while lamenting the lack of love in my life. It got to the point where hitting the gym seemed like the only thing I could do to a) justify my own paradoxically high standards, and b) feel like I was even remotely lovable. I relished the feeling of working out for a week and rewarding myself with an OkCupid profile update to "Athletic" or "Thin."
Still, even though I was in the best shape of my life, I never did build up enough confidence to send a shirtless pic.
"There is only one thing that keeps gay men in shape: fear," wrote Brian Moylan on Gawker in 2011. "Gay men are afraid that they will be alone for the rest of their lives. If a gay man is not 'serving body' while competing to find a trick or boyfriend in one of the more muscle-bound climates of gay culture, he will be sorely shut out. That is why gay men don't get fat, because if they don't have pecs, guns and glutes, they're going home alone."
My body type, myself: In the end, of course we should all strive to accept our bodies as they are and build up enough confidence to say "fuck it" when someone fails to reciprocate our interest on a dating app. But that's much easier said than done. The habit of conflating validation from others with our own self-worth is a famously hard one to break.
Instead of confronting our self-esteem issues head-on, it can be much easier to keep cutting the carbs and hitting the gym in hopes that the privilege of having an in-shape body will just make all our problems go away. And in the shallow, image-driven environment of dating apps, it probably will.
I was in the best shape of my life when I met my boyfriend last year on OkCupid. And while our relationship eventually developed to be based on much more than our physical attraction for one another, there's no denying that it provided the initial spark. But we've been going strong for a year now, and I've put on no less than 20 pounds of comfort weight since. While I don't feel especially great about letting myself go, I do feel great about not having to select my new body type from a drop-down list.