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Body Issues Alike in Gay and Straight Men

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Tue Dec 28,11:39 AM ET

By Alison McCook

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Both gay and heterosexual men are equally likely to aspire to an unattainable body type, or to harbor a distorted image of their actual body, new research indicates.

This finding contradicts the conventional wisdom that gay men have more "hang ups" about their appearance than straight men, study author Dr. Armand Hausmann told Reuters Health.

This assumption stems from a wide range of stereotypes, Hausmann noted, including the belief that gay men are more likely to adopt a "feminine gender identity," that gay culture places a high emphasis on body image, and that gay men have generally lower self-esteem.

However, no research has adequately substantiated any of these notions, the investigator noted, suggesting more research is needed.

"It seems necessary to develop a scientific approach to the health of gay men in order to overcome gay prejudices," said Hausmann, who is based at the Innsbruck University Hospital in Austria.

During the study, Hausmann and his team asked 37 gay men, 49 heterosexual men and 24 heterosexual men with eating disorders to complete a computerized test about body image. In the test, participants altered a drawing of a man using fat and muscle to produce images that represented their perception of their own bodies, the bodies they would like to have, the bodies of the average man, and the bodies most appealing to men or women.

Gay and heterosexual men without eating disorders were equally likely to have unrealistic body images -- meaning they want bodies that are difficult or impossible to achieve -- or to have a distorted body image, in which they misperceived their actual shape, the authors report in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

However, men with eating disorders were more likely than the other two groups to have body image distortions, providing some clues about eating disorders in men, Hausmann noted.

"Our findings indicate that distorted body perception, rather than body ideal, may be central to eating disorders in men," he said. "This distinction may be important for both research and therapy."

Previous research has shown that more gay men report body image concerns than heterosexual men, Hausmann noted, and it's possible that these studies over-represented gay men with eating disorders, or other body image problems.

Alternatively, he suggested, gay men may simply be more "open" about their bodies, allowing them to freely discuss their concerns. "As a result of this openness, gay men may actually have an advantage over straight men in their ability to talk about body image concerns," Hausmann noted.

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, November 2004.

Edited by Burgy

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