REREAD: Bodyshock - body image in the fetish community
03 November 2019
Recon member Perfectolad is passionate about fetish and kink. In an ongoing series he'll be writing about fetish topics that matter to him. Here he talks about body image on the scene:
Fetish gear is very visual, and image in the fetish community is hugely important to a lot of us. Whether its heavy padded Langlitz, sleek skin-tight rubber, shining 14 hole Grinders or the latest Nikes, the way we dress is key. But how many of us worry we don't quite meet the mark physically, and feel our gear helps us compensate for that?
I've been guilty of this in the past. I'm very much a 'the gear stays on' kind of guy and a majority of my encounters are leathered. As a leatherman, I still feel way more confident standing proud in one-piece bike leathers and MX boots, in full leather uniform, or even just chaps, jock and a vest, than I do standing naked. It's a mental boost – projecting my sexuality and enhancing my presence.
I'm not alone in feeling my gear compensates for some of my physical shortcomings, and shortcomings is an appropriate word in my case; I'm 5'8. Still on the normal end of the short spectrum, it's not a massive deal, but I'll never exactly tower over anyone. (Lucky we're all the same height lying down…)
Unlike in straight couplings, gay men can compare like-for-like – endowment, muscle and waist size are the things I sometimes I find myself almost subconsciously comparing; he's got broader shoulders, a nicer chest or stronger legs. It's not healthy, and something I've made an effort to stop worrying about.
A lot of society commentators believe social media has fuelled unhealthy concerns about body and appearance, and I don't think it's any different in the fetish world; we're bombarded with filtered images on Instagram and the internet, and let's face it, we all put our best photos in our Recon galleries. We're there to attract men; I'd sooner have no pictures on my profile than use the one on my work security pass where I have a disturbing resemblance to the trolley boy from Hot Fuzz who can only say 'yarp'. All these hand-picked, carefully enhanced, sympathetically composed images can set an unobtainably high bar.
And I admit, I'm guilty of participating in it too. I have a fetish Instagram account which I started last September primarily to share event photos with friends, and I've been drawn in to subconsciously competing against others and even myself in terms of likes and followers. I've found myself retaking pictures trying to get the best angle, the best lighting, the best shine on my leather all just to harvest a few more likes, get a bit more validation.
At the time of drafting this article I'm enduring a shadowban on Instagram (a term meaning the reach of my content is limited due to an infringement on the app's rules), so I've decided to take a couple of weeks away from it, until the ban lifts. It's only been a few days, but I already feel a bit lighter for it. (And if you're curious about what I was shadowbanned for, it involved a leather jockstrap.)
I hardly have the perfect body and I do feel conscious of that at times. It's ok, it's passable, but over the past few months I've felt more motivated to improve it. The reason? I'd like to feel good enough to wear just leather jeans and a harness at events without worrying. I've also never explored rubber because I'm convinced I'd look like a vacuum sealed chicken drumstick.
And that's something a lot of us wish for; a better body – tighter, harder, more toned, more muscular. The body of the untouchably hot men we see at fetish events and on Pornhub, to feel the respect and the power that brings you in the fetish world. Those men have gone beyond wishing, and actually done something about it. Do they find their physique solves their image problems? I chatted with a friend about this, Manchester-based RUBBERBOSS1; he's a stacked muscle dom, the man you'd want on your side in a fight and a personal trainer to boot.
"Yeah, you definitely get more attention being muscled, but a lot of assumptions are made about you," he commented. "While I like that I obviously come across as approachable, I get a lot of guys simply messaging they want to be owned by me based purely on my appearance. A true sub / dom relationship is a hell of a lot deeper than just looks. For me owning a sub is a relationship – it's not something entered into lightly and it's not a game. I don't only dom other muscled guys; while I appreciate a sub who looks after himself, cerebral connection, mindset and open mindedness is more important to me than physique."
And of course it's all too easy to make assumptions about guys based on their appearance - RUBBERBOSS1 is no mindless muscled meathead; eloquent and articulate, his fetish interests clearly extend beyond the physical, and he values the mental connection with his subs. Him discussing his frustrations about some guys seeing only his body and being solely interested in that aspect of his sexuality was interesting. I've never worried someone is interested in me only for my body; usually I assume it's in spite of it. I joke, but probably only just – I've been fortunate enough to bat way above my average in the past. My first proper love was a mountain of man, who had abs that could crack walnuts and legs like tree trunks. I was delighted and baffled he was into me, given my painfully average body, and him looking like a handsome extra from Ridley Scott's Gladiator.
I'd always assumed gay men projected the image they were seeking, and as I've grown older, I've realised this isn't always the case. What's more, I've also learned enough guys like me exactly as I am. I spoke to another friend while pulling together opinion for this article; he'd rather stay anonymous for professional reasons, but he's a leatherman and a practising psychiatrist with particular clinical experience around body image and the issues many people face around it.
"Over the past decade, the surge in social media use has had a significant impact on the way we view ourselves and interact with others," he said. "The portrayal of the 'perfect' physique and body image on social media has been linked to increased anxiety in certain people and difficulties such as body dysmorphia and eating disorders. The latter have become more commonly diagnosed in the male population over recent years, which has challenged the traditional gender role of being seen as primarily female illnesses."
"Whilst traditionally thought to be a trigger factor, we are now seeing the media do a lot of work to highlight these issues, tackle stigma and raise the awareness of mental illness," he continued. "Indeed, it's refreshing to see uptake of organisations such as Mind for mental illness and B-eat for eating disorders through some social media channels. For any guys out there suffering from these difficulties, the message is simple - please talk to your GP. Mental health services in both the NHS and voluntary sector are diversifying to meet the needs of a modern society. You may be surprised what support is available and talking about it with a professional in a safe environment is a good first step."
I've always enjoyed finding out who the guy is beyond his appearance – drawing out his turn ons, his darkness, his particular kinks. The man behind the gear is much more important to me than the body under it. I think a lot of fetish guys would take mental connection and shared interests in a partner or play mate over body alone, and we should remember that.
These days I'm an advocate of the idea the man should make the gear look good, not the other way around. I believe more important than body type is your attitude, both physical and mental, your stance and confidence. Our gear should be enhancing who we are, not acting as a shield.
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