Body image in gay and straight men: a qualitative study

Eur Eat Disord Rev. 2009 Nov;17(6):435-43. doi: 10.1002/erv.955.


Objective: Recent research has emphasized vulnerability to eating disorders in gay men, with calls for research on causality, cultural factors and focus on a younger age cohort. This study aimed to examine body image and related eating behaviours in younger gay and straight men.

Method: Qualitative study using a sample of gay and straight male university students, applying audiotaped and transcribed depth interview subjected to interpretative phenomenological analysis.

Results: Fifteen young men (18-24) with a spectrum of sexual orientation (gay, straight and bisexual) agreed to participate. Five dominant categories emerged: body image ideal, external influences, perception of body image, dieting, mechanisms for modification (diet, exercise, cosmetics) and sexual orientation.

Conclusion: Health and aesthetic ideals appear less divorced for young men than women, offering some degree of protection from eating disorders. Nonetheless there is widespread body dissatisfaction. Media and social influences are powerful, particularly for single gay men, but the study suggests fewer differences than similarities between gay and straight men.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attitude to Health
  • Bisexuality / psychology*
  • Body Image*
  • Cohort Studies
  • England
  • Exercise / psychology
  • Heterosexuality / psychology*
  • Homosexuality, Male / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Physical Fitness / psychology
  • Social Conformity
  • Social Identification
  • Weight Loss
  • Young Adult