I spend over seven hours on my iPhone every day, which is nearly twice as long as the average American, according to data measurement company Zenith. While I’d like to chalk this up to the fact that I work in digital media, the truth is I probably spend half of that time scrolling through bad takes on Twitter or cruising for hookups on Grindr.
As a queer man, much of the content I scroll through is either sexual, self-indulgent, or some combination of the two. Someone with six-pack abs says it’s “bulking season” here, someone else casually exposes their hole there — it’s all par for the course as an active gay on social media.
This constant exposure to attention-seeking tactics and doctored images comes at a cost to our body image and mental health. In 2017, Attitude magazine surveyed 5,000 of its readers and found that 84% feel “intense pressure to have a good body.” Forty-eight percent said they were “unhappy” with their body, and 10% were “very unhappy.”
The percentage of the publication’s readers who were “very happy” with their appearance? A slim 1%.
One 2020 study published in Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity found that gay men and bisexual women experience “significantly higher” body-weight dissatisfaction, and gay men, higher body misperception, than any other group. Compared to heterosexual people, queer folks likely experience disparities here “due to the emphasis placed on physical appearance in the gay culture, and because of pressure from social and interpersonal factors,” researchers wrote.
As it currently stands, no cosmetic surgery is having a moment quite like the Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL for short), which grew 90% from 2015–2019 among Americans despite being notoriously dangerous. The surgery has exploded further since the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, a phenomenon experts attribute at least in part to the extended amounts of time we all spend on our phones. On TikTok, videos posted with the #BrazilianButtLift hashtag boasts a staggering 115.7 million views.
In short, our collective obsession with anal aesthetics, while nothing new, has reached an apex. “I think gay men are especially insecure about the appearance of their bums because we use them so often,” Dr. Evan Goldstein, anal surgeon and founder of Bespoke Surgical, tells Logo. Not to mention, asses are a selling feature for bottoms when courting potential mates, and the gay community is a notoriously judgmental bunch.
This shared insecurity was especially evident when I asked my audience to share their opinions of their bums. While I often expect anywhere from five to 20 responses when I put out calls for sources, I received more than 150 messages in less than 24 hours. The most prevalent complaint was that many believed their asses were flat.
“I recently lost a significant amount of weight, and now my bum isn’t as round as it once was and I hate it,” Andrew, 30, shares. To rectify what was lost, Andrew goes to the gym six days a week, three of which he spends working on his glutes. Still, he’s still unhappy with the results. “I’m a bottom, so a large portion of my appeal is the desirability of my ass.”
Rob, 31, feels similarly, except he’s gained weight, which has caused his bum to appear smaller compared to larger thighs and love-handles. “I wear longer shirts to try to hide it, and I’m not taking many pictures of it anymore,” he says. “When I do, I strategically angle my legs to give an appearance of a bubble butt.”
Strategic poses were a popular tactic to skirt insecurity. “I’ve posted my butt on social media a couple times, but they’re very carefully posed and lit to make it look like I actually have an ass,” Spike, 51, shares. “I will never, ever post it straight on since I can barely fill out my underwear.”
A significant number of large-bodied men reached out about this insecurity as well. Because their bodies are larger, there is an expectation that their booties are proportionately large, only that’s not always the case. One even had a name for it: “bear butt.”
“I always knew that I had a flat ass, but it never seemed to bother me as much until I came out and became more active on social media,” says Curtis, a 35-year-old bear. “I’ve found the gay community to be very supportive and celebrate my body type, but images online have dug deep and make me feel insecure about how flat it is.”
“I’ve Googled anal bleaching, but I’m on the fence if I want to spend the time or money fixing it,” Jon, 31, says. “I’m an overweight Filipino, and my skin tends to be much darker around the groin and crack.”
Like Jon, an overwhelming number of queer men of color reached out to express how limited representation in porn and other media has given them a complex about their bum. Andrew, a 40-year-old Black man, adds, “I would like to bottom more but I’m paranoid that my ass doesn’t look like a cute, 18-year-old white boy’s.” Unfortunately, our insecurities don’t end at the cheeks, either. Many folks harbor similar insecurities about their holes as well, a topic I’ve written about in the past.
Though I had received a barrage of messages from different gay men across the world, there were two common threads throughout: Social media and porn amplified these insecurities tenfold. Some said when they see a bum that looks like theirs, they would think it was sexy, but when they compare their assets to the perfect bums that dominate our Instagram feeds and popular porn sites, they would feel awful. One queer man even said he feels ashamed to call himself a bottom because of his butt, and makes sure to mention his flat ass on his Grindr profile so he doesn’t disappoint anyone if they meet up.
Most believe the pandemic has only amplified this phenomenon, too, which makes sense considering we spent 30% more time on our phones during the pandemic compared to two years ago.
While hemorrhoid and fissure surgeries are Dr. Goldstein’s bread and butter, laser hair removal and anal bleaching services have been particularly popular as of late. “Some people have been spending more time alone, getting to know their bodies more, maybe sending more nudes, and noticing things that they may not have noticed before,” he says of the increase in clientele at his practice over the pandemic.
A lot of this should sound familiar since porn has burdened us with a similar complex about our penises. However, research on this topic found that men often underestimate their size as a result. The average penis length is between 5.1–5.5 inches, whereas those monster cocks in porn represent less than 5% of people with penises around the world.
Those perfect asses you covet on social media? They have likely been doctored via filters or retouching apps. They’ve been shot from strategic angles with tactical lighting, too. I’ve yet to find any empirical data regarding ass-pectations vs. reality, but perhaps it is worth confronting your self-imposed bum standards and examining when, where, and how they developed.