Mark S. King

For God's Sake, Put Your Shirt On

Filed By Mark S. King | September 17, 2011 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: body image issues, Facebook, shirtless, shirtless Facebook pictures, social media

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I should reveal that I used to be, in my distant youth, kinda hot. If you liked them tall, blond, and pumped with steroids, I was your man. And I loved showing off the goods. I adored a clingy tank top and any dance floor where I could strip it off.

Thumbnail image for Torso.jpgI've even written about the trauma of my drug addiction and the part that my body image played. So consider the source of this rant. Anyway, my biceps have withered and I've grown resentful, so allow me the tirade of an aging gay man.

Since when did shirtless pics of gay men become standard for Facebook and other mainstream social media? And we're not talking the frolicking-at-the-beach photos. It's the iPhone-in-the-bathroom-mirror picture (nice towel rack, stud, but what were you thinking with that wall paper? Are you at your Mom's?). It's the slightly blurry, soft core web cam photo, with the unmade bed calling seductively just over your shoulder. It's the close-up pic of your ripped stomach, with the friends that once populated the photo cropped out, reduced to an errant finger around your waistline or the remnant of an arm on your shoulder.

Because God knows, it's not the friends you keep, it's the abs you maintain.

Images like these were ideal for my forays onto web sites, but when they creep into our general media and onto my Facebook newsfeeds with such regularity, it's disconcerting. Can't I at least see your face, the tilt of your head, the humility in your eyes or the humor of your smile? The interests you speak of in your written profile -- the movies and the volunteer work and your sense of the romantic -- are crushed, simply wiped away, by caving in to our culture's fetish for what lies between your neck and your waistline.

I've had friend requests from people I literally couldn't identify, because all of their pics were shirtless and headless. They don't get accepted, and neither do those who have a very long list of friends who, like them, are adverse to anything that conceals the pecs and traps and clavicles. Even when they show their faces, the expressions -- dull and secondary -- seem designed not to distract from the muscles in the foreground.

It gets comical, like the guys who sulk in their profile updates because they can't seem to snag a man of quality, all the while sporting a profile pic wearing nothing but briefs, in a sassy pic shot from down below, from the perspective of the bedroom carpeting. Really? You're not attracting hedge fund managers or spiritually evolved advocates for the poor with that pose? And yet you're displaying the very best you have to offer a guy. Perplexing.

Is marketing and advertising to blame here, or is it just giving us what we want? In my local gay rag, there's a totally hot naked man featured in an ad for a dentist. Never mind that the man is smirking rather than smiling. He doesn't need to show his teeth. His shoulders are enormous.

In gay cyberspace we're all naked, it would seem. Just one buffed dude without a stitch of clothes talking to other ripped guys who just got out of the shower. And if your high school friends or your sister (or mine) scrolls by your sex bomb pics while sharing baby news on Facebook, then fine, let them gaze upon the gay ideal and they can kiss your exposed ass cheeks if they don't like it.

It's just... what we do.

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The clicking you hear is the sound of guys un-friending me on Facebook. But I did enjoy writing this and hope you don't have to be a "ranting, aging gay man" to appreciate it.

I don't know, Mark ... You openly admit you did it when you were young, but you criticize the ones who are young today for gathering rosebuds while their flower garden is in bloom. Even though youth is wasted on the young, it still deserves to be celebrated.

May I invite you to consider gratitude that you are old enough to maybe receive a few Social Security checks before the program gets totally wiped out one way or another? I have a lot more resentment for rich people who use their money to ruin the economy, then rob homes from struggling families (including LGBT ones), and support the murder of our brothers and sisters in Uganda than I do toward young guys who like to show off their pecs and biceps.

Mark, this may be the pot belly calling the love handles flabby, but ... it's time to grow up. Use your many remaining years to be the best father you can be to the generations coming up behind us. They may not know that we have wisdom to share, but we do. Yes, I envy a flat stomach, but I am glad not to be a fresh college grad with $100K in student loans and still having to move back in with Mom and Dad and take a job at McDonald's. (You know, rippled abs or not, it kinda sucks having to fuck in an old Ford Focus because neither you nor the hot guy you picked up at the gym have a place to go.)

Oh ... and loggoff of Facebook and check out If you can't develop a taste for pot bellies, you can at least convince yourself that there are a few hot younger guys that are still into us.

And join the bear community, where pot bellies are beautiful.

You certainly took my post to some interesting, unexpected places, A.J.

Beyond my (obvious?) bemusement with those posting shirtless pics, I never identify them as "young," because the habit isn't limited to young guys. I do believe I have "grown up" and that's why I'm sharing this perspective. Your student loan tangent... escapes me.

Thanks for the referral, but that misses my point completely. I don't wish to celebrate either rock hard abs or pot bellies, thanks. I'd like guys to expose their real life interests and passions, not their body parts.

My "student loan tangent" merely was intended to point out that the current generation has problems we never had to deal with -- but we had other, different problems. That's all there was to it, and sorry if the point wasn't more obvious.

And the "grow up" remark was a bit facetious -- like I said, it was the pot calling the kettle beige.

From the perspective of an even older gay man, who rarely uses any of the "social media", or the "just do"-type sites, allow me a momentary rant of my own: If God had wanted Man to "post", "share" and "tweet", He wouldn't have invented the TELEPHONE for cryin' out loud! (It just took me 20 minutes to figure out my user name and password in order to "post" this damn comment!) Yes, I'm old, yes I'm sexually active, and yes I am more spiritually evolved than I used to be. Sure, it takes no time at all to "almost" connect with others via Facebook, then spend god know how much time online reading what others "like". If we are getting instant responses via Facebook and text messages, maybe we are spending too much freakin' time staring at a computer screen or cell phone, and not enough time WITH people. The "chin to bellybutton" photos reflect LESS personal interaction to me. Being "connected" to hundreds via cyberspace, may not be as meaningful as having lunch face to face with a "real" friend. Keep "tweeting" and "posting", guys, there will be another generation down the line who will irritate you as much as you and your ANTI social media irritate me. I'm trying to find one of those old curly-Q telephone cords; 'cause i want to strangle the next guy who asks me,"Didn't you get my text?"

Give up on finding an old style curly-Q telephone cord, because you are now supposed to walk around with a Bluetooth device clipped right onto your ear -- so that you are at the hands-free demand of any idiot on earth that has a whim to interrupt your thought process (which can't possibly be important) to tell you what he just heard about Britney Spears. (When picking a Bluetooth earpiece, do the best you can to find one with the tiny blue flashing LED -- that way muggers can even track you in a dark parking garage.)

The catchy prestigious little thingie clipped to your outer ear will have to suffice until the price comes down for having one surgically implanted directly into your brain and/or inner ear -- but in the meantime, you can dress up in a short-short miniskirt and black see-thru panty hose and tell everyone that you are Lieutenant Ahura.

If you still want to do in the guy asking if you got his text message, you might try ramming your Bluetooth device down his throat. As the Bluetooth gizmo makes his face turn blue, be sure to ask him, "Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? ..."

You're talking about the age old gay obsession with looks. It's been like that my entire adult life.
Back in the day, I learned from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to value brains and kindness and character over looks. But expecting that from mainstream gay culture is like waiting for Godot in brocade knickers. Not gonna happen.
I don't even care for the popular gay body type: overly buff and out of proportion. I prefer a more natural look: slightly buff, with strong legs for graceful moves, and balanced proportions.

Love that snappy 3rd paragraph, and think this is a very funny, wry posting, but am concerned it might save more than a few Republican Congressional seats should they read and comprehend it. Ah, what are the chances....

I think there are two different issues going on here. 1. the over-sexualization of the gay community and 2. how to behave using social media. Over-sexualization in general is not new for the gay or straight community. Yes, advertising uses hot buff men to sell stuff that has nothing to do with the product, but our straight counter parts do that as well. (Trust me, I spent all week designing football beer specials with "hot girls and big boobs" and nothing football.)

Behaving on Facebook is a new thing. I know when I first got my account I was going to upload all the picture I had already in my computer. Most of them were from other gay sites that I have been using for years. It was just easier to upload those. But, then I was thinking about how accessible facebook is and how groups from different aspect of my life mix. So I reconsidered the photos... (for the most part *grin*)

Age has a lot to do with it too. I'm a 20 something, relatively attractive gay guy. Posting pictures that I feel I look good in, is an ego boost. It is nice to get comments about how good you look. It's human nature. However, being HIV+, my body is always in flux. Sometimes I am skinny. Sometimes I am buff. When I am buff, I find people want to "friend" me more. My sense of humor or intellect didn't change, but my body did.

If you go back to the 70s and 80s, from what I have heard (I am too young to have "been there") gay men were doing the same thing just in a different format. Hot guys in tight clothing would flaunt what they got for a quick blow job. Hanging out on piers and congregating in certain areas to get cruised. That doesn't happen anymore. It's all online. Facebook and social media are the new places to cruise.

Maybe you are having a hard time with it because it is mixed in with all your other social groups. Or maybe you are bent out of shape because no one is cruising you online. But, I think that everyone should be able to post what they think best reflects them. If they think their greatest asset is from navel to chin, then good for them. Yours might be your eyes and smile so you feel more comfortable posting a face pic. At the end of the day it is all about self promotion and how you want to appear to the world.

Interesting points. And I agree. Facebook is way too public to post a lot of personal info about myself. I found myself editing out a lot. But including a bunch of photos of myself also seems wack. Not that I'm embarrased. But that'd be using Facebook as a cruising site, which seems off.
I'm from the 70s generation, and I'm just not comfortable with the new technologies. I actually prefer the old way of meeting some one in person to broadcasting myself across the galaxy for everyone and his dog to see.

Slightly off-topic, but it's bemusing how many people will use a picture of themselves that is, to put it mildly, rather out of date. And then are annoyed when others do the same.

I don't use Facebook that much myself, but I couldn't help noticing (because it's gone on so long) that there is one ad for an escort or massager or whatever in the Washington Blade who hasn't changed his picture since 2003. Must make for some startlement when the doorbell rings.

Well, I'll add another curmudgeonly old fart comment here, specifically in reference to the above-mentioned use of frolicking shirtless young men in gay advertising, particularly in ads for the gay travel industry. The ubiquitousness of 22 year old hunks in speedos in ads for gay cruises and gay guest houses shows that the advertisers obviously think that the sight of these dudes having a Fabulous Time will make me want to patronize their businesses. Actually, they make me want to run for the hills. Lots of money is being spent on these ads, so they must be working out, but they make me feel like I'd be totally out of place with my age and physical condition. I've done a fair amount of organized gay travel, but I stick to spiritual and outdoor adventure gay travel. All ages participate in these travel events, but they're not geared exclusively to the Shirtless Ones.

My name is Nate Klarfeld and I host an internet radio show, Stonewall Live; The Best of Gay and Lesbian Book Talk. (shameless plug) Most of my contacts for gay authors come to me by searching Facebook and Twitter since most established and up and coming authors have fan pages there. If my Facebook profile has my shirtless pic up, I get a positive response to coming on the show within 24hrs. If I have a picture of me playing with my grandson or heaven forbid, reading a book, I rarely get a reply.

I do know that I feel more self confident about myself at the tender age of 61 to have a flat stomach and some arm definition. I'm definitely treated differently in this state than in my Pillsbury Gay Boy physique.

Why? I have no idea. My husband, a retired psychiatrist says its just the new instant judgement we live in. You can't judge a book by its cover is cute to say, but why are there huge departments/focus groups/marketers in publishing houses JUST to determine the cover of a new book?

I like to think of the gay community as the intergalactic bar in the original "Star Wars"---species of all types hanging out.

Mark, this is such an interesting post, and I have a lot of thoughts about it... mostly, I think there would be value delving into this discussion and the connection to sex addiction - as we have in some of our discussions. I mean, can we really discuss the gateway to anonymous encounters without discussing powerlessness? While I am not one to post those sorts of pictures on Facebook, etc., I do relate to occasionally behaving in ways that belie my own values. And I have to think that for some people who do this, the same thing is going on. The abs shot (I really wouldn't know!) is clearly a good way to "get some," and if that's your priority, that's your priority, regardless of whether it's Facebook or Men4SexNow. At the same time, I agree with you. It's disturbing to see ads in gay magazines for dentists who appear to simply be selling their big shoulders. Alas, it's a vapid culture we live in. Keep fighting the fight, and I will too. Writing substantive things is your way of doing the right thing, and it's very necessary. Thank you.

As always, thanks for the thoughtful and provocative post, Mark. I think to an extent, this situation will take care of itself as people become more aware that employers are now checking out job candidates on Facebook.

By the way: If you have been "de-friended" on Facebook on account of this post, it's their loss, for sure. Just saying.

"... that employers are now checking out job candidates on Facebook."

What a pernicious world we live in ... we, the LGB (and maybe T's) of America have established the right to have same-sex partners without qualifying ourselves as criminals, but we can't talk about it online without risking our livelihood.

While local or federal protections such as ENDA will help in a basic sense, this also applies if an employer is turned off by your political views, statements you post about safe sex, or outright sexually-oriented remarks or jokes (which I make online all the time). Freedom of speech, ironically, always has and always will include the freedom to render oneself conventionally unemployable. It also include the freedom to starve to death, or to die of exposure in the middle of the winter.

I don't know ... once upon a time Black Americans were in the same boat (and still are, the boat has just become bigger and more comfortable) -- and many of them still survived. Like Patrick Henry, I am not sure I want to live if I can't speak my mind in some sphere, and of course it doesn't need to be my workplace. But if I have to become a walking 24/7 billboard for McDonald's or some clothing retailer that runs child-labor sweatshops in Malaysia, I think I'd rather live out of a dumpster.

I don't believe it's our right to be GLBT on Facebook that The Subversive Librarian is referring to. It's the fact that perspective employers could view the very thing this posting is about -- provocative pictures of half naked people taken in their bathroom mirror. Not the sort of thing you want attached to your digital resume.

I understand that, Mark -- but it my choice whether to design my entire life around what my employer, or a prospective employer, wants me to be (and many employers would love for their LGBT employees to stay completely in the closet), or whether to take the attitude, "If you don't like anything about me, go hire somebody else."

They are buying my time, effort, and talents to do a job -- they are not buying my soul.

I believe our sexuality doesn't excuse us from acting with some decorum. Whether you're a proud gay activist or Anthony Weiner, posting naked pics of yourself, searchable online, isn't good for your job prospects. I believe that was the point here. No one is arguing that we deserve rights, here. We're still members of a society, my friend, and good taste transcends sexual preferences.