J Burns

December 1997

Lethal Conformity

(self-destruction made easy)

I laid my head on his soft stomach and closed my eyes. I was helpless to heal his heart. As far as he was concerned, he was still that fat six year old they teased at school. In his eyes, he would never measure up.

While I usually find it unjustifiable to blame society for one's own problems, I strongly believe that it is responsible for my ex's lacking self-image. With an onslaught of images demanding an unattainable, perfect body and unrealistic expectations he and many others have struggled with their self-image; problems brought on by a cruel society.

Several of my closest friends have also had these feelings of inadequacy. My friends Karen always seemed to have everything under control- her love life, her friends, family, school, and her future. Only a year after we'd graduated did she reveal that all that time she had been vomiting -- emptying herself to be pretty enough, to live up to some standard. Did she measure up? Was it worth it? I saw a picture of her recently, chubby, with short hair, looking like a woman, no longer the small child with long hair and a petite body. But she was healthy -- and, yes, she was loved.

It often seems that even the best-looking have these fears, perhaps more so than most. My friend Beth is a beautiful woman -- and everyone knew it. She was beautiful outside and in, always ready with a smile and incredibly generous and warm. But, being Chinese-Canadian, she felt that it wasn't enough to be beautiful- she wanted to be different. She had died her hair purple, tried so many different things, but she couldn't change her features which she felt were too common -- she wanted to be different, to live up to some ideal she had seen in a fashion magazine. Again, it was only two years after high school we found out she had to check herself into a clinic to deal with her eating disorder. She hid it so well.

I had the opposite problem. I had been told I was good looking, but in an unusual way -- my Greek heritage is apparent, and I am often mistaken for being French or Italian. I wanted to be the boy next, door, though. I didn't want to attract attention to myself, to stand out at all, I just wanted to be "normal." And when I became comfortable with myself, I then found yet another standard I didn't meet. While I never turned to starving or purging, I did struggle with massive self-loathing.

For, while feelings of inadequacy are common among youth, they may be worse for gay youth, coupled with isolation and perhaps a more superficial subculture than the mainstream. I had envisioned "gay life" as a warm, accepting culture where I would finally be accepted for whomever I was, and loved unconditionally. What a cruel wake up call I got. Instead, I found a lot of coldness, superficiality, and a general sentiment which can be summed up in one heartless line: no pecs, no sex.

The media often functions to make us feel inferior and find faults within ourselves. We need to start emphasizing different qualities besides physical characteristics, such as looks, body type, and muscle tone. We need to start loving ourselves for who we are, and to love others as well. I feel that we are becoming self-destructive not only as individuals, but as a culture.

When we should be promoting love, acceptance and tolerance, we seem to instead be instilling exclusion, isolation, judgment and a sense of inferiority. It seems gay culture is often driven by gyms, steroids, diets, attitude, makeovers, plastic surgery and fashion -- are these the attributes we want to characterize ourselves? What about authenticity and unconditionality? Do we want to all look the same and act the same? We claim to celebrate diversity, but it seems we are instead striving for an unhealthy, lethal conformity.

©1997 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.