ANALYSIS OF DATA I

 
 

Depression

 
From my analysis I have found that a large majority of respondents suffered from depression to a greater or lesser degree at various times throughout their life as a result of low self-esteem over their body image. Most respondents thought that men can get depressed because of their body image but the range of variability was large. The degree of depression brought on by body image/self-esteem problems was also variable. Two respondents noted suicidal tendencies because of depression over body image1 whilst others noted that his depression was not too serious, minimised by the development of his self-esteem in other areas which compensated for low self-esteem in the area of body image.

Some respondents such as Stewart (footnote 1 above), noted that levels of self-esteem in regards to body image improved after coming out. Other respondents, such as Sam, reported that their self-esteem over body image got worse after coming out due to a desire for the body beautiful image he was seeing in magazines, newspapers and gay porn. Some respondents noted a fear of rejection in different situational contexts because of a perceived lack of a valuable social signifier (the muscular mesomorphic body).2 Fear of taking your shirt off in a club, at the beach or in a sauna, for example, impacted on the formation of identity and the interactions that identity was allowed in different social contexts. Respondents, such as Michael, used basic simple withdrawal defence mechanisms to protect themselves from rejection by others. "He doesn't feel confident enough in his body image to take part in the cruising activities at the sauna because he doesn't want to let himself be vulnerable to rejection. So no, he hasn't felt rejection from other people, but paradoxically, he feels rejection from himself. Going to the beach - doesn't want to take his shirt off. Fat on his stomach, lack of a tan, hair on his back - does not feel confident. Avoided situations where he has to take off clothes. Low self-esteem as far as his own body image is concerned."3
But as we can see avoidance does not stop rejection and alienation caused, perhaps inversely, by the need to protect himself from the judgement of others.

Other respondents used different mechanisms for combating rejection. Richard, for example, goes out and has sex with multiple partners. "Richard gets depressed with body image in regards to "I'm getting a fat arse, or love handles, etc., ..." every so often. When it happens its bad - in reaction he would go to the saunas and the beats and have multiple partners to make him feel better about his own self-esteem with regards to his the body image. The men he would choose would be at the far ends of the spectrum of men he would normally find attractive - more important than their attractiveness was their desire to have sex with him. The physicality and desire - too see it in their eyes."4

Respondents also made false promises to themselves about starting a diet or going to the gym to combat depression over body image. Some respondents said they did not worry about rejection and used the justification that it was the other person's loss, as a self defence mechanism.
Sex was used by some respondents to combat depression caused by low self-esteem over body image. Gavin, for example, "Always had a problem with depression - found that sex freed him from depression about his own body. It raised his self-esteem until he had to search out more sex for the next time."5 Gavin had to constantly fight off bouts of depression and raise his self-esteem by seeking out sexual interactions to revalidate his own sense of self worth in regards to his body. This revalidation through sex was especially difficult for respondents whose body image did not allow them to have sex with their body image ideals, causing greater low self-esteem problems in regard to their own bodies.

 

The range of variability of depression caused by respondents perception of body image was large, ranging from respondents who never got depressed about their body image to respondents who had been depressed all their lives about their body image, depression that in some respondents caused suicidal tendencies. In analysing the data I found that for some respondents depression was caused by low self-esteem in regards to personal perception of body image when compared to the body image of others, especially in regards to the muscular mesomorphic body image ideal. For some respondents body image perception and levels of self-esteem had always been a problem throughout their life, whilst for others depression caused by body image perception had been amplified by exposure to the body image ideals of the gay community, consumer culture, advertising and the media. Macro conditions, such as the latter, did effect levels of ough the alienation of the self through the (corpo)reality of the body. Micro conditions, such as family and friends reaction, bullying at school, alienation from the self through rejection in personal interactions and the effect of reflected appraisal of body image by other men also affected respondents depression and levels of self-esteem in regards to body image. Fear of rejection was a key issue for many respondents. Defence mechanisms, both active and passive, were put in place by many respondents to protect themselves from rejection and the judgements of others and, we might add, the judgements of themselves. Active defence mechanisms included going out and having as much sex as possible to revalidate feelings of body image self worth, using sex to combat depression caused by low self-esteem over body image. Other mechanisms included making false promises about starting diets or going to the gym. Passive defence mechanisms included blaming others for their rejection or ignoring body image qualities altogether. Several respondents found that actively concentrating on and promoting other qualities that they possessed helped diminish depression brought on by low self-esteem due to body image.

 

Footnotes

1. "Really bad depression - knocking himself out on pills and booze - pretty anti-social. Suicidal tendencies partly brought on by body image before he came out. After he came out - much better-self esteem and how he feels about himself and his body ... If he was ugly it would make him feel depressed and rejected in the gay scene."

Interview with Stewart, 29, 6'1", 77kg, white, working class. Melbourne. 23/07/1997. Came out relatively late (when 28) and still adjusting to gay life.

"Ben got and gets really depressed - all through life. He eats to combat it. Thinks long term to aspire to better mentally and physically. He had and has suicidal feelings about his body image all through life. Body-builders say that you can never be big enough - for Ben going to gym and taking steroids is mental therapy for not having the body he wanted. To gain acceptance by everybody."

Interview with Ben, 27, 6'2", 86kg, Greek, middle-class. Melbourne. 15/10/1997.

2. "Always had a low self-esteem of his body image but it got worse after he came out. He thinks this was because of the images he was seeing of the body beautiful in the magazines, newspapers and gay porn. The thinks it would be nice to have a body like that - still does. Does it cross your mind that these bodies are not reality? Yes, he knows that but still desires a body like that. He understands that these images do nothing for his own self-esteem."

Interview with Sam, 34, 5'10", 85kg, white, Cypriot, working/middle-class. Melbourne. 14/10/1997.

3. Interview with Michael, 22, 5'10", 83kg, white, clerk, working-middle class. Melbourne. 05/10/1997.

4. Interview with Richard, 27, 5'5", 61kg, white, retail, lower/middle-class. Melbourne. 16/10/1997.

5. Interview with Gavin, 34, 6', 70kg, white, middle-class. Melbourne. 03/11/1997.