Illustrated by Cole Lopez (They/Them)
It’s summer time! And you know what that means: driving with the windows down, ice cream sundaes, and all of our body image issues that we concealed under winter clothes being brought to the surface!
For some, summer is a fun time of year where they can bust out some of the outfits they couldn’t show off in colder months, but for others, showing skin isn’t empowering and can bring up some uncomfortable conversations. Specifically, as queer people and especially trans people, our very physical forms are politicized, put under a microscope to determine the validity of our identities or even weaponized against us by those who seek to prove otherwise; genitalia and secondary sex characteristics in particular somehow become everyone’s business anytime queer and trans issues are brought up in conversation.
Beyond the politicization of queer bodies, there are certain social and beauty standards that dictate how queer people are “supposed” to present, imposed upon us both by heteronormative society and by those within our own community.
This June at LA Pride In The Park, I was able to speak with some queer people about beauty standards in the community and how they believed those standards applied to and affected them directly. Since LA Pride In The Park was a paid event, it consisted of mostly Millenial queer people (those who commented on their age were mostly late 20s to early 30s), as well as those that could pay to get in (general admission was $60). Due to the somewhat limited demographic of my interviews at LA Pride in The Park, OutWrite also released a survey on social media asking the same questions about body image and beauty standards. I was able to conduct interviews with eight people at LA Pride in The Park, and twelve people responded to the online survey.
At LA Pride in the Park, the message overwhelmingly seemed to be that beauty standards within the queer community were much more accepting than in cisgender, heterosexual spaces and culture. However, there was still recognition that there were social standards that dictated how people should present and that media was a big contributor to upholding these standards.
One man in particular said that things have changed since the 90s and 2000s, especially for gay men, from a “cookie cutter” standard to one that is more accepting of “different shapes and different sizes and different colors.” This sentiment seemed to be shared by many of the other people that I interviewed. Another person stated that they believed that the standard for women was also becoming more inclusive to plus sizes.
People who answered the online survey tended to agree with the LA Pride in The Park goers that queer spaces had a wider definition of beauty than cisgender, heterosexual spaces, and recognized beauty in people across many different demographics. Many said that they felt more comfortable and more accepted in queer spaces than in general society and could be more themselves in those spaces.
Respondents online also added some additional nuances to the conversation, recognizing that there were still beauty standards within the queer community, even if they were different than cisgender, heterosexual ones. Several people answered that they felt like there was a certain way that they were supposed to present in order to be recognized as queer by other queer people. One person commented that he felt like he needed to be “outrageously colorful or otherwise ‘visually queer’ in order to be queer” when he didn’t feel like it was his personal style. Fashion and “looking gay,” which was most described as wearing a non-standard clothing style (piercings, dyed hair, and subverting gender roles were some examples brought up), was a common topic when people in the online survey were asked if they felt that beauty standards affected them and their body on a personal level.
One LA Pride in The Park goer echoed the sentiment that they felt like they needed to dress a certain way to be seen by those they were attracted to. This person identified as bisexual, and said that at first they would “dress like a guy, just to prove that [they] liked girls” and would dress like a girl other ways. They also said that getting the comment “Well, you don’t look gay” was a factor in them deciding to dress more masculine in order to prove their queerness. Now, they say they dress how they want, having learned to ignore the pressure to dress a certain way.
Others commented that, although the concept of queer beauty is wider and more inclusive than cisgender, heterosexual ones, they still felt like beauty standards mostly catered to and benefited white, skinny, able-bodied people within the queer community.
The relationship that trans people have with their body and beauty standards was another common talking point amongst those who filled out the online survey. Many commented that their gender dysphoria was enhanced by the presence of beauty standards for trans people. Facing misgendering due to not presenting typically masculine or feminine was a big source of dysphoria for them. Being thin, in particular, and the gendered view of fatness was another topic brought up in the discussion of beauty standards for trans people. I have seen plenty of content from trans, plus-size people stating that chest binders don’t work the same way for them as they do skinny people and that they have faced adversity trying to present in a gender affirming way because much of gender affirming clothes are marketed towards thin people.
Dysphoria was also mentioned when people in the online survey wrote about their relationship with their body and the journey getting there, many stating that they still struggled with dysphoria as a barrier from truly being at home in their bodies.
When asked to comment on their relationship with their body and the journey it took to get there, LA Pride in The Park goers and online survey respondents both admitted that the journey to self-love was not always an easy one. I’m happy to report that many LA Pride in The Park goers were able to answer that they did have a healthy relationship with their body and body image at this point in their life. The difficulty of the journey was still recognized, and others mentioned that it was still a struggle to love their bodies. Spirituality, therapy, and inner reflection were cited as ways that people learned and were learning to love their physical form.
Clearly, this sample of people that I interviewed and who answered the online survey does not represent the body image and opinions of the entirety of the queer community. However, I do hope that everyone can get something out of seeing the opinions of others regarding beauty in the queer community — whether that be a way for you to empower yourself and boost your confidence, or revealing a hidden bias that you didn’t know you had about the notion of “beauty.”
For me, being surrounded by queer people is deeply healing — I feel a sense of safety, not only physically but also in expressing myself in a way that is affirming. I hope that other people feel the same way and can find the same safety in queer community no matter how they look or present. Ultimately, I think that what one LA Pride in The Park interviewee commented sums up how we should operate as a community: “Everyone should just live how they want to live and we should be able to accept that, because no one is the same.”
Author: Emma Blakely (They/She/He)
Artist: Cole Lopez (They/Them)
Copy Editors: Judah C (They/Them), Bella (She/They)