Sexual Orientation

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B ody image and dieting patterns differ both intercultur-ally as well as intraculturally. Subcultures built around sexual orientation and/or sexual practices possess varying corporeal aesthetics. The gay and lesbian community in the industrialized West, for example, is a multilayered subculture that has developed a specific set of body ideals and a definitive politics of consumption, of which dieting forms a part. Nancy Barron, lesbian founder of Ample Opportunity (AO), a size-positive organization, asks "Are lesbians more size acceptant?" (Atkins 1998: 10). The answer to this question appears to be yes. Bisexual freelance writer Greta Christian is convinced that "dykes are far more tolerant and appreciative of other women's bodies than straight men are" (Atkins 1998: 76). Whatever one's opinions, the embrace of sexual marginality has also meant to some extent an embrace of other kinds of marginality, such as having an "overweight" body.

Studies conducted to measure the relationship between sexual orientation and body expectations are slightly less conclusive, however. Christine A. Smith and Shannon Stillman of the University of Minnesota conducted a study of personal advertisements in alternative newspapers and the Internet to gauge how the level of emphasis the ads placed on physical attributes differed based on the sexual orientation of the women placing the ads. Out of the ads analyzed, 357 had been placed by lesbians, 135 by bisexual women, and 334 by heterosexual women. The study concluded that while bisexual women required the most physical descriptors, lesbians required the least, revealing the role that community and culture can play in determining beauty and desirability (Smith and Stillman 2002: 337-42). However, another research article published in 1996 stated that lesbians had similar concerns as straight women when it came to questions of appearance, weight, and dieting (Heffernan 1996: 127-38).

A comparative study of forty-one gay and forty-seven straight men conducted in Britain in 1998 disclosed that young gay men were more prone to body dissatisfaction and eating disordered behavior. The authors of the study found that "gay participants revealed strong correlations between levels of eating disturbance, self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction whilst these relationships did not achieve significance for heterosexuals" (Williamson and Hartley 1998: 160-70). Instead of viewing dieting as a neutral practice that occurs within sexual and gender-subversive subcultures, Cressida Heyes argues that anyone who engages in dieting, straight or gay, trans or non-trans, is attempting to alter their body to fit heteronormative specifications of gender. Dieting, to her, is assimilable to queer culture because it is about configuring and changing identity (Heyes 2007).

SLG/Shruthi Vissa

See also Anorexia; Fat-Positive; Men

References and Further Reading

Atkins, Dawn (ed.) (1998) Looking Queer: Body Image and Identity in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Communities, New York: Harrington Park Press.

Heffernan, K. (1996) "Eating Disorders and Weight Concern Among Lesbians," International Journal of Eating Disorders 19 (2): 127-38. Heyes, Cressida J. (2007) Self Transformations:

Foucault, Ethics, and Normalized Bodies, New York: Oxford University Press. Smith, Christine A. and Stillman, Shannon (2002) "What Do Women Want? the Effects of Gender and Sexual Orientation on the Desirability of Physical Attributes in the Personal Ads of Women," Sex Roles 46 (9-10): 337-42.

Williamson, Iain and Hartley, Pat (1998) "British Research into the Increased Vulnerability of Young Gay Men to Eating Disturbance and Body Dissatisfaction," European Eating Disorders Review 6 (3): 160-70.

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