Sam Smith & the Gay Body Archetype

Sam-Smith-Stay-With-Me-Video

Sam Smith is a queer international treasure.

Not only does Sam Smith have the voice of an angel, but they’re also the most accessible pop star to emerge in the 2010s. Listening to their debut album, In the Lonely Hour, is much like peeking into the soul of a wounded, insecure queer person who desperately wants love. Despite the fact that Smith didn’t come out until he’d already made it big with “Stay With Me,” to listen to the album is to understand queer-coded queer pain. Smith, a young twentysomething, is earnest when they sing about recounting sexual and romantic failure, and raw when they say that they just want intimacy. In “Stay With Me,” he sings, “Guess it’s true, I’m no good at a one night stand / But I still need love ’cause I’m just a man […] I don’t want you to leave, will you hold my hand?” Isn’t that what most queer people want? To have someone hold their hand, to stay with them when all the lights go out? What Sam has done is market themselves as an artist who is easily digestible to the masses by masking that queer pain in something palatable for a straight, cisgender audience, one that would never know what it’s like to be rejected en masse because of their gender and/or sexual identities, and who/how they love.

But there is more to Sam Smith than the honest, queer pain. I didn’t see it what it was that drew me to them beyond the subtle queer hints that I had trained myself to sniff out like a bloodhound in any media available. Until a conversation with a friend where the topic of Sam’s weight came up:

FRIEND: I mean, it’s incredible though, the narrative of the slightly overweight gay

ME: He’s overweight? He’s perfect

FRIEND: Well, not by normal standards, but gay standards. Overweight was the wrong word. Maybe “non-ripped”

The subtext behind this:

“If Sam were straight they’d be totally normal, but in gay world, they’re obese.”

This was the first time I had ever thought about Smith being “overweight.” In fact, it struck me as completely crazy that anyone would consider them overweight . But then it hit me: once Sam publicly came out (without really saying “I’m gay” in an interview with Fader), they came under a whole new series of microscopes of scrutiny that belonged to ideas of the gay body archetype.

But does this look like an overweight person?

Sam Smith, London 2014
Fader, PHOTOGRAPHY: LEONIE HAMPTON

Gay culture doles out higher body image standards than straight culture. In order to fit into the gay community, you must:

  1. Have muscles. Lots and lots of muscles.
  2. Possess visible abdominal muscles.
  3. Be typically good-looking. If you have muscles, you need not worry about being classically good-looking
  4. Be well-groomed (though lately unkempt facial hair has become a thing.)
  5. Look like this:
    8361039e07bd139d4e1d5deeab8c2acf

Sure, the above man, chiseled from Greek marble, is quite a specimen, but the reality is that most male-identifying people look like Sam Smith. And in a world overcrowded with unrealistic body expectations, male objectification, and unhealthy body standards from major media outlets, Smith is a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop the fat-shaming. In fact, type in “Sam Smith fat” on Twitter, and these are a few tweets that will pop up:

Even YouTube makes not-so-mild suggestions with its ads when “sam smith how will i know” is typed into the search bar:

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 10.38.03 PM

.This is the real question: How and why is Sam Smith considered “fat”? Are consumers so inundated with mass media’s message of what it means to be a “man,” how a “man” looks, and what is generally acceptable when it comes to levels of attractiveness that it’s impossible to recognize the physical beauty in someone like Sam Smith?

In an interview with Jessica Robertson of Fader, Smith said:

“I got a comment on my Instagram recently—I posted a picture and someone said, “He’s getting fatter and fatter.” It boggles my mind. I can see why people would go crazy. I do care about the way I look; I used to be really, really big as a child, so my weight is something that I have always been very conscious of and sensitive about. But I don’t give a shit. I just need to have the best body I can and feel confident in that. I’ve had some horrible things said to me in my life, so I’m quite immune to things like that.”

If we all took a second to appreciate ourselves and others for who they are and what they look like, and praise them instead of tearing them down due to some [unspoken] standards, maybe, just maybe, we might be better people and respect ourselves a little bit more.

In an article on Huffington Post, “Blob and Weave,” author Mike Diamond wrote:

“The most basic factor in sexual attraction (for men) is the visual element, what goodies you have on display to entice that trick/future husband/surprisingly lenient cop who pulls you over for doing 90 m.p.h. on the highway. Once you lure them in with your dazzling wit and skills as a gourmand, you can relax a little, but honey, first you gotta tempt them into your web. My own personal observation is that the basic equation for a gay man to attract another gay man is a muscular, manly body and a youthful boyish face. That is a hard balance to achieve! To paraphrase a famous quip from Catherine Deneuve, ‘At a certain age, you have to choose between your face and your ass.'”

We live in an extremely media-conscious world; media is everywhere at all times and our minds are subconsciously absorbing all of these body image standards presented to us through television shows, music videos, print advertisements, commercial advertisements, billboards, movies, etc.

Due to all this inundation on a daily basis–and for future generations who grow up surrounded by increasing modes of technology, this saturation will only get worse–our subconscious minds become our conscious minds, and we find ourselves admiring perfection and scoffing at flaws, which often manifests itself in how we view our own bodies.

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Source: Getty

“Why Gay Men Hate Their Bodies Too” by Larry Cappel explains this:

“Body dysmorphic disorder occurs when people compare themselves to the impossible, Hollywood body standard and believe they are defective because they look different than it. It is also one of the common ways that childhood trauma manifests in adulthood for gay men.

Growing up, boys idealize the men in their lives and strive to be like them. But when fathers, teachers, coaches, ministers and others communicate to boys that who they are is fundamentally rotten, the boys look elsewhere for role models. And in today’s world of 24-hour TV and internet, the replacement role models are often the impossibly sculpted bodies represented in the media, and especially by Hollywood.”

We learn from our surroundings, and men learn what defines a “man” at an early age: the ever-elusive word “masculinity.” But what exactly is “masculine”? And where/how does that word manifest itself within the gay community and why is it problematic to adhere to heteronormative views of masculinity, especially when LGBTQ lives are constantly up for debate?

Is it Hollywood’s fault? The media’s? Society-at-large? The heteronormative patriarchy? Or is it ourselves? Though the answer is most likely, “all of the above,” as queer people, we judge ourselves more harshly than we do others because we were often told by societal standards that we weren’t quite good enough the way we were born, and so we carry these judgements others have made on us toward others.

It’s time to stop. We must do better for and to each other.

Where does that leave Sam Smith? They stated in Fader interview that they’re immune to the awful things people say about their body, but why should it have ever gotten to the point of immunity-as-a-defense-mechanism? Why are nasty comments being made about their body at all?

We need more body positivity. We need to resist traditional heteronormative body standards, especially because queer bodies are too often policed by media and consumed by Hollywood as eye-candy. Queer people are not body props. Queer people should not be pressured by straight cisgender ideals of beauty just to “fit in” with a society that wants to fight with us and dance with us at Pride, but doesn’t want to see us for who we are: A complex tapestry of identities.

Repeat after me: “I am beautiful just the way I am.” Fuck the rest.

Live your truth Sam Smith! The world needs you.

Editor’s Note: This post was written before Smith publicly identified as genderqueer. While pronouns have been edited in this piece from he/him to they/them, there are direct male or masculine-identifying terms and phrases.

Have you ever been the victim of media’s body image standards? Sound off below!

300 Comments

  1. Sam Smith Is overweight, as is the author of this blog. And what way to make his fat head look even bigger? Give him one of those ridiculous “iced gem” haircuts balanced on top of his frankly punchable face. But the voice of an angel? Really not. When he’s not mumbling he’s shrieking, dreadfully inconsistent & for someone who claims not to have money on his mind, he mentions “money” twice as often as he does “love” in that abhorrent song… so it’s pretty obvious what’s actually on his mind.

    1. You’re an idiot who sounds like a hater. Do something else with your time.
      In what world is THAT overweight? people like you are so silly. And overweight has different degrees and it doesn’t mean unhealthy all the time.

      People are conditioned to think skinny = healthy when that is a lie.

    2. Very poor choice of words. lol. You’re saying his singing voice is inconsistent? What does that even mean. In music terms those dramatic differences in tone and pitch are called *dynamics*. They’re a crucial element of music… Strange insult.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing all these words with me and everybody who actually uses their brain. You have absolutely no idea how much this inspired me, I can relate to every word not only with weight, visual and media but also with judgement.

    I am happy to read I’m not the only one who thinks like this about myself and Sam Smith. Since when people started to look up to muscles instead of beautiful eyes and a gorgeous smile. With all your proof and research, I love this blog. Again thank you! You look great!

  3. Thank you so much for this thoughtful, insightful post. You are absolutely right, in everything you wrote. It is so sad how many gay men have body image issues because of the pressure of society and often the pressure from within our own community. This post, and role models like Sam Smith and yourself, are great reminders for gay men to love themselves for who they are, and not feel they have to change themselves to be some sort of cookie cutter. Well written, thank you! 🙂 Matt

    1. Thank you, Matt! I really appreciate that. The pressures are literally everywhere, and we need to work together to lessen those pressures and work toward acceptance. I really believe it starts with the self. Those who spew hateful comments towards others are often at odds with themselves.

  4. Geez I must not know a lot about celebrities, I never knew Sam Smith was gay or that he was overweight, I don’t even know who Ryan gosling is. Or who Kim Kardashian is and why she is famous…

  5. Funny how the only ones that defense his fat ass are fat people! The world will never respect you, or find you appealing. No amount of “all about the bass videos” will change that.

    Oh, and not all women can be stick figures, but all men can be fit. The author looks like the only exercise he does is when he drives to McDonald’s.

    Fat people saying fat is okay and sexy lol.

    1. Why don’t you put your face to that and stop hiding behind an anonymous screename? I bet you hide because you would never say that to someone’s face, probably for fear of getting your ass kicked by one of us unattractive fat people. Or maybe it’s just that you don’t want to shame your family with you shitty attitude. Either way, your welcome to your opinion, but don’t pretend to speak for she whole of the human race, not everyone is a shallow vapid gymbunny trying to hide their boner in the shower of the gym…

  6. I think Sam is absolutely beautiful. His blue eyes are dreamy and I don’t think he’s fat AT ALL!!!! I wish people weren’t so rude and judgemental to each other. Sam is amazing and I love him.

  7. And here I thought Sam Smith was annoying and obsessed and a bunny boiler, but it is you, the author of this article that is the crazy one. Sam Smith flat out sucks. He can only sing whiny slow, breathy (under a very heavy breath, like someone who weighs 400lbs, with diabetes and asthma that tried to run from the bedroom to the kitchen for another slice of cake) and annoying high low pitchy songs. Very VERY annoying and untalented.

    1. I couldn’t help but comment… I’m a singer and I hang out with singers and you’re the first person I’ve ever heard say that… You’re completely wrong. Sam Smith is an extremely talented vocalist!

      1. You’re entitled to your opinion, as I am mine. I heard by far better singers in the streets of San Francisco, and London for that matter, that put Sam Smith to shame. To me, he is almost like an “Idol” show reject that maybe got to 3rd or 4th place, and somehow scored a recording contract, to produce something from the show to boost ratings. His voice isn’t that original, there is nothing distinct about it, nothing that is pleasing to the ear. In fact, his range falls a little too narrow for what I’d call “extremely talented” let alone “vocalist” as I feel he can’t vocalize what so ever. I honestly, do not think, since the 1980’s has England produced such an artist (and I say that in the most loose liberal sense of the word, because he is hardly an artist) that is an embarrassment to music, and so unappealing and un-relatable as Sam Smith. To top it off, his snide snarky remark at the Grammy’s made him a much more ugly person with this spiteful attitude. If that is what the people you surround yourself think is talented and deserving to be in the industry, you should probably seek new friends and hang out with different singers. Just my thoughts.

        1. I completely understand where you’re coming from. I’m not comparing Sam Smith to an extremely talented and well-trained operatic singer, however I am comparing him to the average “pop star”. Compared to the now so called “good” and popular singers, Sam Smith does surpass most in his vocal talent. I give him credit for that, especially since most people don’t appreciate a good singer anymore.

  8. gosh what’s with the people and their complains n Sam Smith’s body, who cares with figures whatsoever. I mean he still is handsome and I bet he has a better voice than they have so stop JUDGING. you’re hurting my baby Sam.

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