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.

r-MAN-PINCHING-WAIST-large570
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. Are you writing because you are a chubby gay man who is only attracted to thin guys who won’t give you the time of day because of your weight? Are you a chubby man who won’t date other chubby men? If either of these is true, then you really have no right to complain about what others feel or are attracted to.

    You’re clearly a chubby man who’s proud, and fuck what everyone else thinks. And for that, you should be applauded. But if you’re a chubby man who, under the surface, is miserable that he’s single and alone, yet won’t date other chubby men, then that’s a deep-rooted issue that you need to come to terms with. That’s a dangerous and unhealthy way to live. Too often I’ve seen self-loathing chubs who will only date chasers. not realizing that it’s a fetish for most of those thin guys. (I’m not saying this is you. In fact, I’d like to believe that this is the opposite of how you are.)

    1. I wrote this because I’m extremely aware of how media influences body image standards, and I’d like to work towards combatting that. My love life has nothing to do with what or why I write.

        1. are you really that stupid? sure, you can insult somebody via internet, but if other person uses your tweet you can sue them for that…

            1. I think it is safest to assume these days that someone, somewhere is always judging you and it doesn’t fucking matter. I was a very skinny kid, a very, very heavy teen, a skinny/muscular 20-something, and am now 32 and human shaped. I don’t know where on the spectrum of gay weight judgment I fall, but don’t exactly care. I wasted a big part of my 20’s trying to find the right guy by wading thru the shallowest of waters. It wasn’t until I left the kiddie pool that I found the man I had been searching for. Now, I am a grown ass man in a happy relationship and living my happy little life.

              If you have a few extra pounds, so what! Built like a marble Adonis, big deal! Need to put on a couple of pounds, who cares! At the end of the day, all the surface bullshit is just that.

              Sidenote to your mom: Thank you! I am going to overuse the hell out of that saying.

              1. Unfortunately, so many men still play in the Kiddie Pool (totally stealing THAT, btw.)

                Everyone should live, love, and be loved. Life’s too short to pass shallow judgments and subscribe to shallow beauty expectations.

      1. Such a great article, Steven! I can most definitely relate to much of what is written. Though I am no longer overweight, those scars of what I once was still lingers. It’s a work in progress, but, those self-deflecting thoughts about my “body image” are slowly disappearing. Kudos for pointing this out. The gay community is SO harsh!

    2. The point is asking ourselves WHY we are attracted to the things that we are. We are products of our environment so we should change that environment. Subcutaneous fat = unattractive is not some universal truth. It has been created for us by an industry that wants us to keep buying those diet supplements and protein powders, those clothes that maybe we will fit into next month if we just keep trying, if we just motivate ourselves to go to the gym 5 times a week and spend ridiculous amounts of time lifting weights… But what are we doing it all for? We are all spending way too much time, thought and money into trying to impress people that we know see others the EXACT same way that we do. Don’t put this guy down for his courageous article!! You are the problem he is addressing! Your beauty will fade someday and what will be underneath? Examine, my friend.

      To the author: It is so nice to see someone thinking critically about objectification of others outside the realm of feminism! It’s everywhere! Kudos to you and your bravery!

      1. Actually, we may well be hard-wired to prefer tallish, muscular-trim guys because they make the best hunters. Blame our evolutionary ancestors. If you doubt, look at various isolated cultures’ art: They pretty much all feature the same male body type.

    3. It’s obvious he’s writing because the comments about Sam Smith expose a horrendous attitude towards gay men that makes them think that not having a super model’s body makes them undesirable. Sam Smith is being unduly subjected to ridicule – and racism – and this article is putting into perspective the shameful reality that allows such things to happen. This article is the level-headed response to “Sam Smith is fat” diarrhoea seen in social media. If anything, the article is written because the attacks on Sam Smith are as offensive as they are puerile.

  2. The first time I learned of Sam Smith was on The Graham Norton Show. He performed and I felt a bit sad that I might never hear his music hit the charts over here in the States. While I am glad he did, because he deserves success for his skill and talent, I hate that the American media machine has made quick work to tear him up over body image issues. I remember once upon a time when singers looked like real people but sounded super human. I don’t mind an attractive body or a nice outfit, but there are many more kinds of pretty than that, and a beautiful voice has no physical competition.

  3. Can you not see the person, the real person that lives within the body? We are each perfect in who we are, where we are and how we are (look!) Good health is a process not an airbrush photo. Be who you are, and enjoy the perfection of how you look!

  4. I love this post 1-for its message and 2-because you are a beautiful writer. I rarely read posts this long in their entirety. Well done! You should get this published in a magazine!

  5. I’m so glad you posted this (and that I got the chance to read it.)

    “I’d like to, for once, hear praise for non-conformity […] we can’t keep slinging insults at each other for superficial, non-important reasons like physical fitness.”

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. Before reading your post, I did have a very vague idea of what the body image standards of gay culture was like. But now after hearing Sam Smith’s beautiful voice and reading your words, I realize you’re right: we as a society/culture need to stop trashing each others’ body image. As someone who has struggled with body image for a long time, I know that weight-related insecurity cripples self-esteem and can overshadow everyday life. Thanks for shining light on a subject that just needs to be discussed.

  6. Freaking brilliant post. This needs to be discussed, as a woman I know we as a gender have always been thought of as the unlucky ones due to media expectations but fuck, that it’s going to men too is just the end of the line. Damn the media, what happened to being unique, beauty isn’t ridiculous muscles and the fact that people go to social media to fat shame someone with such an amazing, heart stopping, goose pimply voice, how are the rest of us going to survive. Great piece and fuck the rest. 🙂

  7. I think it’s just one of those stereotypes that you can’t shake off you know. I don’t think he’s fat. He’s not skinny but he’s definitely not over weight.
    It’s just sad that people are so cruel about it. I mean, he’s a human being. There’s no need to be so rude to him. Or maybe they are just rude coz he’s gay? And not that good looking? Most gays are good looking which is why the girl said that the video destroyed her image of what they had in mind by looking at the real Sam smith.
    And yeah, I’m a lambert fan too 😀

  8. Reblogged this on Iconography ♠ Incomplete and commented:
    I am happy that I am not talking about the heteronormativity in gay culture or standards and that homonormativity is also there. It is important to know that any subculture somehow riffs of the mainstream cul;ture and becomes something akin to it. I actually despise a lot of mainstream gay culture sentiments because they polarise like a patriarchal culture. There are theses non-negotiable terms which should in my opinion be left to the person to decide.

  9. it doesn’t take away from who he is as a person or an artist….but Sam Smith is indeed overweight. Gay, Straight, transgendered whatever he may be….he is overweight. Not sure why an article would be written arguing the fact when its clear for everyone to see.

  10. Here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (where we just hosted this years World Pride) being descriminated against is a norm. But many of times it has gone too far. I’m comfortable with who I am and deserve love and respect. However, I don’t go out to LGBTQ Clubs and areas anymore because many times, the thinner or “good looking” guys to the gay mans standards have pointed out to me that I should go kill myself for being so fat and disgusting. Really? Within our own community you want to encourage suicide? How nice. Another time, because of these repeat incidents that seem to be the same over and over “your fat, do something about it”, “you’re disgusting, go kill yourself” “someone put that fatty back out to sea” a friend of mine, who happen to be one of the “good looking” dragged me out to the club after refusing to go, he said, “I’ll be your boyfriend for the night, make the other guys jealous haters.” Well, that in turn didn’t direct the attacks at me, but encouraged said haters to approach him and say “what are you doing with him, he’s fat and disgusting you can do better” or come dance with me, your boyfriend will only take up the entire dance floor. I keep on a brave front, but it hurts, and cuts deep none the less.

  11. Oh and almost forgot to say, even if Sam Smith was fat, skinny, built or even 400lbs. I’d date him in a heartbeat because that voice. I coo thinking i could date a man who could sing to me like that at random.

  12. isnt it just as shallow to say that you would date him because of his voice as it is to say you wouldn’t date him because of his weight?

  13. Fantastic post! I don’t think most people stop to consider the standards society has imposed on gay men because people might just assume that these men have already achieved these standards. Clearly one’s sexual orientation does not predispose him or her to a certain body type, yet in this particular case people tend to think that. Props to you for bringing attention to this overlooked issue!

    1. Thank you! That’s the conversation that I tried to start…everyone has body image issues and we all think differently, but we need to get to a healthier place in terms of promoting more positivity and bringing down the hate.

  14. Sam Smith is an artist of incredible talent. It’s sad that today’s society focuses so much on appearance that they would rather point out what’s on the surface than the wonderful voice he has been gifted with.

    Thanks for sharing!

  15. The fact that people felt betrayed and or annoyed that this musician they liked didn’t meet their inane beauty standards says everything about how shallow beauty standards are. It’s beyond gross.

    Excellent article.

  16. I’m just really confused as to why people think they have the right to say rude and disrespectful things about people. They completely judged Sam Smith by his looks. Which we all do, and to be honest, I was surprised when I first saw what Sam Smith looked like. My first reaction was that he’s not the handsomest, and neither is he “skinny”. But that didn’t stop me from loving his beautiful voice and music. I never went on social media blasting him for his looks. Why? Because it didn’t matter to me. What would me sh*tting all over him have done for anyone? Absolutely nothing! People are just so rude, for no good reason! And I totally agree with the body shape some gays are pressured into thinking they need to find love. I don’t know why some, if not most, of the gay community are so self-righteous. Some only want others who have a hot body and a big d*ck. There’s nothing wrong with having a “type” or just something you find sexy. But dont be rude about it. If you’re not “hot”, they won’t even look in your direction. Why? I really want to know? (I’m gay btw)

  17. I LOVE Sam Smith. As mentioned above he has the voice of a literal angle (or what I assume a perfect angle would sing like). Great piece here! The idea of fat shaming and living up to unrealistic body types is something that needs to be discussed. You are never going to be able to please everyone. The way I look at it, you could be starving and unhappy for the rest of your life in an attempt to live up to some made up body idea or you could be happy with the body type you were given, and eat that damn piece of cake!

  18. Thank you for sharing this. As a woman, I always saw fat-shaming as something exclusive to my gender. My ignorance now seems almost naive to me. The media that I have been exposed to be it the TV show Girls or a film like A Single Man have portrayed gay men as all those 5 points you discussed above.
    What I am curious about is there a culture of slut-shaming prevalent within the gay community because my gay friends in India indulge in it quite frequently.

    1. There is absolutely a problem with slut-shaming in the gay community. I’ve always thought about the source of slut-shaming in general…I may have to write a think piece about it…

      Also, it’s not ignorance, really…it’s just that, in regards to men, nobody really pays these issues much mind. A lot of what I wrote applies to straight men too in a similar ways.

  19. Beautiful piece, and rings so true to so many people I know.

    It’s amazing how the standard for “fit” varies so much from a straight man to a gay man. Also, the effects that this unattainable “god-like” body has on us are devastating, but male body dysmorphia is an extensively unexplored phenomenon (compared to females).

    Good on you for bringing this to light, and shame on everyone who honestly thinks Sam Smith is fat by any stretch of the imagination!

    Plus, that voice… I bet most of the haters would trade their six packs to have a true talent like that 😉

    1. Thank you 🙂 I’m glad you responded to it!

      I’m really committed to exploring male body dysmorphia because I really think it’s a HUGE issue that deserves attention.

      (Also, I would kill for his voice! haha) Thanks for stopping by!

  20. I definitely agree that, just ’cause Sam Smith doesn’t look like a perfectly chiseled marble statue, doesn’t mean he isn’t attractive, or even unworthy to be “famous”. He’s like amazing at singing (and this is coming from a very picky singer). He’s not fat anyways, he’s slightly chubby in a cute way. Ok world, why you gotta be so rude? He’s perfect at what he does: singing. That’s all that matters and all that should ever matter. Don’t focus on the outside. Just because you can’t have him as your phone’s home screen without a shirt, doesn’t mean he’s terrible at life lol. How about making him your ringtone instead?
    http://www.aaboreden.wordpress.com

  21. Pingback: BreakThru Radio
  22. I’m a female, but, do know very well what it’s like for somebody to much such comments….and I’ve never been over a size 4 my entire adult life. Apparently the appearance size of my waist (27-28″) justifies people making comments and unwarranted advice. Even going as far as to cyberbully me for being too big.

    It hurt and really began to affect my mental well-being for a while.

    1. NOBODY should be making any sort of judgments about anybody based on their body type. It’s not only hateful, it’s just plain misinformed.

      I’m sorry to hear about your troubles with getting cyber-bullied. Just remember that you’re BEAUTIFUL and that nobody can take away your heart. Screw the rest. Those who lower themselves to devalue another person based on something so superficial are lost.

  23. First, it was women making this complaint. Now, it is coming from (at least, one in) the gay community. I don’t know about having a disorder, but I certainly wouldn’t mind looking I was chiseled out of marble. Actually, I would be happy looking like I was whittled out of wood.

    My point is that most people are not completely happy with their appearance. I would go so far as to say the beautiful people are the least happy with their appearance, and that is what keeps them working at it so hard.

    However, I am still unwilling to buy off on the entire “the media makes me insecure” thought process. They certainly don’t help for those who are already insecure. However, I get the sense the media would not put these images out if all the average people stopped consuming them.

    Or did I miss the point?

  24. This is so true. Gay men often seem to place themselves under a much higher level of scrutiny with regards to their bodies than their straight male counterparts. I wonder if it has something to do with the obvious comparison between a gay couple’s physiques. Unlike in straight relationships, where the bodies aren’t really comparable, in gay relationships you can clearly see which guy has a “better” body. And most people would rather not be the “fat” one in the relationship. Air quotes hint at my opinion on all this. Sculpted from marble is fun and all but I don’t really want to date Narcissus…

    Great post. Keep up the good work 🙂

    1. Thank you!

      You know, I never really thought about it from this perspective, but I can totally see where you’re coming from. Though, I’d like to think this isn’t the case because it’s such a shallow way to approach a relationship.

        1. We’re in the same boat, my friend. I’m the bigger one in my relationship too. But it’s never an issue…love is love, regardless of weight.

          (Also, don’t refer to it as a homosexual relationship…it’s just a “relationship.” 😉 )

  25. Pingback: BreakThru Radio

Comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s