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Social media has a funny way of clouding our perceptions of ourselves. Being barraged with everyone else’s perfected versions of their lives, at least for me, makes it incredibly difficult to resist comparing and scrutinizing myself against others. This is my beef with Instagays. Instagays, attractive gay men on Instagram who have followings that surpass the tens of thousands, are an established facet of the culture of gay men. Surpassing the occasional thirst trap, these men post pictures that are aspirational, aesthetic, seductive and fine-tuned to take full advantage of social media algorithms. 

Each time an Instagay comes across my feed during my social media scrolls, a cognitive dissonance arises within me. On the one hand, they elicit my desire. On the other hand, they deflate my self-esteem because I will never measure up to their good looks and immaculate lifestyle. Instagays obscure the perceptions of how gay men see themselves and what they expect the appearances of other gay men to be. There needs to be a wider recognition that gay men with rippling abs who party every weekend are a minority, rather than the majority, in the gay community. This understanding would help elevate the self-esteem of many gay men and recalibrate the expectations that we gay men have for each other.

Instagram is a notorious enemy of self-worth. This app’s image-based interface makes it easy to see attractive influencers flaunting excessively glamorous lifestyles within a few taps. Facebook is aware that Instagram is taking a toll on the mental health of its users. According to insider research at Facebook, “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.” Instagram creates a self-esteem addiction fueled by likes and followers. 

The app’s potent effect on mental health is all the more worrisome when looking at Instagays. And, the LGBTQ+ community historically has higher rates of mental illness, especially depression and anxiety. These elevated rates of mental illness, combined with an app that is chock full of chiseled gay men living it up in the party capitals of the world, are a recipe for the destruction of gay male self-esteem. With a history of anxiety and confidence issues, I myself have fallen victim to late night social media scrolls that turn into self-loathing pity parties. Sometimes seeing a fellow gay man who is seemingly the most attractive, successful man who has ever existed triggers depreciative thoughts that make me feel lonely and defeated.

Social media is not an accurate representation of reality. Read that last sentence over again until it truly sinks in. It’s a piece of wisdom we’ve all heard many times over, yet many of us still fall prey to the lures of that one Instagram page that reminds us of what we’re not and what we don’t have. Instagram is a doctored version of reality. It is Photoshop on steroids. Social media posts highlight all of the high points of one’s life and never the lows. People are more prone to post on social media when they are happier, and therefore they upload happier images, texts, videos and so on. In the context of Instagays, this tendency to only portray the rosiest parts of their lives takes the form of posting gym selfies when a person’s body is at its best. They are going to post about their trip to Mykonos, rather than their trip to the grocery store. 

The internet, and therefore social media, is a vital part of gay culture. There is a common experience of loneliness within the LGBTQ+ community. With the birth of the internet, many gay teenagers have been able to find a supportive online community that will affirm their sexual orientation and gender identity if their local community is not as affirming. This kind of support network originated with chat rooms and has now morphed into the myriad social media platforms offered today. 

With this in mind, it is all the more important that the representation of gay men on social media is one that is true to reality. The prominence of Instagays has made the image of gay men become dominated by a white, physically-fit, wealthy experience, at the cost of representing the true diversity of the gay community. The hegemony of Instagays is toxic to young gay men coming to terms with their sexuality and trying to find a broader gay community to relate to. While there is nothing wrong with showing off one’s body and party lifestyle, there needs to be a wider understanding that this is only one of a million ways that a person can be gay. Not all gay men need to be physically fit and the life of the party, and they shouldn’t have to be.All in all, I don’t take issue with these Instagays who celebrate their bodies and sexualities differently than I do. I think it is amazing that gay men are able to be so openly gay without vitriolic repercussions that would have befallen gay men of decades past, but the disproportionate control over the image of gay men on the Internet that this subgroup have is incredibly worrisome. The gay community is diverse. By only presenting a single gay perspective online, it causes many gay men to strive after an unattainable ideal themselves because they do not look like the worshipped subset of gay men I have described. I can say with certainty that these men are not as perfect in real life. We must remind ourselves that Instagay profiles are the highlights of that man’s life and that the Instagay experience is not the only gay experience. We need to recognize this to not only protect our mental health but also to remember to celebrate the magnitude of diversity that exists within our amazing gay community.

Ben Davis is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at bendav@umich.edu