You may or may not have heard about Sam Smith yet. If you haven’t, you need to know two things:
1.) He has the voice of an ANGEL. But not just any angel, like a first sphere seraph angel (which, according to this Wikipedia page, is like, the highest of angels; I don’t know how accurate that is because I know pretty much nothing about angel hierarchy.) Check out these videos to acquaint yourself with his majesty:
(His orgasmic and life-changing debut single “Stay With Me”)
(His impeccable collaboration with Disclosure, “Latch,” which is totally contender for my personal Song of the Year award)
(His cover of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know,” which recently went viral and is guaranteed to make you fall in love with him/make your soul cry for a man like him to come into your life)
2.) He’s pretty much the elusive unicorn of gay males: he’s sensitive, artistic (but not pretentiously so), and looks like your average twentysomething guy, only with slightly higher hair.
For me, a slightly overweight late-twentysomething gay man who used to be a very fit mid-twentysomething gay man, Sam Smith is pretty much the most accessible [new] pop star to emerge in recent years. Unlike Adam Lambert, Smith did not bust open the closet door wearing guyliner and making out with his male dancers on stage and being totally and unapolegetically flamboyant; Lambert is a fearless trailblazer who metaphorically flipped off his naysayers and hasn’t looked back once, a quality to no doubt admire. Smith, however, peeked out quietly and nobody quite saw him coming.
Listening to his debut album, In the Lonely Hour, is much like peeking into the soul of a wounded, insecure man who desperately wants love. In sum, it’s the antithesis of everything you’d expect from a young twentysomething guy, who are stereotypically filled with bravado and testosterone and brag about conquests instead of earnestly recounting sexual failure. 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?”
A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with Nicolas DiDomizio of The N!colas Blog about Smith. Somehow, in a conversation about his music, the topic of his weight came into play:
Nic: I mean, it’s incredible though , the narrative of the slightly overweight gay man
Me: He’s overweight? He’s perfect
Nic: Well, not by normal standards but gay standards
Me: Dude he’s not overweight by any stretch . Gay standards are the worst. Fuck that shit .
Nic: Overweight was the wrong word, maybe “non-ripped”
The subtext behind this idea:
“If he were straight he’d be totally normal, but he’s gay so he’s 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 Smith an overweight man. But then it hit me: once he publicly came out (without really saying “I’m gay” in an interview with Fader), he came under a whole new series of microscopes of scrutiny that belonged to ideas of the gay male body archetype.
But does this look like an overweight man?
Gay culture doles out higher body image standards than straight culture. In order to fit into the gay community, you must:
- Have muscles. Lots and lots of muscles.
- Possess visible abdominal muscles.
- Be typically good-looking. If you have muscles, you need not worry about being classically good-looking
- Be well-groomed (though lately unkempt facial hair has become a thing.)
- Look like this:
Sure, the above man, chiseled from Greek marble, is quite a specimen, but the reality is that most men 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:
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; hell, you can’t even get through a Hollywood awards show these days without seeing a shirtless Zac Efron flash his textbook abs and God-like physique (click here to read more about Efron’s abs.) Due to all this inundation on a daily basis (for most us, since we were too young to remember — 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 others’ perfection and scoffing at others — and our own — flaws.
“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 fit into the gay community?
As the last few decades have progressed, that definition has changed, especially as gay men find their place in mainstream media. For now, most of the depictions of gay men look like this:
Where does that leave Sam Smith?
He’s exactly where he should be: being an artist and creating music with his angelic voice, and inspiring gay men such as myself to be comfortable with how I look. He stated in that interview with Fader that he’s immune to the awful things people say about his body, but why should it have ever gotten to the point of immunity? Why are nasty comments being made about his body at all?
Is it Hollywood’s fault? Is it our parents’ fault? Is it society? Or is it ourselves? As gay men, 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.
As a gay man who is a part of the gay community, I’d like to, for once, hear praise for non-conformity; we have resistance from outsiders, we can’t keep slinging insults at each other for superficial, non-important reasons like physical fitness.
Repeat after me: “I am beautiful just the way I am.” Fuck the rest.
So rock on, Sam Smith! Rock on and keep making your sweet, sweet music. The world could use a man like you.