Social Media And Obsession With Body Image Led Gay Teen To Seek Unhealthy Validation. “I Felt That This Was What I Had To Do As A Gay Man.”

by Kevin Carnell

My name is Kevin Carnell. I’m originally from Miami, Florida.

I remember being 19 years old when I initially came out. I was going to school at the University of Central Florida. It was my sophomore year and I finally mustered up the courage to be honest with myself and who I was. The first person I told was my best friend Lindsay. I told her after going to Disney World with her one day. And once we got back home, that was when I felt free. And with that freedom came this idea of exploration.

I remember Tumblr was something that was becoming bigger and Instagram as well was starting to become bigger as I was in college. I would see all of these guys with the chiseled abs, like very muscular. Beautiful, beautiful men. And they’re getting all of this attention and me, 19 years old, newly out, someone who’s not getting any attention from guys, I felt that that was what I had to do as well to achieve that. So that led to me going to the gym 6 or 7 times a week, sometimes not even taking a rest day, because I knew in my mind I needed to look like those guys that I saw online.

It almost became obsessive to the point where I was like, okay, and I would find these guys on Tumblr, start following them on Instagram. The only thing I knew was that they were getting the attention that I wanted and The amount of attention that they received would be something that I felt would fulfill me.

Ultimately that led to me losing my virginity to someone that I didn’t really know very well simply because they expressed a slight interest in me. Looking back now that person just wanted to get off, but me, I saw it as they think I’m beautiful. They want to be with me. But once I lost my virginity, I was like, now what? And that led me to downloading Grindr.

Hooking up with those guys, it kind of gave me the sense of validation in feeling that, okay, so this is probably happening for the guys that I see online. They’re getting all of this attention. They’re probably meeting up with guys and having sex. I felt like that was what I was supposed to do and this was – meeting up with all these guys and them being like casual random encounters – this was what I had to do as a gay man.

There was one time that I initiated a hook up with a guy online and he gave me his address. I remember driving to the hotel that he was staying at, parking – he told me to meet him in the elevator. I walked up. I met him downstairs in the elevator. He was not very, like, into PDA or anything like that. It was just very transactional. We shook hands. I got in the elevator. It was small talk, like, “Oh, how was your day?” We go upstairs to his room and once everything is said and done, I’m trying to get to know him more and asking him more questions.

And he’s like, “I don’t do that. We’re not going to do that.”

And I literally just sat there, looked around, and I was like, “I’m gonna go. I’m gonna go home.” That hook-up and being dismissed or the feeling of being dismissed by someone and experiences that were mostly validating was the wake up call that I needed. So once I got home, I remember going on my laptop, unfollowing all of the accounts that I would use just to compare myself to other men. And that was when I knew Grindr had to go as well.

So a lot of things changed once I unfollowed those accounts and deleted Grindr. My interactions with guys were different. I was able to sense their motivations for wanting to get to know me. And while I applaud them for being upfront, I was also upfront with letting them know that that was not something I would be looking for. So it’s helped me to also work on myself, just having deeper conversations and wanting to get to know guys more before anything gets physical with them.

Now, I can go months, even years without having sex with someone, simply because I value the connection more. And it’s something that I feel is a respect thing.

So before I used to go to the gym to try to get the attention of other guys but now I’m at a place in my life where fitness is about how I feel about myself and no longer how you feel about me.

I feel if someone who was just coming out, new to the community, were to come across my Instagram, of course they would find the sexier, provocative photos, but I would want them to look deeper. I would want them to understand that there is more behind my photos. I’ve done great work – I’ve worked with organizations like AIDS Lifecycle, and I’ve done a lot of work on myself.

There is a community, they’re loved, and what you may offer physically is not as important as what you want can offer someone emotionally or just how you are able to treat other people. that is ultimately what makes us beautiful.

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