OPINION: Bear events are being taken over by muscles and abs

We see it all the time – online ads for a new Bear party or Bear event – we expect to see bigger bodied beauties in the photography since it is a Bear event where larger bodies are supposed to be celebrated, but then, BOOM! there they are… MUSCLES!

I’ve seen the complaints on Facebook, I’ve seen the comments on Instagram, and I’ve even heard the murmurs at actual Bear events when people look at the newest Bear event flyers and there’s nothing but muscles, pecs and abs. 

And, ok, at least the guys on these event fliers are usually at least hairy. We must not forget that the term “Bear” also includes guys with a lot of body hair, who traditionally didn’t fit the “pin/calendar boy” mold that was popular in the late 60s and 70s. But the term “Bear”, in more recent years, has been extended even further (and probably even more appropriately, in some people’s eyes) to men who are not only hairy, but also quite large. And with the rampant fatphobia we see in the media, and the general disdain for fat bodies that many of us have to experience in literally every aspect of our lives, it’s hard not to feel like fat people have earned the right to have a community that celebrates large bodies exclusively. I mean, seriously, try to go see the doctor as a large person with a broken leg or a sprained ankle and see if they don’t try to tell you it happened because you’re fat. “Well, Mr. Jackson, if you lost some weight, maybe your fat ass wouldn’t have fallen down the stairs.” 

However, when saying this, we must not forget that we have many people in the Bear community who aren’t very large, but either feel at home in the Bear community and/or happen to be admirers of the Bears, Cubs, Chubs and all the sizes in between. We welcome those people with open arms and hearts into the community, truthfully. But we shouldn’t forget that, even though there are people who are a part of our community that aren’t considered large, the community itself was primarily created to give space to larger people who are underrepresented in the LGBTQ community. And if larger people are supposed to come into the community and feel at home, the flier for your new event shouldn’t say “Bear”, while the picture gives “Gym Bod”? 

This is the reason why (at the risk of angering some folks) I’ve watched many “Bear” events in the community slowly get taken over by the “Hairy Muscle Mary” clique. Let’s not act like we haven’t seen it – The event that happens every weekend that started off catering to the big boys slowly and very insidiously gets taken over by the “Muscle Marys”, and that’s now all you see on the event’s Instagram profile. The guts have been replaced by abs, and the man tits have been replaced by bulging pecs. We’ve seen it. We see it. And yes, I’m talking about YOU. 

People go to places where they feel represented and comfortable. If the guts and chubby cheeks start disappearing from your social media pages, and all we’re seeing is six packs and muscle butts, then the only thing we’re thinking is, “When did this happen, and is this even for us anymore?” 

So, why does this happen? Why do we see this shift in Bear events that doesn’t seem to really happen anywhere else? And why do there always seem to be very few guys who are actually large and/or chubby (muscle bears don’t count as “chubby”) on these event posters? It seems there may be a few reasons. 

First of all, the event promoters want “attractive” people on the flyers to ATTRACT (see what I did there?) people to their events. They’re afraid if they go too chubby, they’ll scare the muscle bears away, and if they go too muscly, they’ll scare the chubbies away. So, many of them try to meet in the middle, and the flier will include three guys of different sizes (at least one has to be a person of color, of course) and that is how they stay diverse. To be quite honest, this works most of the time. 

However, there are some event promoters who don’t believe that there’s real money in catering only to the larger crowd, and they’d rather keep the muscles, the leather and the bulges. This gets them more attention, more followers, and more money. Sorry chubbies, maybe next time. 

Second, there seems to be more guys with muscles and muscle bears willing to take photos than there are chubby guys. If this is the case, this can probably be blamed on fatphobia, and the fact that larger men, quite naturally, are more apprehensive about taking their clothes off and posing for a hot photoshoot. Who can blame them? Nobody wants to have their bodies weaponized against them as soon as someone decides to make a toxic, fatphobic comment on social media. Catch yourself trying to be empowered, and people will do whatever they can to ‘keep you in your place’. 

However, I’m willing to say that, if anybody is finding it hard to find large, confident men for photos, it’s because they aren’t looking hard enough, or probably just aren’t looking at all. I mean, just ask Richard Cameron of London, UK, the photographer behind Bear Hotel, a Bear photo project that he’s been doing for over 5 years that features every different body type under the sun. I don’t think Richard has problems finding Bears to pose for photos, and I don’t have to wonder why. I have done three Bear Hotel photoshoots, and Richard, as a large man himself, makes me feel very comfortable in front of the camera. He knows what angles to shoot, he knows how to tell people with larger bodies to pose, and you just feel generally safe when shooting with him. 

So, event promoters, ask yourselves a few questions: Are you looking hard enough for people with large bodies? Are you looking at all, or just going for muscles? Are you making people with large bodies feel comfortable, appreciated and valued? Do your photographers specialize in making people with large bodies feel comfortable and safe? If you’re having trouble answering those questions, then you may want to re-valuate your process. 

And third, some people just have really weird hang ups around body types, and those hang ups sometimes end up being reflected in how they advertise and post for their events. Maybe they want the place to be filled with large bodies, but they only think smaller bodies belong on flyers. 

It reminds me of a boyfriend I once had named (redacted), who was a large person himself, and was apparently only attracted to and dated other large men. Then, a few months in, I lost a few pounds, and he jokingly/not-so-jokingly told me not to lose too much weight or I wouldn’t be attractive to him anymore. A few months after that, when I had lost a few more pounds, he seriously looked me in my eyes and told me I was too skinny for him; I had lost too much weight and was no longer attractive. Keep in mind, “skinny” for me is a stretch. I have never (when I say “never”, I mean since I was about 7) by any means been skinny. I was not skinny. Nowhere near. My belly was just a tiny bit smaller, but this translated into “skinny” for him. Some time later, I saw him online flirting with a porn star named (redacted) who is literally all muscles. No belly anywhere to be found. Not an ounce of fat on his body. Just… muscles. At the time, all I could think was “Somehow this fucker managed to be attracted to this guy, but not me.” 

I couldn’t help but ask about this – Because me and my “skinny” feelings just needed clarity. I was told that this person was a fantasy; they would probably never fuck them, but the idea of fucking them is hot because it’s just sex. Furthermore, this person had an exceptionally large dick, to which he said; “I’d fuck him just for that reason. I’m a size queen and a slut. Sue me.” I was then told, “Having sex with a guy with muscles just because he has a big dick, and laying next to one every night is two different things. “Just because I like this muscle guy’s cock doesn’t mean that I want to lay in the bed with him at night, or live with him, or be around him every day.”

It’s a weird place to be in. So many questions went through my head: Does this mean that my body is more desired or under desired? Why were specific expectations placed on my body? Does this mean that a person who is smaller than me gets more free passes than I ever could as a fattie? Why were these types of bodies ok to sleep with, but nothing else? Why is it ok for him to sleep with this person and be ok with it, but I was told I wasn’t good enough anymore in absolutely no capacity whatsoever? 

Part of me just feels like this ex put his foot in his mouth too many times, and got himself caught up in his own shit talk. But it highlights something that I think is crucial to this conversation: People see others how they see themselves, and hold people to weird and unachievable standards that they can’t even live up to. Honestly, as I’m typing this message and going to bat for Bears and Chubs, there are probably a few Bears and Chubs who would rather see guys with muscles on fliers and t-shirts because they don’t actually feel like they belong there themselves. Or maybe they’re just really more attracted to people who have smaller bodies than they do. Whatever the case, preferences like these can be tricky and nuanced, and sometimes it’s best to just cover your ass by keeping your mouth shut, keeping your own taste in men out of it, and making sure the people that need to be represented are, indeed, represented. 

And that’s the takeaway from all of this. Whatever the case, people with larger bodies need to be represented. People like the porn star (redacted) are always going to be on fliers and Instagram posts. But people with larger bodies don’t always get these opportunities. The more people see themselves represented, the more they’ll show up. And the more they show up, the less likely you’ll have to read another opinion piece like this.

Kyle Jackson

Kyle Jackson (He/Him) is Senior Staff Writer at Gray Jones Media, and additionally works as a writer, editor and theatre artist/actor. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, he studied at Dillard University, received a BA in Theatre from Morgan State University, an MS in Arts Administration from Drexel University, and completed the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer in Oxford Programme in 2017. Having lived in Baltimore, the Washington, DC area, Philadelphia and New York City, he now resides and works in London, United Kingdom.

One thought on “OPINION: Bear events are being taken over by muscles and abs

  • As a chub chaser, this article sums up exactly how I feel as of late. I think the diverse photos of groups with men of all sizes are probably the best all encompassing representation. When I see large beefy muscle men as the sole poster boy, I feel as though these events are not for me. With recent increasingly pricey events like Ptown’s Bear Week, it makes me question who is actually organizing these events; have they been taken over by those who could care less about the community itself, and are they just out there looking to make a buck?

    To address the possible photography issues mentioned, I’d like to recommend instagram user howeverchubby if event planners are seeking to have flattering pictures of chubby men taken.

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