• Michael Edward Stephens

Me, my body and i. A new lgbt+ retreat series exploring body image.

Updated: Aug 7

Our new virtual retreat series, in partnership with Dr David McLaughlan, supports gay men with overcoming some of their personal struggles around body image and shame.

The LGBTQI community is disproportionately affected by body dysmorphia, eating disorders and anxieties about appearance. In a survey conducted by Attitude Magazine in 2018, only 1% of respondents considered themselves “very happy” with their appearance. Over half said they were "unhappy" with their body. And in 2014, the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that gay or bisexual men were three times more likely than straight men to have body image issues.


Dr David McLaughlan is an award winning medical doctor specialising in mental health and wellbeing. He has carved out a respected academic and clinical career whilst increasingly becoming a prominent voice promoting mental wellbeing within the LGBTQ+ community.


During this virtual retreat, Dr David will empower participants to identify common cognitive distortions related to body image. In doing so, participants will be coached in practical techniques and exercises to help them to recognise and challenge toxic thoughts, feelings and behaviours.


As David explains "In both my professional and personal life, I meet LGBTQI individuals who for various reasons, can not see how wonderful and beautiful they are. It's heart-breaking. However, at the same time, I feel inspired to help lead a change in culture to promote a healthier and kinder relationship with ourselves and others."


David will be joined by Georges Hann, a movement artist and teacher. Georges has a firm belief that through improvisation we’re able to deepen our physical self awareness to find further freedom in movement and mind. During his workshop, Georges will lead a short, simple visualisation and body scan. These are calming tasks to bring focus to our mind-body connection.


Our guest speaker, Ajay Pabial, is the founder of his own not-for-profit Arts Organisation – Art Clubbers CIC. His incredible work there is dedicated to helping budding creatives achieve a sustainable career within their chosen industries. Ajay is also on a personal mission to shine the light on creative individuals from culturally diverse backgrounds and LGBT+ intersections. By giving these individuals visibility within the community, he hopes to one day provide aspirational role models for everyone within the creative sector.


Ajay has kindly agreed to open up and share some of his personal experiences on the workshop. In a conversation we had recently he admits "For a long time I've been fed images portraying 'the ideal gay man'. The inner emotional and mental conflicts would often lead me to putting my body through torture. It's only lately that I've started to wash away the layers of overly fantasised mental images of body image to reveal a truer and authentic me."


I will also be sharing a bit of my story during the workshop. I have recounted publicly my own struggles with food and body image. I wrote in this article not so long ago about how the stigma surrounding this addiction was what stopped me from getting help. That AND a lack of understanding as to why I was behaving that way and experiencing those thoughts. Ingrained behaviours and beliefs controlled me. I didn’t anticipate that years after ‘coming out’ I’d be all-consumed by something of that same scale, all over again. But I was. I managed to avoid dealing with an eating disorder for over 10 years.



I traced some of my own issues back to my childhood and my sexuality, but culture also played a big part. As a community, we are currently inflicting our pain and trauma on each other through the culture that we are creating, the standards we are setting, and the expectations we now have. Driving each other, and ourselves, to extremes in search of the ‘perfect’ body and ‘success’. All in the hope we’ll finally find self-worth and acceptance.


This topic isn't new, toxic masculinity has been widely covered in the mainstream media, by the likes of GQ, i-D and the BBC. Attitude Magazine has been publishing 'body positive' content for years. But yet in 2020, the situation seems worse than ever.


There was also this fantastic report published from the Mental Health Foundation. It refers to ‘minority stress’, which comes from the stigma and prejudice encountered by the LGBT+ minority community. According to the report, “For young men who have sex with men, one study found that internalised negative attitudes towards homosexuality and sexual orientation predicted overall body dissatisfaction, muscularity dissatisfaction and body fat dissatisfaction.”


If you have seen our other retreat series 'Who am i?', you will see that we are on a mission to try and help resolve some of these issues within the LGBT+ community. In June we launched the wellbeing and empowerment programme specifically for gay men. By the end of August the programme with have over 100 global ambassadors and this number is growing each month.


We can’t create the inclusive culture and community that we all desire until we start having these conversations. Once we understand why we behave a certain way, we can use that knowledge as fuel to instigate positive change, becoming more powerful with the decisions we make, and the actions we take. We take an active role in shaping our own lives and lead the way forward for others.


With places limited on each retreat, it is a very intimate and confidential space. The programmes offer the unique opportunity to openly share and learn from each other’s' past experiences without judgement, building resilience together in the face of our collective adversity.

The first 'Me, my body and I' workshop will take place on Saturday 1st August and is free.


You can reserve your place here.


Follow us on Instagram to find out more or hear when new dates are released:


@offdutydoctor

@georgeshann

@ajay_pabial

@michaeledwardstephens

@createspaceretreats

@createspaceworkshops