Exploration of Weight Stigma and Bias within Bear Communities

Within the larger gay community, the bear counterculture aims to reject conventional beauty standards (of lean muscularity, smooth skin [lack of body hair], and ageism) surrounding desirability among gay men. Bears– typically older, larger bodied, hairy, gay men– have established their own community in queer space and hold significant cultural presence. This population roots its strategy in navigating identity politics through the lens of body acceptance and inclusivity. However, there is emerging critique by members of the gay and bisexual community (e.g., in popular press; sociological literature) that bear spaces and recent representations of bears are lacking in diverse representation (e.g., with regards to race and ethnicity, weight).

To more formally explore the evidence underlying these critiques, our lab conducted a scope review of existing, peer-reviewed behavioral health and sociological academic journals as well as media and popular press pieces (magazines, websites, bear materials) published between 1979 and 2018. The purpose of this investigation was to evaluate if there is a substantial prevalence of racism, weightism, and other forms of bias within the bear community.

Based on the analysis of the literature and available media, the lab is in the process of taking the necessary steps in regard to more in-depth research to see whether or not the bear community is addressing issues of intersectionality in their communal narrative. Further directions include community engaged research such as focus groups to critique and expand upon the literature review findings. This includes a more rigorous content analysis of bear representations in media.