When looking at any popular culture magazine, one is bombarded with the image of the perfect human being: the toned, sculpted bodies and perfect celebrities wearing the latest fashions.
We have been forced to accept this as the model of perfection, and those who do not are shunned or marginalized. However, there are individuals out there who choose to defy this heteronormative discourse, by not subscribing to heteronormal ideals.
While there are many types of resistance to the norm, one of these is "gaining", defined loosely as the pursuit of happiness or self-respect through weight gain.
However, this is only an umbrella definition and there are many motives for gainers to explain their actions.
For some, it is driven by the desire to escape from the status quo.
"I had never felt comfortable in my own skin and always felt gawky and gangly. The first 10 pounds felt great and as the weight came I felt more and more comfortable with the added girth," says Fort, a 31-year-old from British Columbia. For others like Binxter, a 25-year-old from England, weight gain is natural.
"At 20, I moved out into my own place, and inevitably gained some weight, but not deliberately. Those first 20 pounds were the result of the freedom of living by your own rules I guess. After that I decided to help it along," he explains.
For others, it is a fetish.
"I stumbled on many web sites that were related to gaining weight as a fetish in 1998 and went from there. I've been actively gaining since November 2001. I've gotten into it because I have a fondness for big men in general," says 26-year- old William from the United States.
The methods in which a gainer fulfills his or her desires are as var- ious as the reasons. They range from eating before going to sleep or simply consuming more.
For Binxter, it's all about taking it slowly.
"Gaining isn't a chore and not something you should have to work at. It's simply a case of letting yourself go a little, giving in. I guess I'm pretty lazy too, which helps," he states. "Unlike some gainers, I'm not into stuffing myself until it hurts, or until I can't move. I just don't like the feeling. I graze."
But for Fort, it is the opposite.
"I found eating late at night, right before bed helped a lot," he says. "Also, in the past I would eat until I was satisfied but not full. Now I eat until I am beyond full."
However, while some gainers are uninhibited in their gaining pursuits, others have set limits.
"I would surely not overeat until I feel ready to throw up," says William. "Many guys are into that but I'm not. It just varies from person to person."
There are also health concerns that come with gaining, which most gainers take seriously.
"I'm concerned about the long-term effects, and diabetes runs in the family," describes 23-year old- Albertan Derek. "But, I try to be as healthy as I can."
"I don't currently have any real problems, apart from being quite unfit," adds Binxter. "Obviously it is something that's on my mind, but for me, it's a bridge and I'll cross it when I get to it. The way I see it, almost everything we do these days has a potential affect on our health."
As mentioned, gaining encompasses three groups under one umbrella term. The first are gainers, or those who actively pursue weight gain. Under this group are "feedees," which are individuals who seek to be fed. A second group, called "encouragers," are those who encourage gainers or actively feed them in order to help them attain their weight goals.
A third group, fat admirers, are those who are in the middle. These individuals do not actively gain or encourage, but are observers and admirers of gainers.
However, as William explains, no gainer, encourager or admirer falls neatly into one category.
"I'm a gainer, feeder and encourager so I play almost all fields here in the community, but it varies," he says.
This leads to the question, what is the general purpose of gaining? Is it a strike against the heteronormative discourse on body image, or is it merely a personal choice?
For Fort, it is the classic desire to be different from the crowd.
"I think there is an element of that for sure. I like being the only one in certain circles that is happy with their fat and not tormented by it. I like being a bit of an anomaly," he says.
But for Binxter, it is simple.
"It's just something that I'm into. I do it because I like it."
William explains that it can actually be a bit of both.
"It is a rebellion to some for the image of thinness as the greatest thing on Earth," he adds. "God didn't make us all the same so why try to be the same? Others do this as a personal choice because they want to do something to change their lifestyle and experience something new in their lives."
So how accepting is the world of the gainer's pursuit?
The community itself is extremely supportive of its membership.
"Within the community, it's cool. I fit in and the reaction's always positive, especially when I gain a few more pounds," states Binxter.
However, the outside world is a much crueller place where the heteronormative discourse rules with an iron fist.
"I mostly get the typical looks and reactions that one gives to an overweight person. A mix of disgust and pity, I suppose," quips Derek.
However, the amount of stock gainers put into the reactions of the outside world vary. As Derek puts it, "I don't really care for the most part. Everyone's entitled to an opinion."
Fort offers a more scathing view.
"I honestly don't care much about them," he says. "They have no bearing on my life. If someone wants to know me they will try. If someone wants to judge me or hate me there is no 'try' it just happens. Why worry about something you can't change."
In a world that continues to strive for goals that a select few have set, gainers struggle in the face of the majority who are less than accepting of their goals and purposes. In the face of so-called conventional wisdom, gainers blaze their own trails. While it is easy for one to judge, it takes skill to understand.
"Being unique or even bizarre is what makes the world less boring and more worth living if you enjoy doing what you want to do," states William. "We all die someday so why not enjoy our lives the way we want to."
Fort couldn't agree more.
"There is nothing that bespeaks of insecurity more than telling someone how to live their life," he says. "Live your own and pass the donuts."