Mr. Bailey said his perhaps quixotic quest may be complicated by the fact that he is gay. Half the photos he showed me from the social media accounts he follows featured friends who look trim, if not cut. When Mr. Bailey is around them, he knows he is being judged, just as he once judged other people.
“Having a crazy-hot body is so important in gay culture,” he said. “You go on Facebook, especially in the summer, and everyone is just posting shirtless photos. It’s a little intimidating.
“Going to a gay beach is crazy intimidating,” he continued. “It’s always in my face. One of the best things in the world for a gay man is to go to a straight beach. I would much rather stay at a gay beach, because I like what I am looking at, but to be at a nongay beach, I feel like the hottest dude on the planet.”
Speaking from almost 1,200 miles away, in Minnesota, Casey Peterson, 34, said he had never felt like the hottest man on the planet. Not even close. As an athlete in high school, he played football, basketball and baseball, and even did his turn at wrestling. But still he was stocky. When he applied for the Peace Corps after college, he was initially turned away because of his weight. His doctor had to write a letter saying he was in fine shape.
“I would have to tell myself, ‘I’m not fat,’” Mr. Peterson said of his youthful build. “But I would ask myself: ‘Why am I not more defined? Why do I just sort of look thick?’”
He still has those questions, although he bikes 12 miles to and from his home in St. Paul to Minneapolis, where he works as a social strategist at an advertising firm. He also runs four to six miles at least three times a week and puts himself through the grueling Insanity workout as often as he can. And while he enjoys the internal rewards, the external ones that people seek — whether they will admit it or not — still elude him.
“I can’t find pants,” said Mr. Peterson, who, at 5 feet 11 inches and 200 pounds, would like to weigh 190. “My natural waist is a 31, but I have to buy pants that actually fit over my butt and my thighs. So then I am always the guy in baggy pants.”
When Jamyn Edis, 41, was coming up as a management…