From Traditional to Muscle Bears: An Evolution Some May Not Welcome

The bear subculture has long held a unique place in the gay community. Originally defined by its embrace of larger, hairier men, the bear community has been experiencing a significant shift in its demographic composition, especially on social media and on the dating apps. What was once a haven for those who didn’t conform to mainstream gay body ideals, the bear community has evolved into a space where muscularity often takes precedence over the traditional bear image.


Traditionally, bears were celebrated for their ruggedness, embracing a body-positive ethos that rejected the chiseled, often unattainable physiques portrayed in mainstream media. However, in recent years, there has been a noticeable influx of “jocks” into the bear community. These individuals, now hairier and older from their twink and twunk days and larger than an otter and a wolf, have found acceptance among bears but have also brought with them a new set of expectations.

The rise of the “muscle bear” has contributed to a redefinition of what it means to be a bear. While some may see this as a positive evolution, with the bear community becoming more inclusive of different body types, others argue that it has led to the marginalization of traditional bears. Those who were once celebrated for their size and hairiness now find themselves being labeled as unfit or even chubby, a stark departure from the body-positive ethos that originally defined the bear community. No, chubby is not a bad label, gay isn’t a bad label either, right? Until they are used in a bad and degrading way which is happening.


This shift in perception has not gone unnoticed within the bear community. Many traditional bears feel that they are being pushed out of their own named group, forced to conform to new standards of muscularity or risk being marginalized. This has led to a sense of displacement and alienation for many, who feel that the community they once called home no longer fully accepts them for who they are. “You’re not a bear” messages are flung across hook up apps, “you’re a chub”, and then of course the judgmental queen immediately blocks before a response is allowed. It’s because the bear label on the more popular Grindr and Scruff apps more so mean muscle bear, forcing bigger bears to identify not as bears, but as chubs which means immediate no es una opción for many.

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It’s not just on the hook up apps, but it’s also present on dance floors, posters for bear events, like bear blasts or pool parties. The rise of the muscle bear imagery often will deter the bigger bears from attending, and if they do, they are found on the periphery. Only if an event is designed to attract the chubbier guys and chasers, that’s when you’ll see the bigger bears front and center on advertising. 


And who is doing this relabeling or redistricting of the bears? Can we place the blame on this split in the bear community on someone? Is it those jocks that are now out and proud, but a little beefier and with muscles under that groomed fur, still more concerned with fitness and not too happy hanging out with less fit people? Oh, we’re in high school again! Even though both groups are on the same team now more than ever, they still would pick the bigger guys last to be on their side. 

Despite these challenges, the bear community remains a resilient and vibrant part of the LGBTQ+ community. Many are still working to maintain what it means to be a bear, emphasizing inclusivity and acceptance of all body types. By embracing this diversity, the bear community is still one of the more inclusive and welcoming spaces for all who identify with its ethos, regardless of their physical appearance.


But as bears try to continue to embrace all that feel different and the average BMI of the room is declining sharply, do we drop the idea of the bear community of being “a haven for those who didn’t conform to mainstream gay body ideals”? As traditional bears feel the push out of their own domain, do they need to go back and stress why they are bears? If we go back and remember the construct of “the haven”, do the fit muscle bears “fit”?

Acceptance, inclusivity, and body positivity have always been key, but when traditional bears are threatened with exile in their own group, removal of the bear label and another one is slapped on, getting pushed out from their own bear soup pools, their bear beds, their porridge being eaten, what is there to do? Are muscle bears the gay goldilocks? Would another good analogy be… are we witnessing “the gay bears fix up the neighborhood and then the furry muscle queens move in and reap the rewards”? Maybe instead of the muscle bears becoming the new face of the bears and the chubs pushed to the side, almost outside of their own group, maybe the traditional bears should throw around their weight and push back. Maybe they’ve been too accepting. Let’s not have the bears go back to how they felt in high school.


This piece shares opinions of this writer and may not reflect the opinions of other writers or Instinct Magazine.

Images supplied by CoPilot

2 thoughts on “From Traditional to Muscle Bears: An Evolution Some May Not Welcome”

  1. Yes, this has been happening for quite a while. Regular Bears definitely need to push back. I do. It’s gonna have to be a group effort of the organizers of events. Some events are doing a good job. I’ve seen it. I don’t have anything against Muscle Bears, but they need to stay in their lane. It’s a form of fat shaming by trying to take over the word Bear.


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