Each month we’ll take a trip into the woods to catch up with our community’s bears and their admirers. This month, freshly sashed Mr Bear QLD 2018 Alan Linneweber talks learning to love himself.

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If you had said to me a couple of years ago that I would enter the Mr Bear QLD competition, let alone win, I would have laughed.

I did not like anything about myself. When I looked in the mirror what I saw was a pale, shapeless blob who didn’t fit in anywhere.

I wasn’t fit enough to be a jock, wasn’t young and skinny enough to be a twink, wasn’t old enough to be a daddy, and so on.

I was the proverbial square peg with no round hole.

All that changed when I started to make friends in the bear community and found myself coming along to BrisBears’ den nights.

Here was a group of people who just accepted me for me.

It was a slow process but bit by bit that acceptance helped me to like who I was and even embrace it.

All those aspects of myself that I had always seen as flaws had become the things I was proud of. So much of that change in my self esteem has been because of bears.

Body image is such a big issue in the wider gay community, as we all seem to strive to be some unattainable ideal.

We see porn stars and body builders and struggle to look perfect so that we will be seen as attractive.

I’ve seen this pursuit of perfection ruin relationships and lives.

The bear community is full of acceptance; hell, even the Bear Pride Flag is designed to show diversity.

Sure, occasionally you come across someone who thinks you have to look a certain way to be a bear but those people are the exception to the rule.

Bears embrace diversity and accept you for who you are, not what you look like. It’s a community that has taught me to love myself and all of those around me.

I can’t describe how proud I was to win Mr Bear QLD this year because the bear community is one I am incredibly proud to be a part of and represent.

I just hope I can use my title to help promote that feeling of acceptance out into the wider gay community.

I think the world would be a much better place if we all had a bit of bear in us.

For more information on BrisBears events, head to www.facebook.com/brisbears.

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