My Dyslexic Body-Image, Part II…

This is Part II of a 3-part column I will be posting over the next several weeks.  Comments are open, and private emails are also welcome so long as they are mindful and constructive.  Please check back Friday, November 26th for the final installment of why I blame God for my poor body-image…


The Belly Of The Beast

When I’m introduced to someone I have not previously met, as I was at a social function over the weekend, I always cringe and brace myself if I’m introduced as a fitness trainer because I know what’s going to hit me next;

 “Oh really…?  That’s great!  What can I do about my belly…?  I just hate all this flab!”

It never fails.  Notwithstanding that the woman who asked this question of me Friday evening was 5’9” and might have weighed all of 125 lbs.  She looked like model, an athlete, or both, but was unhappy with her belly.

Because of my vocation, that question is ever-present in my life – regardless of the size and shape of the person asking it.  When given a chance for advice, that belly question is asked by nearly everyone.  It shows me that there are few people who have a completely positive body-image.  We all have high desires, if not a high willingness to earn our bellies away.

A Judgment In The Belly Case

There are times when I think I look good, or as I often say, “ahead of the game for man near 50”.  But those times are few and far between.  More often than not I am critical of how I look.  The fact that fitness is my livelihood fosters a continual sense of urgency when it comes to keeping my own body in shape; belly included.  Expectations from the outside can be high…

I have often said;

“In the end, nobody will be judged by the shape of their abs, the tone of their arms, or whether they do sinister justice to a pair of jeans.”

Though I believe that value, and I try and live that value, my day-to-day living is not done “in the end” – it’s done in the middle where the human beings who surround one another, breathe in oxygen, and exhale judgment in equal portion – belly is often front and center of that judgment.

Religion Casts A Shadow

One of my (many) issues with western religions is that we are taught from an early age that the eyes of God are upon us and that we are being judged.  Being taught from a young age that someone who I can’t see, and who I don’t even know truly exists is judging me, makes it quite easy to believe that all those around me who I can see, and can also see me, are also judging me.  I suspect I’m not alone in this.  In-turn, I tend to regularly judge myself, and I don’t often judge myself favorably.  Expectations from the inside can be high…

That’s just what religion does, belly included.

Complemented By Compliments

The conundrum: I like getting compliments about how I look, though I don’t usually receive them well.  Internally, the immediate sense of validation I receive from a compliment is instantly thwarted by that judgmental Roy inside of me who knows I could look better; less body-fat, larger muscles, a more athletic look, a more fit look, not good enough compared to the magazine covers, whatever.  Besides, the person complimenting me is probably lying because they feel sorry for me.

I even try to compliment myself on occasion.  I mean, I do workout hard, I workout consistently, and I eat pretty well that I look good – not that looking good matters.  I might look in the mirror and like what I see, or parts of what I see – for a moment.  It won’t take long though, to find more bad than good, and then negativity and depression take hold.  By the way; the scientific term for that personality defect is, Being Jewish.

I try hard to remember, I am not on Earth to look good, I am here to do good. I force myself to take refuge inside that thought regularly, and it’s a very warm and comforting place.  Refuge be damned though, it doesn’t take too many TV commercials, too many magazine covers, or to many movie trailers to remind me I don’t look as good as I should, and looking good should be a moral priority.   I wonder if Stephen Hawking or Mother Theresa ever had internal discourse such as mine…?

To be continued…


Please check back next week for Part III of this column.  I will attempt to make the case that God is to blame for all my body-image woes…  and yours 🙂

Oh, and there is this from Steve Earle (Mike Coalson is to blame this week);

21 responses

  1. Roy, I find your trilogy is very gripping and emotionally powerful, my friend!

    Your introduction made me smile, as being a doctor does bring on many questions, in many, shall we say, inappropriate environments, though it is rare that it is the first thing I hear 🙂

    Perhaps it’s all a process of accepting ourselves and coming to peace with who we are and what we have done and are doing with this earthly passage. As you find, I can be my supportive friend or destructive enemy. I wish it were easier for all of us.

    • Dr. J: As always, you sum up a myriad of thoughts in a very concise way. Your comments are usually worth more than the posts they are attached to.

      The battle makes me know I’m alive and for that I am grateful.

  2. How about this – that I read your words today. Just yesterday, I was making a video – and was thinking I’d take my shirt off in the end of it (as I was moving away from the camera…a distance shot, essentially). And – you know what – I ended up cutting the video off (when I was editing it last night) – just where I was removing my shirt. Self-consciousness came highly into play (and I was judging very much what I saw).

    So, I happen to think you’re right – most people, to some degree – judge themselves. And it’s probably not all that favorable.

    Good stuff to think about, no doubt. It’s easy to fall into this trap of judgment.

    Thanks, Roy, for being so open here…it’s making me think more deeply…

    • Thank you Lance. It’s really hard to escape one’s critical eye, or to use it sparingly. Bu in truth, save people who are obese for the sake of their love of food, what we look like matters so very little, and I am often ashamed for the effort I put into it. No easy answers…

  3. The older I get the less concerned I am about looking good. I feel like I take better physical care of myself than most 45 year old women and though I’ll never have my 27 year old body back, I’m pretty okay with that. When my brother died last month at the age of 50 it wasn’t his good looks or fit body that people talked about, it was the quality of his character. I heard over and over, “He had such a huge heart.” I would be fortunate to have such things said about me when I leave this earth.

    • Karen: I agree and the older I get, the less I care about it. I guess that’s why I’ve been writing about it so much lately. You know, for all the temptation which surrounds us, I think people of overlook that looking good is a temptation too.

  4. There are times when I think I look good, or as I often say, “ahead of the game for man near 50”. More often than not I am critical of how I look. Expectations from the outside can be high…

    Roy, I understand your feelings like the above one more than you know. I am extremely critical of myself.. always finding something else to fix & the older I get, the more I find.. maybe that is why I am good at keeping this up BUT in the long run & scheme of things, I really rather have someone say something like they did of Karen’s bro than how fit I was yet I still can’t stop myself from this craziness of thought…

    And although I am not a trainer, people expect me to look good & that is pressure in itself….

    I like Dr. J’s statement: Perhaps it’s all a process of accepting ourselves and coming to peace with who we are and what we have done and are doing with this earthly passage.

    I want that.. maybe you want that too but it is easier said than done. Hard work but worth it to get to that point of being OK with who we are in that moment!

    • Something else that you and I have in common Jody is that, yes, the workouts can make us look good (better). But in truth, and I think we’re on the same page here, if my workouts did nothing to improve the way I look, I would still do them for the love of the intensity and the clear head they give me – the calves are just a by-product 🙂

  5. Very interesting! I don’t think you can blame being Jewish for your thought process any more than you can blame yourself. I mean it us what it is, right?

    What I take away from this is that I am not alone with my deepest thoughts of insecurity, of not being content on some level, no matter how great I feel about my changing body.

    Oh, and the fact that you too get “it”. It’s not necessarily the body that gets you glory (although it helps when you hear compliments) – it’s the deeds you do for others. That is what we should all should be measured by. Your blogging us helping the masses, in some way, it is.

  6. Interesting post Roy! I know sometimes you post sarcastically (sigh) and sometimes just straight hard truth (yikes)… so not sure which way you’re going with this … but you know me, I have to speak my mind when I have an opinion! 🙂

    Bottom line, God doesn’t care what you look like! This is what the Word says about Jesus:

    Isaiah 53:2b, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.”

    That was said about the Son of God! God created his own Son to be an average Joe .. no frills, no beauty or majesty … just average. Why? Because Jesus came to serve others … not himself!

    I used to struggle with getting on the treadmill just to get fit … it seemed very self serving. But as you pounded it in my head often while training me, “Jenn, it’s not about “looking good” it’s about being healthy.” I’ve had to remind myself of that time and time again. I’m not on the treadmill to be vain, I’m on there to keep my heart pumping, to lower my bodyfat, to improve my circulation, to give my body what it needs to function properly!

    Here’s another good one:
    1 Samuel 16:7 – “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

    So, as far as God giving us a poor body image, I see no truth in that. We have a poor body image because of all the stupid magazines with painted and cut up bodies all over the grocery stores, because of all the plastic bodies we see on the big screen, this is why we have a poor body image. Who could ever live up to those people. Shoot, even the most beautiful models these days are being airbrushed skinnier, tanner, and better looking than they already are!

    Bottom line, I’m trying to keep my focus on my health and not my looks. It’s then that I seem to do my best. I know I’ve been everywhere from a size 18-20 all the way down to an 8, and to my surprise, I was just as critical of my body at an 8 (where I looked anorexic) as I was at an 18. So that proves to me that it’s not about what my body looks like or how fit I am, it’s all in my head! And I know for a fact God had nothing to do with that! We can thank Hollywood!

    God bless you my brother!


    • Jenn: I appreciate your very sincere response. That’s something I appreciate about you — a great deal. With regard to sarcastic vs. sincere; as usual, this might be somewhere in-between 🙂

  7. Reading through the comments I am struck by Karen’s. It made me realize, it would be horrible if, when I do die, people talk only about my physical appearance. Can you imagine? For some people I suppose it would be, “She was kind of a bitch, but her body looked good.’ Not the words I would want. I’ll work on staying sweet (Ok, and the belly.)

    • Dawn: Belly….? A) You’re a wafer. B) You’re sweet. Agree though. I don’t want to be remembered by what I look like, and I know I will be. But between now and my death….? Another story.

  8. I really like your blog, Roy. Who can’t relate with getting a compliment and saying to themselves, “They don’t really know about me.” I too am struggling with the whole age thing. Everyone tells me I look amazing for my age but I know that I look older than I did five years ago! We negate what they say. Yeah, the conundrum can be depending on outside validation, when in fact it’s an inside job. I’m working on it but the age thing… it’s a toughie.

    • Suzanne: Thank you for validating my opinions, my fears, and my realities. Well, if not validating them, assuring me that I’m not (completely) alone. Age 40-48 was easy for me. Now the works begins….

  9. I was a lazy sloth for waaay to long. So I always make doing good (to my body) a priority. But it sure does matter A LOT that it’s not all about me. Acts of doing good to others many times brings me greater fulfillment.

  10. Another post that made me thinking of self acceptance and love. Another post that strikes home, maybe even a bit too close. And then as I read it again I can’t but wonder if without those feelings of self criticism we would do not just stop pursuing excellence.
    I am curious to read more hoping you will have time after the holidays to add more.
    Happy Thanksgiving, Roy.

  11. Pingback: My Dyslexic Body-Image Part III; I Blame Me… « Roy Cohen's Contemplative Fitness

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