Guyside: Does my gut look big in this world?

Posted by on Jul 19, 2013 in Uncategorized | 12 comments

This is the first installment of a new Flashfree column by Bob LeDrew. Guyside is one man’s take on some of the issues that I’ve been addressing for years on FlashFree. So, show some love, eh? And share widely!!! — Liz

If Liz wants to “rebel, reveal and revel in the here and now,” I’m in. So why should you listen to me? Good question. I’m not a doctor. The only “-ist” tag that applies to me is “bicyclist.”

What I am is a guy approaching midlife with many of the same events and issues in my past and present that you likely have. Aging parents? Yup. Experience with acute and chronic illnesses? Yup. One of the seminal events of my adult life was being diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2006; one of the seminal events of my childhood was the loss of a brother to suicide.

Health isn’t a Boy Scout badge to achieve and forget about. And it’s not something you can only achieve with a team of professionals doing everything from dosing you with the newest supplement or pushing you to that 300th crunch. Real health, as I see it, is more like a gyroscope. Sometimes it gets knocked off its axis, and you have to give it time to get back into balance. And it’s about more than little blue pills, marathon running, or getting just the right amount of gray in whatever hair you have left.

It’s about knowing your body and your mind, and working with them to find balance points.

I used to be a journalist, once upon a time, and my plan is to use this column as an excuse to learn about issues that matter to me and I think will matter to you too. The more feedback you give me, the better a job I can do for me and for you.  

Now, on to the column!

Guyside: Does my gut look big in this world?


There’s no shortage of discussion in this world about women and body image. But as a guy, let me tell you that we get those issues going too, especially at this time of year when the temperatures rise and the shirts come off. Or at least are supposed to.

One friend pointed out to me that her husband and his friends (who, she says, “look good!”) will NOT take their shirts off. I know that in the past when I’ve gone to company picnics and the like, the idea of my torso on display is a little off-putting to me (or perhaps it’s that it’s going to be off-putting to others that’s off-putting to me).

So where does all this come from? And do men work through body image issues differently than women?

Well, for me, there are a few things that I’ve noticed as I’ve aged. Throughout my teens and twenties, I could and did eat EVERYTHING I wanted, in great quantities. And whatever I ate, I still had a body shape that once inspired my dad to ask me if I had to run around in the shower to get wet.

In the last 15 years, that changed. Now, while I can still eat a LOT of food, I have immediate aftereffects, and I also have that longer-term effect of going from six-foot-one and 140 to … looking like a pear perched on two chopsticks. Of course, there’s the hair growth in surprising places. The ears bug me. The back, not so much for me, although the person who shares my life regularly threatens me with waxing or electrolysis.

Champion, from When I turned 30, I discovered a sport that I really enjoyed: cycling. And while I rely on cycling for both physical fitness and stress management, I have to admit that the classic cyclist’s body is not Michelangelo-worthy. Big legs, small arms, perhaps best illustrated in the great animated film “The Triplets of Belleville” (right)

And, I suspect, like women, I look at male athletes or entertainment stars and think about what I could do to make my body look like theirs. Which rarely translates into me actually DOING anything to create that chiseled body I see onscreen.

But I know only too well that my body will NEVER be confused for that of Ryan Gosling or Matthew McConaughey.

Blogger Kate Fridkis writes: “I have heard guys talk in such black and white terms about their decisions. Something is wrong. They’re supposed to take charge. If there’s a problem, it needs to be fixed. Weight needs to be lost, muscle needs to be gained, it’s that straightforward… Guys have told me. ‘Either I look good or I look like shit.'”

She argues that this sort of black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking is more characteristic of men than of women. That may well be. What’s obvious from casual conversations with friends of both sexes about body image is that we all have issues around it. I think it’s more common that men throw up their hands and “give up” on their body, where it seems that women are much more persistent in trying to mold themselves into the body they believe they “should” have by various means.

What do you think?


  1. 7-19-2013

    I really have barely considered this before and am a little embarrased to admit it. Food for thought for sure and a great convo starter. Thanks!

    Looking forward to your next column…,

    • 7-19-2013

      I am glad to have made you think. Of course, you didn’t say whether you AGREE with me or not… whatever my point is or was…

  2. 7-19-2013

    Nice entry. It’s interesting to read that it’s not just women that struggle with body issues. I sort of knew that, but it’s not spoken of very often. I’m a Clydesdale cyclist who just started two years ago at almost 40. I hate that I do this, but I always think about how my body *should* look as a cyclist. You almost can’t escape doing that because of the fitness talk and competition around the sport I realize that my body just doesn’t look like the average athlete or anywhere near it – and believe me, I’ve tried to change it. I just have to accept that it’s fine. Cycling makes me toned, but not thin or athletic shaped. Most days, I’m okay with that. I am more comfortable around female cyclists, are are more likely to have a variety of body shapes. I like to think that I will never “give up” on my body type but I don’t like to exhaust myself stressing about it either. I consider my key health indicators. I stay active. I also hang around with some male riders, who almost 97% of are extremely lean and fit. I’m positive their attitudes about weight, body shape and fitness are probably different than mine and that’s okay too. I just don’t engage them in that conversation. Chopstick on!

    • 7-19-2013

      There’s not much room for camouflage in cycling gear, is there? I think among cyclists there’s almost an equal amount of snobbery around body fat percentage and just how many grams your carbon-fibre seat post saved you. While I love my bike, I’m not a racer; I’m out there for the experience and the fun and the scenery, so I don’t have to worry about whether I’m pear-shaped or triangular.

  3. 7-19-2013

    While I admit to having a serious body image issue in my youth, middle-age has caused me to throw it all out the window. The upside is I am more focused on my health, as you seem to be, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the number on my bathroom scale and everything to do with numbers on my bloodwork results. The downside is…well, there is no downside really. I have a great body image now and a mantra that others seem to enjoy, “My curves don’t define me, they simply outline me.” Indeed, I can make myself any size I want by drawing attention to my shadow at various times of the day. And I do, usually near sunset.

    • 7-19-2013

      HA! We’re all like Plastic Man at sunrise & sunset!

  4. 7-19-2013

    Love your post, Bob. And I know lots of middle aged guys who struggle with this, but few who talk about it. It really is all kinds of weirdness. Especially when you try and eat right and exercise to stay fit and, well, things don’t look like they used to. In fact, it can often suck eggs.

    One important point about your post: men please leave your shirts on. Always. Unless, of course, you’re in your own house. I’m not sure when the rule became “I am man, I am outside, I must take shirt off” but it’s a doggone terrible rule. It’s as bad of a rule as any woman, ever, wearing white yoga pants (or anything of that ilk). It’s just flat out wrong. On both counts. So please don’t ever feel badly about not being able to take your shirt off in public again. It ought to be against the law. Kind of like wearing cologne of any kind. Ever.

    There, I’ve hijacked the whole conversation.

    Thanks for sharing. I like your self, whatever it looks like.



    • 7-19-2013

      Shelly, I like you too.

      However, I know that there have been times — poolside, beach volleyball, etc. — where it would be appropriate to be shirtless, but that I’ve been uncomfortable about it. I think I’m not alone. As to the cologne issue, perhaps that’s for a future column. I can’t think of the last time I used a cologne.

  5. 7-19-2013

    I just shot coffee out of my nose violently at the phrase “pear perched on two chopsticks”.

    • 7-19-2013

      I hope you were shirtless, so I don’t have to pay for your laundry service.

  6. 7-19-2013

    I’ve noticed that many naturally thin (skinny, wirey) people assume that their body is due to their own virtue, not merely the genetic luck of the draw.. And they can be arrogant & dismissive about less “perfect” bodies. Thus, they have unexplored issues too… looks like we all get messed up.
    I agree strongly that 99% of men should keep their shirts on in public!
    And I, too, loved the “pear on chopsticks”!! But you don’t look like that in reality..


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