Personal Musings

Put Your Shirt On. You’re Making Me Self-Conscious

It’s not a dad bod. It’s a father figure

I was standing in line at Daybreak Donuts in Surf City, NC, about a month ago while we were on family vacation and there’s a guy in front of me wearing a t-shirt that read, “It’s not a dad bod. It’s a father figure.”

I chuckled under my breath as we waited patiently in line for 20 minutes for our freshly made, warm little pieces of Heaven on Earth. I don’t know what the other guy ordered but I got the Banana Pudding Donut and that small fried cake of sweetened dough was banging.

Disclosure: I got two Banana Pudding Donuts and they were amazing.

Okay, I got three Banana Pudding Donuts and I may have also eaten one of my wife’s donuts when she was outside drinking coffee on the deck reading a cozy murder mystery novel.1


Later that day I ended up with a bit of a stomach ache. I have no idea why. The likely culprit I surmised:

  • Drinking too much water,
  • The sun, or
  • The heat.

By the end of our vacation, I swelled from donuts. I vowed to myself that upon my return home I was going to push myself harder running and incorporate cross training. I would bike more, do push-ups, sit-ups, and lift those heavy things in the floor at our house next to the wall. Weights. Weights are what they are called. I would lift weights for more than two weeks before taking my complimentary two years sabbatical, as is typical.

On our first evening back home, a military guy, ten to twelve years my junior, goes running down the road behind our house with his shirt off and his washboard abs and his overpriced wireless AirPods poking out from his ears. His movements were effortless; whereas, when I run, even though I’ve been a runner for a minute, I look like I’m about to keel over.

After I removed my hands from my wife’s eyes, the little voice inside my head which is quite the Negative Nancy in my life, said, “Put your shirt back on. You’re making me self-conscious.”

Hey! To pause for a second: if you enjoy what you read, please share on social media when you’re done — even if you found this on social media. Share it with your circle. I’m begging you.

The collarbone

A few years ago, I was hiking with two of my childhood buddies, Josh and Dwayne, from the legendary rock ‘n roll outfit Anti-Lou. At one point, as we were revisiting old times, swimming down by Clarkton Bridge came up, and Josh asked me why I never swam with the rest of the crew at a bridge that has since been demolished due to safety hazards.

“I was embarrassed by how skinny I was,” I said.

“Really?” he said. “That’s why you didn’t go?”

“Yep, dude, I was so self-conscious of my bird chest and collarbone, that’s why I never went.”

“Damn,” he said. “I didn’t know that. You should have come. Nobody would have cared.”

The problem was I cared. Hell, the main reason, regardless of all the other BS reasons I convinced myself of for not playing my last two years of high school basketball came down to this reality: as a teenage boy, I was that embarrassed by the visibility of my collarbones poking out the top of my jersey. Maybe I had dysmorphia as my wife has told me, but it was all my two eyes could see.

Studies show that four in five adult men view their body image negatively. For younger men, adolescents and teenagers especially, this figure is more dire due to shifting body ideals and the use of social media, although correlation has not been determined.

Even now I’m self-conscious. Not as self-conscious as I used to be. But it lingers like a fart in an elementary school hallway.

This all despite my wife telling me I have a sexy body. Apologies to my mom and sister reading this right now. One more time: my wife tells me I have a sexy body. Pause for visualization.

My wife tells me I have a sexy body

In case either of you two skimmed past that paragraph, I thought a bold heading would do the trick.

But my wife’s a little biased because, I mean, you know, she’s like my wife. What’s she supposed to say: “Your body is meh” or “I’ve seen better”?

And I kind of nod my head and start to say something like, “I mean, you’re biased” and she tells me I need to learn how to take a compliment and stop demoralizing myself.

And she’s right.

I’m middle age now. I found that out the other day while laying on my heating pad reading an article online in large print. I now fall into the age range that is classified as Middle Age. I stopped reading, scratched the gray hair at the chin of my beard, turned to my wife, and said, “You’re not going to believe this.”

So, at this stage in my life, what’s the sense in caring if I look like a stock photo fitness model that eats only baked chicken, boiled eggs, and steamed broccoli for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

I’m fit. Not Brad Pitt in Fight Club fit. But my blood pressure and bloodwork are golden. I work out every day. I eat donuts healthy, nutritious food. I married the woman I love and we brought two kids into this soon dystopian paradise of a world together.

If I want to shed my top layer and run through my neighborhood, nipples in the wind, I’ve earned it.

Nipples in the wind.

That’s one of my favorite lines so far in this essay. I’m debating between that and “lingers like a fart in an elementary school hallway.” It’s like answering which of your children is your favorite.

Despite all this, I struggle with my own body image.

The pesky pooch

I have a pesky pooch on my mid-section. I tell myself it’s not really a pooch though. It’s because I have an anterior pelvic tilt. I’ve done a lot of research on this topic I’d never heard of until YouTube’s algorithm presented it to me one night about two weeks ago while I stared dead eyed at the glowing screen of my laptop eating Reese’s Cups.

By George, that’s it!

And so, I’ve convinced myself, at least during small windows within my day prior to backtracking (“Nah, dude. It’s not a tilt.”), that what’s sitting at the base of my mid-section is not an accumulation of fatty tissue, aka the pooch, but a result of my lifelong poor posture and pelvis angling a certain way, thus giving the impression that I have a pooch when in fact, I don’t have a pooch.

But anterior pelvic tilt or not, I mean, it looks like a pooch.

Which kind of rubs me the wrong way because I run, a lot. This year alone I’ve knocked out 800 miles, the equivalent of running on foot from Virginia to Florida. I’m on pace to clear 1,250 miles of running in 2023 (in spite of a knee injury), which is the equivalent of running from the front steps of my house in Virginia all the way to Dallas, Texas, for a plate of ribeyes and a twice baked potato on the side.

Mmm, ribeyes.

Keep running or I’ll throw an old donut at your noggin

So when I see some super fit guy running down the street behind my house, I want to throw a rock hard aging donut at his rock hard head and abdominal muscles — the whole box really, and I have an arm on me — and yell, “For crying out loud, put your shirt on. You’re making me and the rest of the middle aged dads feel bad about ourselves.”

And before someone says, “Well, hey, Jeff, don’t be hating. If you want a body like that, then you have to put in the work like he did.”

I say to you: Fair enough. But does that guy have kids? And if he has kids, does he spend quality time with them? And if the answer is yes to both, does that guy have a happy marriage or is he at the gym all the time? And if that guy has kids, a happy marriage, and still manages to spend quality time with his family while maximizing the minimal amount of time he spends in the gym three to four times a week, then I don’t know, throw me a bone here. I’m running out of options.

Actually, scratch that. I’m going to find somewhere local that makes Banana Pudding donuts. Duck Donuts doesn’t. What’s up with that?

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  1. It’s entirely possible I started eating a fourth donut belonging to one of my kids who had been tasked with straightening the guest bedroom downstairs until I noticed tiny black ants crawling up the side of the donut because they had found a crevice in the kitchen wall and were cracking out over all this goodness just sitting in a box for them to stumble upon.

2 replies on “Put Your Shirt On. You’re Making Me Self-Conscious”

Happy to hear that dm. I was laughing while writing parts of it. I thought this would have been a bigger hit but the traffic has sort of sucked. Maybe it’s the photo up top. Haha. I have more hair than that guy.

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