TWO WEEKS AGO, I had the pleasure of moderating a roundtable discussion in connection with "In My Body," a photo exhibit at the Wexler Gallery. The discussion focused on body image and self-esteem issues, wrestling with such questions as: Are we ever truly at home in our bodies?

There's no single answer to that one, though the event did spark an emotional dialogue among those present. Another topic that came up concerned what real fitness and good health look like.

Of course I chimed in that we should not be fooled by the images of so-called fitness often portrayed in the media, or by our perceptions of people we know whom we consider fit.

Sixpack abs on a magazine cover or your gym buddy's slim, size-2 physique often masquerade as the picture of health and fitness, but nothing could be further from the truth.

You don't know if that person achieved that look from superior genetics, hard work, airbrushing, drugs, cosmetic surgery or an eating disorder. Looks just don't tell the whole story.

Much like a Ponzi scheme, when it comes to fitness and health, it is all too easy to be deceived by what you think you see.

Take, for example, my friend Christine Cox, ballet-dancer extraordinaire and artistic director of Ballet X. Says Cox: "Having a 2-year-old, teaching at the University of the Arts [and] other dance schools, as well as being the artistic director of a ballet company has me running around a lot. Spiritually and physically, I miss working out.

"Ironically, I look fit, but I'm under a lot of stress, and the truth of the matter is, I have not worked out since the birth of my son."

Like many women, and dancers in particular, Christine has not always been appreciative of her natural beauty and gifts. "In the ballet world, my body was not well-suited, but in real life my body is considered ideal by many."

But not by Christine.

"Until recently, I was not pleased with the body type that God gave me," she told me. "It took a long time for me to be comfortable with the gifts I've been given."

On the other hand, there's a friend I'll call Linda. At 5 foot 5 inches and a curvy, 210 bodacious pounds, she continuously stumps the medical community with her outstanding health statistics. Her cholesterol is a fantastic 170, she has a healthy blood pressure and she is free of prediabetes, too.

According to conventional wisdom, her weight alone should make her a prime candidate for diabetes, heart disease or stroke. But unlike Christine, she works out most days of the week and enjoys a variety of fitness activities, including strength training, yoga, line-dancing and Zumba.

When I asked Linda what her secret is, she replied, "Attitude." She credited her sunny disposition for her outstanding health.

"Nearly everyone in my family has something, from diabetes to heart disease. Like most of my folks, I'm carrying a little extra-extra, but I think my positive attitude has a lot to do with my good health."

Linda said she has always felt comfortable in her own skin and has never been influenced by popular culture or media images of women and what we're supposed to look like.

So don't judge a book by its cover; your eyes can deceive you. Our world view is distorted by capricious and arbitrary standards of the "perfect" body. For many, if not most, these ideals are unattainable. Measuring yourself against such false standards may be physiologically and psychologically damaging.

How about you, Daily News readers? Are you at home in your body? Drop me an e-mail and share your views.

Note: "In My Body," a 20-year retrospective of work by Philadelphia-based photographer and mixed-media artist Leah MacDonald, continues through Dec. 31 at the Wexler Gallery, 201 N. 3rd St., 215-923-7030 or wexlergallery.com.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the "In My Body" project - "an exploration of the issues of body image, self-perception and body esteem through various forms of expression," according to the Wexler website - will hold a multi-arts collaborative theater performance Jan. 22-23 at the Painted Bride, 230 Vine St. Go to www.paintedbride.org for ticket details.

Kimberly Garrison is a certified personal trainer and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia (www.1on1ultimatefitness.com). E-mail her at

kimberly@1on1ultimatefitness.com. Her column appears each Thursday in Yo!