Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is big on appearances. That preoccupation is reflected in the white marble buildings that increasingly dot the capital, Ashgabat, and the Caspian coastal area of Avaza.
Everything along the routes that Berdymukhammedov's motorcade take through the capital, and generally around the country, is expected to be tidy and orderly when the president comes through.
His fixation is also reflected in personal appearance. He and state media have gone to great lengths to portray Berdymukhammedov as a combination action hero-Olympian with rugged hobbies like commando training, horseback riding, sailing, car racing, and cycling (with time to write songs and books in his spare time).
Now, word has it that Berdymukhammedov wants to see the same kind of physical dedication from other officials.
WATCH: State-controlled TV released footage in August of Berdymukhammedov demonstrating his blade-and-gun skills:
On January 8, the Turkmen president made another of his regular government reshuffles, dismissing dozens of district hakims and deputy hakims and appointing their replacements.
But at least one would-be successor was jettisoned at least in part over a failure to get into shape, according to a relative of the abortive appointee.
RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, spoke with the relatives of multiple hopefuls in the western Balkan Province who cited a new requirement for appointees to undergo a physical examination in which "the main indicator of their health was their weight." (Azatlyk avoided publishing the names of that individual and other sources for this article who were not authorized to speak to RFE/RL and could face official retribution.)
One of that source's family members was aware of the stipulation and "ate only chicken broth for two months to lose weight, but he remained a bit chubby and failed to meet...standards," the source said.
The relative complained that the word had gone out recently "to get thin," a mantra that originated for officials involved in organizing the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games that Turkmenistan hosted in late September and seems to have spread throughout the country, as many unofficial government policies do.
Berdymukhammedov has spent years exhorting Turkmenistan’s citizens to get into shape. April is “Health Month” -- sometimes seen as “Health and Happiness Month” -- and citizens are expected, some say forced, to get outside and exercise.
Berdymukhammedov’s insistence on displays of health and fitness has earned him some rare international praise.
But his motivation could lie more in personal whim than in any sense of obligation to the nation and its people. Maybe he wants his country to be exactly as he wants it to be.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.