I was trying to avoid this story, but damn it, after it showed up on Yahoo! Shine and Good Morning America, and my very own FB page… sigh.
I’ll share my thoughts, but you probably won’t like them.
From Yahoo! Shine:
In the photo, seen [above], 32-year-old Maria Kang poses in a workout bra and matching micro shorts — revealing an incredibly toned figure with washboard abs — while surrounded by her three young sons, now 1, 3 and 4. Floating above her head is the question, “What’s your excuse?” The picture has gone viral, with more than 16 million views on Facebook, and has generated more than 12,000 comments. And while much of the input has been of the supportive “you go, girl” variety, plenty of it has been made up of angry, offended personal attacks on the photo subject, calling her everything from “obnoxious” and “fake” to a bad mom and a bully.
But Kang, in an exclusive interview with Yahoo Shine, says that making other women feel bad about themselves is the opposite of what she was going for.
“I wanted to inspire people,” she explains, adding that the “What’s your excuse?” part was simply a borrowed, popular phrase that’s been used in various “fitspiration” campaigns. “I wanted to say, ‘I know you think you don’t have time if you have kids. But if I can do it, you can do it, too.’” [source]
From Maria’s own FB page:
I’m sorry you took an image and resonated with it in such a negative way. I won’t go into details that I struggled with my genetics, had an eating disorder, work full time owning two business’, have no nanny, am not naturally skinny and do not work as a personal trainer. I won’t even mention how I didn’t give into cravings for ice cream, french fries or chocolate while pregnant or use my growing belly as an excuse to be inactive.
What I WILL say is this. What you interpret is not MY fault. It’s Yours. The first step in owning your life, your body and your destiny is to OWN the thoughts that come out of your own head. I didn’t create them. You created them. So if you want to continue ‘hating’ this image, get used to hating many other things for the rest of your life. You can either blame, complain or obtain a new level of thought by challenging the negative words that come out of your own brain.
With that said, obesity and those who struggle with health-related diseases is literally a ‘bigger’ issue than this photo. Maybe it’s time we stop tip-toeing around people’s feelings and get to the point. So What’s Your Excuse?
A couple of the comments from said post?
My “excuse”? I don’t need an excuse to be who I am. Anyone who asks me what my excuse is, needs an excuse for assuming they have a right to judge me over their ideals. You want your body to be in what you consider a perfect shape? Fine by me. But what you consider a perfect shape is not the standard on perfect shapes. People come in all shapes and sizes, and so do tastes. So rather than telling you “my excuse” for not looking the way you think I should look, I’ll instead ask you what your excuse is for being so self-centered that you think your standard of what is beautiful should be applied to everyone else. And then I’ll tell you to take a hike. [source]
Everyone has different goals. It is important to be healthy and fit and feel good within yourself. It is not all about being “hot” This lady has put a great deal of effort in to looking good and that is great. We don’t all need to aspire to being svelte enough to walk around in this sort of outfit and may have other things that we out more effort in to like art or becoming more educated… she has done well to remain focused enough to achieve this for herself and I think that she has probably come across in the wrong way by asking what your excuse is… I don’t think it is meant to mean what is your excuse for not looking like her, but what are your excuses for not achieving your goals, whatever they may be. Good luck to everyone on whatever challenge life is presenting to them at the moment. I say good on her and there are lot’s of other areas of life to not make excuses for not being the best at…. so just be sure to acknowledge successes on any level for any positive goal or dream. [source]
Maria, I don’t even know why you bother justifying yourself with people who obviously just envy you. Congrats! I wish I had your bod. [source]
This is all so, so very irritating to me.
Here’s the photo again:
She’s a beautiful woman, and her boys look absolutely angelic. The picture is irritating because, damn it, the implication that someone doesn’t look like her because they have an excuse is, is….. is weird. If the goal is “to inspire people,” I can think of a thousand other catch phrases common in fitspirational messages that would’ve done more to reach the people who desire to look like Maria.
“Be amazed and inspired by what a little hard work can accomplish!”
“Who do YOU work out for?”
“NEVER give up!”
“Repeat after me: I can do this!”
…and those four are quotes that I pulled off my own Instagram account.
This touches back, more so, on my issue with the claim of “excuses” and what they truly are. In my experience from actually actively working with people – as opposed to simply barking at them – an excuse is always a barrier, either real or imaginary. It’s not enough to simply point a finger in someone’s face and say “what’s your excuse?” because, quite frankly, the idea that you just “pretend the barrier doesn’t exist” won’t work for everyone. Hell, it doesn’t work for most people.
An excuse, no matter how benign, is still a reason. And people have to work through them at their own pace and their own rate.
Let’s not play stupid, here: in order to understand the statement “what’s your excuse,” you have to presume that we all understand the full sentence: “I look great; what’s your excuse?” That is, without a doubt, the definition of fat-shaming. If you don’t look like her, you must have an excuse and, if you do have an excuse, then you’re just lazy for not working on it. You can’t win.
What if I turned that around on Maria and asked, “what’s your excuse for being so thin?”
Oh, but that’s body shaming too, right?
I’m going to be frank, here – I’m loath to praise a recovering bulimic for being thin. Especially one who, instead of using her photo with her lovely boys to celebrate her own accomplishment of reaching her goal, chooses to use it as an opportunity to compare herself to others as a means of feeling superior about her body, something common in a lot of people with eating disorders. As fabulous as she looks, it would’ve been just as easy to say “Look what I’ve done with my three boys!” or “If I can achieve my goal, so can you!” Why snark on someone else, when you can celebrate yourself? Why still perpetuate the need to compare yourself to others in such an unhealthy fashion? This is not to say that she is still bulimic, but I don’t think that a fat-phobic society who is more focused on calling her “The Hot Mom” and praising her thinness would be interested in calling her out… especially in an era where people still joke about how they “once tried to be anorexic, but gave up by lunchtime.” Maybe she’s not at the point in her recovery where she can stop the comparisons, regardless of whether or not she comes out on top.
Maria’s excuse – pun intended – for her choice of language on her photo was that this was “borrowed, popular phrase that’s been used in various “fitspiration” campaigns.”
Yeah, about that…
The lovely thing about fitspiration – or, as we know it, fitspo – is that anyone can create it. Many different people, with many different journeys and experiences, can create it and share it and, as a result, find other like-minded people. The troubling thing about fitspo, however, is that anyone can create it. I’ve seen fitspo that could’ve easily doubled as pro-anorexia porn. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with – or wanting to be skinny. You choose your own destiny, and I can only hope you choose wisely.
None of that changes the fact that this:
is nothing like this:
or, dare I say it, this:
Did you even see the container of whey protein in the girl’s right hand? I for damn sure didn’t. That photo was about selling her thigh gap, certainly not her muscle.
Listen. Fitspo – and, by unfortunate extension, thinspo – isn’t always created by someone with the healthiest of intentions, the healthiest of goals, or even the healthiest of methods of achieving those goals. That’s how you get recovering bulimics who think body comparisons are a healthy way of “inspiring” others appearing on Good Morning America to “encourage” others. By all means, raise hell about it. But, instead of taking it personally and letting it make you feel some kind of way about you, remember that you have no idea how the person in the photo got the look they have (no share, but her facebook page talks about how she “has stretch marks” but the photo above has none, so photoshop and stellar lighting must also be at play). You have no idea how long or how hard the road is or what their struggle fully consisted of. Call the foolishness out, but don’t let it affect you or your journey personally.
And, for goodness sakes, the next time a silly “fitspo” photo asks you “what’s your excuse?” Say, to yourself, “none of your damn business.”
*Jeez, do I need to start turning my own photos into fitspo or something? Just so that everyone isn’t thin, frail-looking, and maybe more so in the middle of a journey instead of at the end? Since everyone’s so afraid to show progress as opposed to completion photos?