Thursday, October 17, 2013

"What's Your Excuse?"

Yesterday a photo popped up in my newsfeed on Facebook that punched every button I have, turned me certifiably ballistic, and had me saying some not so gracious things on Facebook. You may have seen it, the photo of young mom Maria Kang with her three babies, ages 3, 2, and 8 months, looking uber fit and quite perky in her workout garb/bikini thing.

The photo itself really wasn't an issue, not near as bad as those women who post scantily-clad photos of themselves online with captions like "3 days postpartum," so that the rest of us can ooh and aaah over their amazing ability to look like they never had a baby and leaving us to assume that their offspring really were carried in by the stork after all.

No, the photo, really wasn't the problem. What got me with this woman was the quote that went with the photo. "What's your excuse?" Huh? Did she really say that? You rub your eyes and look again to see if that is, indeed, what is in print. It is. It was. I blew.

I understand that some people really didn't see this as a big deal. Even among my Facebook friends, my not-so-kind-post was met with clearly less outrage than mine (most any amount would be clearly less outrage than mine) and more "good for her" comments than I expected. To be honest, I was shocked at this.

I spent so much of my life hating my body and comparing it to the ideals of our culture . . . from the crazy messages of my childhood to my pathological fear of being fat, through the starvation time and the recovery and the longing to leave behind the cultural mandate that beauty matters most. It was years before I could be at peace with my blossoming body as it grew baby after baby, and trust that, even if my body changed with each baby, it was ok because being a mother meant so much more.

It has been a long, long road. Most days I am OK and I know that what I look like and feel like, my size and my beauty and even, yes, my fitness level, does not define me. But some days it is hard. Some days I have to fight so hard to not give in to the false belief that what I look like matters most. I have to stop and pray and remind myself, and oftentimes my husband has to remind me, that it is OK that my body is not perfect.

Maybe I am the only person, then, that felt that stab, like the flaming finger of Satan, pierce my soul and accuse me that I am, in reality, without excuse. Maybe it is just me, but I don't think so.

I think of all the women out there who have had eating disorders and who have worked hard to set aside their fears and their obsessions to focus on loving their children.

I think of all the women out there whose husbands nag them about their postpartum bodies and compare them to people like Maria Kang.

I think of all the women out there who work at jobs from dawn til dusk and come home to a house full of hungry mouths and mounds of laundry and the thought of even taking a walk, much less working out, is a distant dream.

I think about all the women out there who have pressed and crunched and lifted and run their bodies to death to try to gain some semblance of that figure she taunts us with, only to no avail and now to a feeling of total failure.

I think of moms everywhere who cook and clean and wash and cuddle and shop and drive and nurse and fix and snuggle and referee and wipe and teach and just can't add one more thing to their already hectic lives.

The truth is that God created a number of different shapes and sizes. The truth is that some people will NEVER look like that. The truth is that we all have limited time and limited resources. The truth is that what mothers (or anybody for that matter) look like with or without their clothes on really should not matter. The truth is that not one single mother, not even Maria Kang, will find herself on her death bed saying, "I wish I had worked out just a little bit more."

Don't get me wrong. Taking care of our bodies is a good thing. But flaunting your particular fitness level while chiding fellow mothers for their apparent failure is not a good thing. Not good at all.


  1. You have articulated this so well. As someone with disordered eating in my past, I know exactly what you are talking about. It still comes down to grace. I am responsible to extend grace to myself when I am feeling attacked about my body issues. Extending grace to each other is just as important. When we are looking at each other's outer appearance we are not seeing the most important part. Yes, like you said we must take care of our bodies that is true, but we should be more concerned about our hearts. I have to remind myself constantly that I am healthier now than when I only weighed 99 pounds at the lowest part of my eating disorder. No, I will never fit into those clothes again, and never wear a two piece swim suit again, but all that said, I was miserable at 99 pounds! (And I was terribly self-focused - it is an addiction after all) Thanks for sharing your thoughts in such a wonderful way!

  2. Right on! I'm not a mother but I have a hard time keeping up the house, cooking for my husband, working a full time job, and trying to consistently eat healthy and workout! One of my biggest fears about having children is how I'll be able to all of that, take care of a child, and prevent putting on a ton of weight! I wasn't offended by the photo but when I read the caption I took it personally. It was like she was saying I can do it all with kids, why can't you pull my sh*t together enough to look like me??

  3. Geeze. I have never had Maria Kang's body, and I've never even been pregnant.
    I imagine she wasn't trying to "shame" anybody, per se, but perhaps encourage them that they too can achieve a similar post-partem bod.
    That being said, the phrase "what's your excuse?" is very poorly chosen and IS shaming, even if she didn't mean it that way.
    1/3 of me says "good for her!"
    1/3 of me is jealous, in fact, of that bod
    and 1/3 of me is like "ow. Try a different phrase next time, Maria."

    Also, she looks Asian. Thinner genetics. She has a headstart. :p

  4. Wow, I hadn't thought of it like that til I read this. I agree with you completely!

  5. AMEN. I saw the photo, and I rolled my eyes at the idiocy and vapid nature of such a focus on the body alone. I'm sad for her, that of all the things she could say to all the other women out there ... that was it.

    Adam and I have learned (the hard way) that obesity is not a beauty issue, it's a health issue. It's a matter of life and death ... maybe not when you're 25, but definitely when you're 50. It can kill you. But the goal isn't to look sexy to others, and clearly, CLEARLY, that's the message in her photo. It's a worldly message. And that kind of shaming doesn't motivate anybody successfully, long term, to be healthier. So it's not really about helping others. Her photo is all about showing off her own body, and I say "BLEH" to that.