"What's your excuse?"

This morning, I was listening to the tail-end of The Bert Show's discussion on the Maria Kang photo below: He asked the question &...

This morning, I was listening to the tail-end of The Bert Show's discussion on the Maria Kang photo below:


He asked the question "...What's YOUR excuse for not being in shape like her? Does she have a point...or is she bullying/body shaming?"

Now, I don't think that's something that could be answered in a 140 character tweet, or even in a Facebook status message/reply.  So I'm going to address it here:

1.   You have to go to her Web site/Facebook page to know anything about her.  Did she lose weight? Is she maintaining weight?  What did she look like before the kids?  Does she have help?  Who's watching the kids while she's exercising?  Considering that many people won't investigate, I feel that it is important to say that FitSpo photo lives in a vacuum. There's too much left up to the viewer's perception, and thus can be perceived as bullying by some and inspiration by others. I think people should be more inspired by a person's struggle and/or process than by any particular result. 

2.   Sometimes the "excuse" is actually a very good reason.  Many times I've written about how I believe that most people are obese because of some sort of trauma.  For some people it's emotional, for some people it's physical.  In the case of emotional trauma, normal coping mechanisms have failed and are replaced by things that flood the brain with serotonin (food, alcohol, drugs). The "excuse" is that people haven't confronted these issues in a safe and nurtured environment.  Some people aren't ready to do that.  In the case of physical trauma, such as my bad back, exercising isn't always an option.  Even now, there are limits to what I can and should do.  Sometimes the reason is that there are other parts of a person's life that are more important than making sure they are aesthetically pleasing.  People should not feel guilty about taking care of themselves the best way they know how, even if it means not being in a gym every day.

3.   Thin doesn't necessarily mean healthy.   If her goal was to encourage people to be healthy (she has a fitness non-profit), she'd post her blood tests, as they're the most accurate gauge of a person's health.  I would HATE for someone to look at me, assume that I'm lazy and unhealthy just because I'm overweight, when my own doctor lauds the improvements that I've made on the inside of my body.  I've worked very hard to be overweight (instead of obese) and I still don't look like her (nor do I want to).  I also know that there are plenty of women and men out there that are getting positive feedback on their bodies as a result of eating disorders.  If you read anything about her, you'll find out that she struggled with eating disorders.  Is her desire to drop the pregnancy weight so soon after giving birth the healthiest thing for her to do? (see below)

4.  Mothers should not be shamed into losing their pregnancy weight immediately after giving birth.  I've never had a kid.  I know many people who have.  And some people have lost the weight easily and returned to their pre-pregnancy body easily and while many others have needed more time to get their pre-pregnancy body back.  Some women actually enjoy the "permission" to enjoy their post-pregnancy body.  It's the first time in their life that they are able to lose their food rules, get off the treadmill, and enjoy their body.  They're also taking time to enjoy motherhood instead of scheduling their time at the gym.  Again, that's a choice, not an excuse.  And dare I even mention the rise in stories regarding the pressure for moms to drop the weight triggering eating disorders?

5.  Fitness is her job.  It was to her benefit to lose the weight -- as she's a fitness model, runs a fitness non-profit, etc.  She makes money off of her image.  The controversy is just getting her name out there ("there's no such thing as bad press").  Imagine if the quotation was "What's your motivation?" instead of "What's your excuse?" -- we'd very clearly assume that aesthetics and profit are her motivation (wouldn't it be nice if her kids were her motivation).  Not everyone makes money off their body (not everyone wants to).  

Now, she's replying to the media storm over the photo, and I don't really buy it.  She did a "Sorry, I'm not sorry."  But I'm glad there's some dialogue happening about why her picture with caption was so misguided. I'm glad that people are talking about why FitSpo photos and slogans are negative to all the hard work that people are putting into body acceptance in their own lives and in the world.

What say you?

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18 comments

  1. Thank you so much for this! Yes, Excellent Blog! Too many of these companies send forth women who haven't ever really struggled with the ups and downs of the weight roller coaster and completely ignore the fact that HEALTHY doesn't necessarily mean Thin... :-) Thanks again. Keep up the good work! I love reading!

    Allie MB

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  2. Allie: Well if you read her "sorry I'm not sorry apology" -- she tries to say that she did struggle, that she had eating disorders and had to "struggled with [her] genetics." You'd think that she'd be more sensitive to the message "What's your excuse?" was sending out.

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  3. I think she's generating conversation so that's always a good thing. I'm not personally offended by her photo but I do think it isn't particularly motivating.

    I love your point about the blood tests. SO true.

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  4. I go back and forth on this. I know that these "what's your excuse" campaigns are obnoxious to most of us but some people really are inspired by them. I am relived she is not trying to sell a drink (Body by Vi!) or some other MLM scheme but she could have worded it better.

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  5. Safffffffie: I think the conversation she's generating is polarizing versus a better conversation about "How do we promote women feeling comfortable in the bodies they have versus the one society is telling them that they should have."

    Margo: I think some people are inspired by the whole "what's your excuse" angle (especially when it's some little kid running on artificial legs) but I wouldn't say it's the healthiest inspiration. People want that body at a cost that hasn't been enumerated. She could have worded it better, and she should have. And yet, she's not saying she would have.

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  6. I think healthy is more important than comfortable! Sure, it's comfortable to not go to the gym, and it's comfortable to make quick, unhealthy dinners (I know I fall trap to those things!). But it's not healthy. Obesity affects your lifespan, and your ability to do whatever activities you want during that lifespan. I agree that it's important not to fat-shame (that's not helping people!) and that we should be seeing more variety of body types posted even in things like fitspo. But, I also don't think it's okay to tell obese people that they're just another body type and should be comfortable and proud of it. They should be comfortable and proud in other aspects of themselves- personality, passion, relationships, professional accomplishments, but you never should be proud to be unhealthy.

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  7. Lynn: I'm with you on this -- I've gotten into arguments with people over NAAFA (http://www.naafaonline.com/dev2/) and HAES (http://www.haescommunity.org/). HOWEVER.... thin doesn't equal healthy.

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/the-curious-wavefunction/2013/08/29/turning-the-tables-on-obesity-and-bmi-when-more-can-be-better/

    For instance -- would you rather someone be 10-20lbs overweight but otherwise healthy, or 10-20lbs underweight with an eating disorder?

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  8. I agree with you—especially number 5.

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  9. Great post. This was on TV here too yesterday (Canberra, Australia) and they talked about her history of eating disorders a bit. I like the idea of a caption "What's your motivation?" because the photo of her with 3 kids would make me assume (with no other info about her) that her motivation to be fit and healthy is her children. And it would make me think about my own motivations.

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  10. I think your post and comments are implying that she's "thin" and I don't think she's thin at all. She looks in-shape with toned biceps and abs. I'd gauge her around 125, maybe 130 pounds. Thin=skinny=anorexic. She looks naturally healthy, probably has a very nutritious diet with carbs and fruits. There's even a picture of her @ 145lbs and she still looks pretty damn sexy. So yeah, not "thin", just healthy and in-shape.

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  11. Yes, we have our excuses, but some of them really ARE reasons, not excuses. Horrible arthritis in our knees perhaps, several children to take care of. The fact that she has three youngsters and still has made time for herself doesn't necessarily make her wonderful. Wait, it totally does! I want to know how the heck she managed it! I found it hard to take a potty break when I had little ones, how has she managed? I want to hate her, but I won't:)

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  12. @16 blessings'mom: she wrote a good blog post on her fitness inspirations and eating disorder battles http://www.mariakang.com/2012/06/06/fit-to-fat/ and in other blog posts she talks about waking up before her kids to sneak in some workout time. personally I use my kid as the workout, just bench press or do squats while holding the little guy haha

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  13. Um... she is thin. I didn't mean that in a pejorative way or to say she was anorexic.

    Why are you assuming she is healthy without seeing her blood test. Can you look at her and say she is healthy in the same way you can look at someone overweight and assume they are unhealthy?

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  14. We'll call it semantics but "thin" sounds as unhealthy as "fat", and it can be pejorative. Some people have very high metabolisms and are called "skinny" by their peers, and never gain any weight no matter how much they eat. But somehow, "thin" and "skinny" is less insulting than "fat" or "obese"?

    She looks like she's at a healthy weight. For one, her ribcages aren't poking out. There's pics of her at 145lbs and she still looks really good. Calling for a blood test is like calling for Obama's birth certificate. It seems like a way to discredit her by implying that she's somehow unhealthy because we haven't seen some document.

    Sure, you can be overweight and healthy. Like I said, some people find it really hard to gain weight, and some people find it really hard to lose weight, even with proper diet and exercise. But fitness does play a large part in health, when you consider all the benefits of an active lifestyle, with certainty you can say she is healthier than some 218lb person eating Twinkies in front of their computer.

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  15. @Anonymous -- you really don't get it, do you? You can't look at ANY person and say that they're healthy or not just based on a visual inspection of their body (or their photo). A blood test is the only way to reveal true health.

    And "thin" hasn't been a pejorative term since the mid-1960s when being thin (like Twiggy) became fashionable. Before then it was preferable to be heavier because it meant that you weren't sickly. You didn't have polio. You weren't affected by the Depression and had access to food.

    If medical reviews and articles can use the word "thin" to describe a person, so can I. I didn't steal Bridget Jones' term and call her a "stick bug." I didn't call her a bean pole or a twig. Thin is a neutral term.

    "some 218lb person eating Twinkies in front of their computer" -- do you know how many thin people that you've also described?

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  16. http://essenseofebony.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/intent-vs-impact-my-letter-to-no-excuses-fitness-mom-maria-kang/ this was my response to Maria in my own blog

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  17. I've talked about this on your facebook and my opinion flirts back and forth as to whether *I* find it motivating or believe it's fat/body shaming. The real issue is that ANYONE can get offended by ANYTHING. I was offended by some of the comment assuming that mothers are busier than non-mothers! So proof right there...

    my opinion started to shift a little. Is her photo HER problem or OURS for our interpretation of the photo/slogan? In point #2 you mention that you workout with your back injury etc and *I* would interpret that as you working around a possible excuse? Or finding a way around a reason NOT to workout.

    We don;t know how long after giving birth she dropped the weight. Maybe this was her hitting HER goal? Which meant it took 8 months. That's hardly immediately after giving birth. And she breast fed which gives her a hormonal advantage at losing the weight over those that bottle feed. So I am sure that had a lot to do with it too.

    Caption wise I don't think anything would be 'safe'. "What's your motivation?" can also be interpretted offensively. What because I don't have kids I have no motivation to workout? Shit I I don't look like her and I DON'T have kids! I must really suck! See how that can also fat blaming?

    I do find the timing to be media driven as the photo was posted over a year ago! Obviously someone either rehashed old news or it was a media boost on her part. Like you said no publicity is bad publicity.

    I'm composing a blog post about this also and ending with:

    I'm beginning to think the problem isn't Maria Kang, the photo or the caption. The problem is WE are all too quick to bitch and turn on one another. We're too quick to get offended and jump to conclusions. Too quick to either jump on the band wagon of hate or offer support without forming our own opinions. We are ALL guilty of this.

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  18. I just found your blog so I'm obviously late to this discussion! I disagree with some of your points but this is one of the most balanced responses I've read about this topic. I personally see the photo and think "more power to her" but it's interesting how many people jumped to a) rabidly attack her or b) vehemently defend her. I haven't seen a lot of even-keeled reactions, so two thumbs up!

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