I don’t know if you’ve seen the picture. I’m not going to post it here because it’s not mine to post but it’s raised a ruckus. The picture is of fitness blogger Maria Kang with her three kids, who are three, two and 8-months. Maria is wearing an abs-bearing crop top and booty shorts and she looks very fit. She’s toned, she has visible abs and across the top she’s written, “What’s your excuse?”
Maria says she’s fought eating disorders and bad genetics and says she is super fit and super healthy and you should be, too, because if she can do it (with her three little kids and her bad genetics), you should be able to do it, too.
Ok. I don’t know Maria and I don’t know much about her story (her site is overloaded so I can’t read up on it) but I don’t need to read it to know that it’s her story and your story is yours. I don’t need to critique her story to know that it won’t cover any of the reasons why you might not look like her (then again, you might, it’s all good — you look however you look and the rest of us will work on minding our own business).
Let me frame it this way.
Let’s imagine a Facebook post of a Super Important biology professor standing behind a desk full of Super Important Papers about Super Important Discoveries. “What’s your excuse?” is across the top because the professor wants to know why you haven’t been making discoveries. Well, you haven’t because you’re not a biology professor, right? You’ve been doing other stuff. In fact, maybe you don’t even like biology. Are you supposed to feel bad about that?
Imagine a picture of J. K. Rowling surrounded by piles of money, her bestselling Harry Potter books, and posters of the movie franchise. Across the top is, “What’s your excuse?”
You know what your excuse is already — you’re not J. K. Rowling. She’s not better than you because she’s sold more books (assuming that you’re not John Grisham or Danielle Steel although maybe they haven’t sold more books, I’m not sure about that). She’s J. K. Rowling and that’s her life and this one is yours.
Here’s one more.
Imagine a picture of the Dalai Lama who is looking way more at peace than you ever will. Across the top is, “What’s your excuse?”
Well, that’s ridiculous, isn’t it, because the Dalai Lama would never do something so silly but still wouldn’t you laugh and think, “Ummm, I’m not the Dalai freaking Lama, that’s my excuse!”
Maria is really good at doing whatever it is that she does to look great in a crop top and booty shorts. You might look just as good or you might not. You might spend your time getting really good at other things. Probably some of those things — being a quality friend, listening to your kids, writing amazing letters, making Very Important Scientific Discoveries, etc. — don’t photograph all that well.
That’s not to say that Maria isn’t good at other things, too, just that we privilege a particular kind of body type because we can see it and think we know what it means. We think we can look at someone’s muscle definition and know something about them even though we don’t really know anything.
We really can’t know Maria by looking at that photograph. We don’t know if she uses healthy means to get that body or unhealthy means. We don’t know the state of her inner life or her relationships. We don’t know if she goes to bed peacefully and without a care in the world or if she lies in bed at night staring at the ceiling with a sense of existential dread. We don’t know anything about Maria and conversely she doesn’t know anything about us.
You don’t have to make any excuses for not having three little kids or not having visible abs or not having a fitness blog or even for not having a fitness routine like Maria’s. You don’t have to feel ashamed of not being her anymore than she ought to be ashamed of not being you. Her life has nothing to do with you and neither does yours with her.
Lots of studies show that people treat themselves well when they feel good about themselves. Photos like Maria might inspire enough shame to make people attempt to make changes but those changes — whatever their results — are unlikely to be long-term, healthy and nurturing changes.
Life is a process. Life is a journey. You are allowed to sit on the sidelines once in awhile. You’re allowed to let your exercise routine lapse without feeling defensive. And you’re also allowed to come back to it not for the abs and booty shorts but because you want to move your body again. You’re also allowed to come back for abs and booty shorts, mind you, because it’s your body and you can do what you want with it. But do me a favor and pay attention to yourself and see what really works for you long-term and makes you happy whether that be following Maria Kang or Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga or worn out Stop the Insanity VHS tapes.
You don’t need any excuses for not being someone other than who you are.
As we wind down to the end of January, many of us are contemplating where we are regarding our New Year’s resolutions around eating well and some of us are feeling pretty grouchy about our progress. Changing our diets is hard — it takes new planning, new habits, new skills and sometimes new tastebuds.
There’s no such thing as failure
Most of us, especially when it comes to the food we put in our bodies, view failure as a big, shameful black mark. We carry a lot of other things in our plans to eat better like negative attitudes towards our bodies, fear-fueled concerns for our health, and values we learned at our childhood dinner tables. Suddenly a stalk of broccoli or a bite of white bread gets awfully mixed up with a bunch of other emotionally-charged ideas. This is why we need to learn how to be kind and patient with ourselves.
Here’s the good news about missing our New Year’s resolutions: Not reaching a goal is an opportunity to get a better understanding of what works for us and what doesn’t. When we’re talking about how we fuel our bodies, we need to look beyond our physical well-being and look towards our spiritual and emotional well-being. Changing how we eat confronts essential ways we nurture our bodies and souls and sometimes restriction confronts the ways we need to do a better job of covering ourselves with kindness.
There is no one way to “eat right”
We are all carrying different bodies. We are not physically, culturally or spiritually identical to any other person. How our bodies respond to different foods and ways of eating is unique. Some of us do better with a greater variety of foods or less of a certain kind of food and that’s just fine. If your plan was to eat less carbs or more greens and you’ve found yourself heading back to your 2012 ways of eating, it may be that you do better with a menu that’s different than what you envisioned when you were making your new year’s resolutions. Choking down a food you don’t like or depriving yourself of one that you love isn’t the best way to long-term physical or emotional health. Think of yourself as an explorer lovingly discovering what suits your life best and honor the fact that you are an ever-changing human being. What works for you today may not work tomorrow; be flexible.
Going beyond dieting
If you have missed your goal perhaps it’s time to write a new one and use the information you gleaned over the past few weeks as an impetus for loving change. Perhaps you can look back and tune into what your Self (not just your body, but your heart and mind) were trying to say. Did you feel nurtured, nourished and cherished? Or deprived, afraid and resentful? Were you hungrier than was comfortable? What did work? Even if you didn’t succeed in all of your goals, did you discover a new food that’s delicious and makes you feel good? Or a new routine that makes you feel more energized? Celebrate that new information and give yourself permission to incorporate those “imperfect” successes.
You can also take The Fat Nutritionist‘s tagline to heart: “Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want.” When you give yourself permission to eat “too much” or “too little” and do it in a mindful, present way you can learn an awful lot about what works best for you. Instead of cutting out whole swaths of food on someone else’s say-so, you may want to give yourself the time, space and attention to eat those “offending” foods and see if they actually are a problem for you. I know that leaning on a plan can feel very comforting but you may find that someone else’s “perfect” diet only works for you when you let go of the rigidity that defines them. Paleo, primal, raw or vegan can be guides to what makes sense for your body in general instead of inflexible how-tos that set you up for failure.
Stay in it for the long-term
Being healthy goes beyond fueling our bodies a certain way; we also need to take care of every other part of ourselves. For some of us, the spiritual or emotional costs of giving up a certain food may be greater than the physical costs of eating it. By all means, add a green smoothie to your morning routine if it makes you feel great but don’t beat yourself up if you find that it’s not a habit that makes long-term sense for you. It’s ok to have one when you can but skip them on the days you’re over-scheduled or just don’t feel like cleaning out the blender. After all, adding green smoothies to your routine is supposed to make you feel better not worse and if it’s not improving your life, feel free to chuck it and try something else.
Remember, none of us will ever be perfect so instead aim for good enough and know that with every new thing you learn about yourself, you’re also getting better.
A discussion over at a little pregnant made me think about something. Having a baby, unfortunately, is not a cure for infertility.
I think it’s a myth that parenthood resolves infertility. I’ve been hanging with formerly infertile people who are now parents for some time and I always ask them (as some of you know, because I’ve talked to you on the phone) whether or not having a child cures their infertility. It’s interesting because not everyone has the same answer. I’ve met women who went on to have unplanned pregnancies after conceiving via treatment and they say that they still feel infertile. I’ve met others who have never given birth and they say that they no longer feel infertile.
I think that for many of us, the drive to get a baby cancels out so much of our self-care. We get tunnel vision and baby achievement eats up every little bit of energy we have and then when the baby arrives, we’re depleted. We haven’t taken care of the emotional resolution of our infertility.
Infertile women are at greater risk of post-partum depression because of this. We know, of course, that having a baby doesn’t solve all of our problems but it can come as a surprise that having a baby doesn’t heal all of our wounds. In fact, parenthood illuminates fissures in the relationships we have with ourselves and others.
Those of us who went to great lengths to achieve parenthood are more apt to feel guilty if we’re not enamored with our babies or being mommies right away because how can we justify the time and expense if we’re not now perfectly happy? How do we dare tell people that sometimes we wonder if we should have had our babies when those babies took so much effort?
I met a woman the other day who has a daughter via adoption and a son via a surprise pregnancy. She said that mother’s day is still the worst day of the year for her. She hates mother’s day with a passion. It reminds her of her years and years of sorrow and anger and she can’t erase that — no matter how many messy little handprint paperweights and crayoned cards she receives. She is still bitter at baby showers, still has days where seeing pregnant women at the mall is too much. She told me that she realizes now that during treatment and then during the adoption process, she was so focused on achieving parenthood that she forgot to process what was happening to her. She feels (and please note that I’m not trying to put words in her mouth, those words were there already) that she didn’t take the opportunity to grow through her infertility and instead fought it as hard as she could.
When I interviewed women this past spring (thanks again to many of you who volunteered!), I realized that we don’t get a lot of support in working through infertility outside of the specific realm of treatment. We talk a lot about treatment options and we offer each other sympathy when that annoying neighbor gets knocked up again but it’s very hard to help each other be ok with our own unique form of resolution.
Part of this, I think, is that we are blinded by our own infertility stories. It’s difficult to understand women who make choices that would not be our choices. I think we all do a very good job of saying, “I support that decision” even when it’s a decision we don’t quite comprehend but it can be hard for us to help each other process.
Sooner or later for our own emotional health, we have to learn to accept our infertility. That doesn’t mean we stop struggling for parenthood (unless that’s the path that makes the most sense for us) but it does mean that we need to resolve our rage and grief. I know how difficult this is to do because it comes up in new ways in all sorts of unexpected situations. But if we don’t, then even when we have a baby in-arms, we will find ourselves still hurting and we don’t deserve to hurt for the rest of our lives.
Surrendering to infertility sounds so terrible — it sounds like giving in — but in surrendering, we accept ourselves.
Wonderful, beautiful Julie said something so profound to me during our interview. She said, “I think what we’re doing now is both a means and an end … it’s a stepping stone that we have to walk over to get to where we’re going.”
Her perspective is such a wise one. We don’t have to love the journey to love ourselves on the journey or to appreciate what we gain.
I think this perspective, too, helps us when we’re making treatment decisions. It’s easier to honor our limits when we remember that the means are just as important as the ends.