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.