Guest post: Of Maria Kang, motherhood, and fitspiration

This guest post is written by my dear friend Suzanne Best, whose passionate reaction to this story provoked a lot of heated conversation in the blog’s Facebook page earlier this week  I asked her to write something for the blog, and she produced this beautiful essay about her experiences as a new mother and a runner.  I am so honored to be publishing this on the blog, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. Let her know what you think in the comments below. 

Let’s talk about excuses. If you’ve just started on a fitness journey, like I have, memes are everywhere. They rule fitness blogs, Twitter accounts, memes… you name it.

And most of them bring the same message to their readers.

No. Excuses.

“Excuses are useless. Results are priceless.”

“You can have results or excuses; never both.”

And, of course, this:

"What's your excuse?"

This picture went viral recently, and has been the subject of controversy for the woman, Maria Kang, a recovering bulimic, mother, and fitness enthusiast who started the nonprofit Fitness Without Borders to help children live healthier lives. A worthy cause, which should be lauded along with Maria’s journey from recovering from an eating disorder to living a healthier life and creating a beautiful family.

Maria has been criticized from various angles, from her appearance to her clothing to her ability to be a good mother. While I think that some of the criticism against her is unfair, particularly the claim that she is a bad mother for posing with her three (adorable!) children while “scantily clad” in workout gear or for devoting time to working out, there is something that needs to be said about the way she chose to frame her message to her followers, and to the public at large.  I left a rather passionate excoriation of Kang’s message, “What’s Your Excuse?” on Fit and Feminist’s Facebook post that basically summed up my point:

“I do not need some ‘regular’ mom with a f—— six-pack fitspo me and other mothers like me into a f—— eating disorder. UGH…. Fitspo can suck it.”

In large part, my reaction was a buildup of watching various fitness accounts on my Twitter feed lambast me and their thousands of followers with similar messages every day.  It’s like clockwork for these sites; almost every hour, practically every 15 minutes if you follow various ones like I do, these accounts tweet affirmations in between workout routines and healthy recipes. The mantras are plain and absolute; no excuses, ever. Ever. They tweet pictures of toned tummies, perfectly round buttocks, and shapely legs with routines that all but guarantee that you – yes YOU!! – will get the same results.

But you have to want it badly enough. And never stop. And NO EXCUSES!!  Then, you too will be the picture of fit perfection. Just like Maria Kang.

The allure of these websites, of what I learned was “fitspiration” or “fitspo” memes, lured me in when I started running again after nearly a two-year hiatus. I was pumped! Raring to go with my new at-home workout routines during the days I wasn’t jogging outside by myself or with my son, in between naps and marathoning episodes of Breaking Bad.

But then I dug deeper into the madness that was fitspo, as well as the body dysmorphism-encouraging “thigh gap” trend. And it appeared to me that the “No excuses!” mantra is a little like a gateway drug to more dangerous messaging for any individual wanting to get fit for whatever reason.  No excuses, ever. The fanaticism, the zeal with which perfection is sought in these circles frightened me.

There is something so absolutist, so judgmental about the “No excuses!” meme and the way it is packaged with so-called “perfection.” It’s something in the way that Maria Kang’s picture above promotes her physical superiority over her audience, particularly in the way the camera captures the composed shot of Maria and her little dudes. Maria appears to be in perfectly good health, fit and beautiful. By posting the image on her site, which now boasts around 115,000 followers, she likely expected it to be linked around the internet on other fitness sites and blogs. She framed her image with the question “What’s your excuse?”

With this abrasive question addressed to her followers and whoever views the picture, Maria invites herself to impose her perfection onto her audience. And it is very clear who she is trying to reach out to, who she is wants admiration from: women like myself, mothers with busy lives trying to fit workout routines in between work, chores, quality time with children, and finding a little corner of quiet time for ourselves during days that are far too short. She is telling us that we have no excuse to not have the body she has. None. So get out there and work your butt off, and you’ll look and be perfect, just like her!

Promise!

It’s not like she’s alone in demanding absolute perfection, physical and otherwise, from women, especially from mothers. I discovered after giving birth to my son, Ian (light of my life my little man is…. also, he’s a major troublemaker-in-training) that becoming a mother meant opening yourself up to the world for unsolicited advice and judgment. Perfect strangers will come up to you and tell you how to care for your child, pity, annoyance or frustration filling their eyes when you tell them “Thanks, but no thanks.” Grandparents will stream feedback constantly in your ears, explaining to you everything that you should be doing and everything you’re doing wrong. Doctors, nurses and midwives, will tell you in their offices how you should feed your child. Depending on where you live in the country, simply the mere mention of formula feeding or asking whether you can breastfeed your child until they are two can lead to judgmental glares and hours of lectures about the damage you will inflict upon your child if either comes to pass, not to mention the stone cold stares you get from other mothers who disagree with your choices.

And then there are the books. There are always books. And books have agendas and come at you with all the statistics in the world, persuasive in their utter righteousness.

There is a benefit to this surplus of information that a mother receives. There is so much advice and encouragement given that you can wade through the information and come up with something that fits your lifestyle best. But you have to navigate the bad messaging, judgment, and other well-intended thoughtlessness that, for some people, can trigger personal traumatic histories.

This leads me back to Maria Kang and the insidiousness of other fitspo memes.  It’s a complex issue, because constructive advice and affirmations can give a person a brand-new outlook on life. When I started running with my friends when I lived in Boston, they gave me advice and affirmations and support. Though my friends were all fitter and tremendous runners compared to me, that didn’t matter. They ran with me, they walked with me, they laughed with me, and they appreciated me and what my body could do, even if they could do the same activity better. Running in and of itself was enjoyable, sure, but it was their encouragement, their feedback, and their support that made running special for me. And it still does to this day. I imagine running along side them around Jamaica Pond or in Brookline while I’m 1,500 miles away in California.

The flip side of the same coin is embodied in Maria’s meme. Had the photo shown Maria in the middle of her workouts, whether her family was included or not, or doing something fun with her family that showed their active lifestyle, removing the insane mantra of “What’s your excuse?” I wouldn’t be writing this right now. I’d be applauding her. Instead, her picture focuses on her physical appearance as a mother of three. It positions her as the pinnacle of beauty par excellence, of obtainable, objective perfection as she shows off her incredible abs, thus forcing me to see myself through her eyes.

There are times when excuses are inevitable, unavoidable. My son’s schedule every day is predictable…until it isn’t. And sometimes, things pop up or I need a break or I get sick or Ian gets sick. Life happens. I go with the flow. I work out when I can, I eat as healthy as possible and I teach my son to move and eat well too.  Yet, Maria’s message tells me that isn’t good enough,  as if nothing I do, no performance record or personal best, will ever lead me to obtain the perfect body, to be a total “Maria Kang.”

That’s the issue, right there in a nutshell. Affirmation and support is never so good when it’s judging me at the same time. If only the people who judge me the way Maria’s meme judges me would be willing to have a discussion about these attitudes then maybe, just maybe, we can start to change the way fitspo operates.

However, by her own words Maria doesn’t seem to want that discussion. This is from her not-really-an-apology-at-all apology:

“I’m sorry you took an image and resonated with it in such a negative way… 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.” (From her Facebook page.)

No, Maria Kang. If readers take issue with the way you framed your message, the message you likely expected to go viral since you were trying to inspire “the person who feels completely overwhelmed, [that] they can control their own destiny,” (Yahoo! Shine)  then your message is broken. Shutting down the opportunity to have a healthy debate and dialogue will only continue to encourage and perpetuate the vicious cycle of damaging fitspiration. Worse yet, damaging fitspo created by the people we look up to for fitness and lifestyle advice.  Maria lays all the blame on readers like myself, who apparently have such a negative body image that we are imparting this hateful perception of ourselves onto her own (perfect) image.

Okay, then. Thanks for that.

I’ll leave you with two images of myself from my last 5K trail race on October 12, in gorgeous, sunny San Rafael. They are one of me posing with my son before the race, trying to get him to kiss me. The other is me setting off at the starting line of the race. I’m proud I had my best showing in a race, finishing second in my age group and eighth overall.

But let me tell you about the other things about me I’m extremely proud of. There’s my poochy tummy that carried my son for nine months, and my hips, which gave him a lot of room to grow. I am also just as proud of my legs, which carry me past the finish line in my races.

 

 

 

You see that smile? That’s me doing something I love surrounded by the people I love in a body that I love, imperfections and all.

I’m glad the camera was there to capture that.

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55 responses to “Guest post: Of Maria Kang, motherhood, and fitspiration

  1. you nailed it. it couldn’t quite put my finger on why the image bothered me. It’s fine that she’s a fit mom. That she’s got her hands full with 3 young (and adorable!) boys. That she wants to inspire women. But you’re right–the message is broken. It shouldn’t have been “what’s your excuse?” but rather, “How can I not?” or “these are the reasons why!” Basically, though, her message is all about her. Not about her kids. Not about her marriage. Not about her family. It’s about her and how she looks.

  2. A-freaking-men. Thanks for writing this Suzanne, and thanks for posting Caitlin. Not only is the message “what’s your excuse” abrasive and smug, but her non-apology really put me over the edge–it was akin to Gretchen Wieners’ “apology” in Mean Girls (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnsMCnAxxzo).

    And perhaps she intended to “inspire” women by posting this, but I think the internet has quite enough fitspo along these lines already.

  3. Great post. You’re absolutely right about this issue, and it’s an important one to push back against. I cannot believe her FB response – not only is it your fault if you don’t have her perfect body, it’s also your fault if you have a negative reaction to her message. I’m sorry, but NO. This fitspo stuff is just drilling into the minds of women that we are lazy, ugly, and will never be good enough. That’s toxic, in my book. Where’s the joy in that? Plus, What does it say about her, that she won’t let her children be an “excuse” for a workout? If her kid is sick, or has a school thing, or whatever, she’s still going to get on the treadmill, still go to the gym? I kept pushing the workouts after my second baby, ignoring the danger signs, and ended up with a bad case of pneumonia. I wanted my old body back so badly! What I did learn was that it comes back, in its own time, if you just chill. Why are women so hard on themselves?
    I’m glad you have found that running is a celebration of life and friendship, I totally agree.
    The important thing in life is not whether or not you achieve some “perfect” body, but your relationships with the people around you. Treasure these years when your kid(s) are little. They go by so fast. Nourish your marriage and your friendships. If I died tomorrow, I know my last thoughts wouldn’t be about my body, they’d be about the people I love. That’s what matters.

  4. Thanks for this. I am SO glad it’s OK to give excuses now … I can be happily obese and totally gross because I am … dun dun dah! Hypothyroid! Yay me! Pass the pizza!

    Yeah, who needs these fit and health gals who have overcome health problems and eating disorders to tell me I can overcome my health problems too! Such a relief!

    See you on the sofa! Bring ice cream!

    • I approved this mainly so I could tell you that I absolutely do not allow fat-shaming here. Seriously, “happily obese and totally gross”? Get out of here with that. If you post something like that again, I will not hesitate to block you.

      • Well then I totally don’t get it … is it OK to make excuses or not?

        I’m hypothyroid. No matter what I do, I continue to gain weight. I feel gross being this fat, especially since I used to be slender, fit and healthy. And people hated me like they hate Maria Kang. But you’re saying I should NOT feel gross? What are you, one of those that tells people to “embrace their fat” or “celebrate obesity”? To do otherwise is “fat shaming”? Please … give me a break.

        In case you missed it, I was being sarcastic. The hate being leveled at Maria Kang is unreal and I do not get it at all. I don’t make excuses … I have the challenge of being hypothyroid along with some other health issues which makes losing weight impossible. Should I follow YOUR advice and make excuses? Or should I listen to Maria and not let my challenges become excuses?

      • Okay, let me give you a tip regarding sarcasm: it only works when you are making it clear that you disagree with the thing you are saying. I don’t think you disagree with the thing you actually said, which makes your assertion that you were being sarcastic seem rather weak.

        As far as the rest of your comment:

        1. I don’t know where you gathered that the advice I would give ANYONE is to make excuses for why they can’t reach their goals. Maybe you read that on a different blog? Because you never read those words coming from me. I find that particularly amusing as I am responding to your comment after spending my lunch break on a marathon training run because I had to get up at 3:30 a.m. for work and hence was not able to get that run in before work. Yep, I’m all about making excuses.

        2. I don’t say “celebrate obesity” just as I don’t say “celebrate skinniness.” I don’t celebrate one body type, so again, you’re putting all these words into my mouth based on your assumptions about what kind of person I must be to not be falling all over myself to praise Maria Kang’s meme. I am a believer that people have the right to do with their bodies what they want, and also that thinness – particularly the way it is idolized in our society – is not a realistic goal for a lot of women, and I don’t think there is a single thing wrong with that. What I do think is wrong is that people hate you and treat you badly because of your body, and I am sorry that you cannot, for whatever reason, bring a bit of compassion based on your first-hand experience to your dealings with other women who are not thin.

        3. I can’t speak about the hate being leveled at Kang – and like Suzanne said, I don’t agree with the more vitriolic responses sent her way – but a lot of people have eloquently laid out their issues with her meme and the way she attempted to convey her message. You are free to try to understand them or not, but I think that people have been pretty clear that it’s not her body that’s irritating them as much as it is her attitude that no one should have any excuses for not looking exactly like her.

    • I stated in my original post that I absolutely, unequivocally don’t agree with much of the criticism about Maria Kang and her motherhood or anything about her as a person. If you don’t have issue with the “No excuses!” mantra, okay, that’s fine. But this article was written from my perspective and I took a lot of issue with the way she presents her inspiring message, in that it doesn’t inspire me. I feel it’s part of a culture that shames people that don’t look like her and that judges others for not fitting some ideal. And as a mother, I felt the message was directed to me.

      There’s nothing wrong with excuses or taking a break for yourself and not working out or eating something you like even if it doesn’t fit in with your fitness plans. What we should do, IMO, is strive for a healthier lifestyle, live life in a way that makes us happy. I don’t judge anyone for their choices, because I don’t walk in their shoes and I don’t have their life. But Maria’s message demands that I see myself through her eyes and, well… I don’t think that’s a good thing, ever. That’s not the basis for good “fitspiration.”

  5. Thank you Caitlin for bringing us Suzanne’s post…great post. I did see this image up on your fb page and was thinking about it yesterday and forgot about it so never weighed in on it. But I have to say, as a woman in my 40s, and a mom, I’m not bothered by the image at all. Maybe it’s because I do not sign up for fitspo stuff and do not see it all the time, I’m not sure. I think Maria Kang looks amazing of course, and to me, when I look at the photo, I think she’s saying, hey, if you want it, it CAN happen. I don’t think by saying “What’s your Excuse” she’s talking to every person in the world and looking down on them, she’s talking to whoever might be interested in her message and might be motivated by that approach. Some women are, some aren’t. Anyway, I will never look like her, even though I work out just as hard. I certainly wouldn’t take that approach, mine is more like Suzanne’s, but if she’s helping some people, all power to her. I just tune out fitness magazines and tune out fitspo and read more thoughtful blogs like these and those give more appropriate messages of inspiration that work for me…

    • Robin,

      Thanks for putting that so eloquently. I totally agree with you! I think her message speaks to those that want to hear it. Everybody has different styles of getting motivated. For me, this no excuses mantra works! It encourages me that no matter what I think of my obstacles, I can overcome them. It boosts my self esteem to push to my limits. I don’t think she is smug either. rather, I think she is proud and has every right to be. Women need badly to support each other and not write snide comments like “fitspo can suck it”. Lets remember that Fitspo was a reaction to Thinspo. It focuses on being FIT, not thin. I don’t agree that Maria’s body is “perfect”. We all have our own version of perfection. We are perfect when we can see someone like Maria Kang and say, “Yeah, her body is perfect!” Then look in the mirror and say “Yeah, my body is perfect too!”

      • For me, there’s good fitspiration and bad fitspiration, just like with anything else.

        Good positive fitspiration comes from my support network, or seeing pictures of someone like Caitlin running, or seeing individuals push themselves to show they can do anything. Those are the types of messages I personally draw inspiration from.

        When the message turns back on the reader, asking – nay demanding – in aggressive fashion why they aren’t doing x b/c x is the only way to achieve y, then I start calling into question the absolutism that is used to motivate. And that is what is at play here with Maria’s meme, at least the way I see it. I could see her words triggering something in someone that’s potentially damaging. And I wish she would be open to the dialogue necessary to rethink what fitspo is and what it should be and the potential for damaging consequences.

        But I absolutely respect the disagreement and the points being made here. At least we’re showing we can discuss this respectfully.

  6. Great post. Awesome. This is what I did when I had to explain to people why Maria’s meme was off the mark. (Lissakay- you might consider this). My friend earned a masters, a PhD AND an MD by the time she was 28. Should she post a photo of herself with her three degrees on facebook with the caption, “What’s your excuse?” How would you feel about that? I’m assuming most people would be pretty irritated- you know why? There are plenty of “excuses” or reasons, why someone wouldn’t or couldn’t choose the career path my friend did. Who is she to say her lifestyle is the one everyone should strive for?

    Here’s another one- I had a friend, she’s 49 years old and she runs a 3:10 marathon. Yep that’s right. What’s your excuse, 49 year old women who run an hour or two hours slower? That’s what I thought- slackers. Genetics, choice, training background, luck- you name it. We all can’t run 3:10 marathons and/or have three professional degrees.

    We also can’t all have Maria’s body 8 months post-partum (Or some of us, ever). But what Maria/fitspo/magazines/models/media/etc TELL US is: you can, you just have to work hard. However, I don’t believe that is true. I believe we all can choose to have healthy, strong bodies, (with the exception of illnesses like cancer) but they may look different. We also have to realize a big part of this is CHOICE and LUCK. And therein lies the bigger problem that Maria naively put herself as an advocate of. That woman can CHOOSE NOT TO prioritize their body’s appearance and that is okay.

    The guys I gave this lecture to, half-listened. Then I said, hey, why aren’t you as hot as Matt Damon and have at least half of his money? What’s your excuse? I think they got it- maybe. Or maybe they were still oogling Maria’s boobs.

    • I think this is a really great point, and I appreciate that you made it. (BTW I will never understand the guys who feel justified in valuing a woman only for her appearance but get offended when a woman values them only for their earning potential.)

      Anyway, to springboard off your comment, it actually makes me think about my own training for triathlon/marathons/etc. and my husband’s training for an Ironman, and how I am pretty sure it has never occurred to either one of us to pull the “what’s your excuse?” for people who don’t do these things. Maybe they don’t want to, maybe they don’t have enough time, maybe their knees hurt and running is miserable for them. All valid reasons for not choosing to do as we have done! Frankly, there are so many ways to be healthy and fit, that to put your foot down and say that you must get fit in this ONE SPECIFIC WAY for it to really count is ludicrous, and I would like to think any halfway reasonable person would recognize this.

      • This, exactly! There’s no ONE way, there ARE excuses, and while the image of her with her kids doesn’t offend me at all, it’s the “what’s your excuse?” because, yes, I have them. Thanks for sharing Caitlin and Suzanne.

  7. Thank you all for the commenting and sharing, even if you disagree with my perspective.

    I’m trying to cull the other fitspo messaging that pops up on my Twitter and Facebook feeds after a few months of letting it through, but Maria Kang’s meme, well, F&F’s post on it, came up on a day where I noticed several similar messages from other Twitter accounts, and I just got fed up with it. And while I cheer on Maria’s accomplishments and that she’s extraordinarily fit, the “What’s Your Excuse?” language pretty much made me want to throw things when I saw it LOL! Thus, writing the article and trying to articulate where those feelings came from happened.

    Her non-apology apology though is infuriating on whole different levels to me, though. It’s like she nips the thought of honest discussion or debate on the issue altogether, which sucks. She’s a fitness inspiration to many of her followers, yet she cannot see that her messaging is troubling to some people and she’d rather blame them for their interpretation rather than finding a different way to inspire.

    But still, I like reading the different perspectives on this… at least the ones that don’t fat-shame like the comment above.

  8. I agree so much. This image and especially her response bothered me quite a bit. First of all, there are all kinds of excuses and if these are valid is up to the individual who makes them. If you prioritize other things that are not a fit body that’s totally fine. Secondly, there are surely woman who are content with the body they have even if they don’t have a sixpack or toned arms.

  9. Hmm, I haven’t read all the articles and comments related to this pic, so I may be saying something that’s already been addressed elsewhere. I definitely enjoyed your perspective in this article, for sure. Only Maria knows what her true intentions were by that photo, but, I think it’s possible that she might have been trying to convey the message that JUST BECAUSE you’re a mom, doesn’t mean you can’t be fit. In other words, there are many folks that will use motherhood as an “excuse”. Just like I used pregnancy to eat whatever the heck I wanted :) Sure, motherhood is rough, exhausting, and one of the most rewarding experiences (IMHO) in the world. However, if you have fitness as a priority, it can happen. Becoming a mother doesn’t mean you must forever forgo your hopes of sporting a two-piece or running a marathon. I agree, if you’re a mom, you will have times where working out just isn’t gonna happen. Period. I suspect even Maria herself has had those moments. However, in the long run, you can still be fit and active because those periods when you must take a hiatus aren’t going to dominate your overall lifestyle if you’re committed to fitness and health. Just my two cents :)

    • But can I ask why we assume that Kang is fit based solely on that photo? “Fit” means that her body is capable of doing certain things and all that I can gather from this photo is that she is capable of getting quite lean and that she has had three kids. Now, I’m hoping that as a fitness professional she is also capable of lifting weights or exhibiting flexibility or dancing or running or whatever, but I have no way of knowing that from this photo. She could very well be dehydrated and carb-depleted and using all of the other tricks performed by figure models in anticipation of a photo shoot. What if she’s one of those models whose coach has her doing five hours of cardio a day and eating 1000 calories? I have no clue based solely on this photo.

      The other thing is that “fit” – being a descriptor of what a body does as opposed to how it looks – can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Kang, assuming that she is fit and that she’s not plunging her body into metabolic damage, is fit in one way. I’m fit in another way. Brittney Griner is fit in another way, and so is Ronda Rousey and Jill Mills and Serena Williams and…I could go on, but you get my point? There are lots and lots of ways to be fit and healthy and in shape. Kang is just showing us one of those ways of being fit, but it also happens to be a way that is extremely difficult for many women to achieve.

      • Okay, right, so. This is the problem with photos – they’re inviting judgement based solely on an image. Maria’s photo tells us nothing about her professional success, her abilities, what she does with her family, the kind of support her husband and extended family contribute…et.c.

        My other problem with ‘what’s your excuse’ is the comparisons, healthy and unhealthy, it invites.

        Fortunately for my mental health I happily ignore the fitspo movement, eat what I want, do what I want, and singlemindedly pursue my own goals (but not foist them on others). I know I’m fortunate to be able to do so; those younger or less experienced may be more swayed.

  10. Those are beautiful babies. She is very blessed. If one of those babies was sick, say with cancer… I’d bet she’d have an excuse. To say “what’s your excuse” trivializes life and its complexities and is evidence that she hasn’t experienced something as such. She brings forward a good message. Health is something you should always put as a priority in your life (and your children’s). Not because you want to sport a perfectly toned, ultra low body fat percentage, and never have eaten a carb 6 pack abs… But because your kids happiness, your happiness, and your life depends on it. It’s not superficial… which unfortunately is how this campaign comes across.

  11. This photo’s going to end up on the “awkward family photos” website of 30 years from now. Not because she’s wearing scanty clothes, but because she’s using what should be a sweet group pic with her kids to send what is obviously a very messed up message about her own adult body issues. It’s like she’s trying to start a new family photo tradition — the post baby body snap-back studio session. But it’s not going to catch on and with the perspective of history it will look crazy — like if there were hair from the 80s or avocado green refrigerators in the photo. We’ll look back on this time in mild embarrassment.

  12. As I said on the SR FB page, my problem with this is that it is completely looks-centered. It’s what’s you’re excuse for not looking like me. We know nothing about her other than she presumably has 3 kids and a fit-looking body. We don’t even know if she actually works out. Heck, it could be photo-shopped and even the looks aren’t real. But it’s all about looks. Is she nice? Is she smart? Is she productive? Is she a good parent? Does she even workout? Has she overcome obstacles? Who knows? Who cares? If she wants to inspire us to workout, then why isn’t she working out in the photo? How much better would have been if she was doing a plank with her boys climbing on her or working hard on her treadmill with the kids playing in the foreground? How much better would it be if she was doing something, ANYTHING, other than posing?

    On top of that, the “What’s your excuse” makes it sound like looking this way is a choice. For some it is. For some others it isn’t. Someone on our page suggested changing the tagline to “It’s not impossible.” Much better, imo.

    • Exactly. It’s annoying because she’s not even doing anything in the photo except passively kneeling there. It implies that how you look is more important than what you do. You can be a mom who works out and eats healthy but if you still don’t look like that, then your efforts don’t matter and you have no “excuse.”

  13. Great post! However, the fact is, that while she may annoy some, she inspires others. I think she looks great, and nothing about her picture or response offends me… I refuse to be negative. At the end of the day, she meant no harm and was only trying to be motivating and inspiring. This may be bad to say, so forgive me… but I actually know plenty of moms who even look more fit than that… and might possibly be more fit. For example: one of my mom friends ran a full marathon when she was 5 months pregnant, she has 5 kids now and is running a 3:45 marathon. I use this as an example because anyone who runs, knows training for a race can be very time consuming especially one at marathon distance. And although she has 5 kids, she still makes time for training, because it is her passion. The other mom ran a half marathon 7 months pregnant in under 2 hours. (I’m only mentioning their times to show their fitness level.)

    • Very good points, and seriously, I applaud you for staying positive :)

      I’m super, UBER impressed with your friend who ran a full marathon while pregnant. That’s crazy impressive (I really mean that in a good way!) I love hearing stories about people who take their bodies to the very limit of what they can do, beating the odds, etc.

      However, I still stand my original assessment from the story; Maria Kang could’ve inspired people (perhaps even a lot more people!) very differently had she simply not contextualized her message into what I see is the very damaging “fitspo” meme. Her message undercuts whatever achievements she accomplished to get herself to be fit and healthy, and Caitlin brings up a very good point; from the picture, we really cannot tell what her fitness/health really is. She did not have to level the aggressive, accusatory questioning at her audience.

      I know people will see it differently from me, but I do think there will be a portion of her audience who will take her words to heart, probably too much, which could lead them to potentially damaging behaviors. Those are the readers Kang should’ve been thinking about before she posted the picture. Just my opinion.

      And I do stand by my assertion that I don’t want to take away from any of Maria’s achievements. I only wish she presented her fitspo differently and I also wish she considered the opposing viewpoints. I think it horribly unfair of her to simply dismiss any negative opinions as simply self-hatred or jealousy, when it is far more complex than that.

  14. As much as I admire Kang for being as fit as she is, given that she is a fitness professional, isn’t that part of her job?  I am a content development and communications professional, so it is very likely that I write and edit with more skill than most people, because I do those activities for hours a day every day. Yet I do not post messages online to taunt people who don’t know the difference between a colon and a semicolon or who use double negatives, because it would be snotty and rude to do so. 

    And as always Suzanne, you rock!

  15. You know, I find the implication that some bodies, any bodies, require “excuses” to exist to be really fucking scary.

    I get to be me. No excuses required — or given.

  16. Reblogged this on looseitfinally and commented:
    Couldn’t have said it any better…’fitspo’ should be about empowering people to love themselves they way they are and making them feel good about what they do, no matter how ‘much’ or ‘little’ they as instead of making them feel guilty for not doing as much as others do. It shouldn’t be about being perfect but making an effort to change things and life a healthy lifestyle. And too much working out, too much worrying about you looks and hating yourself ’cause you don’t lok as ripped and lean as someone else or cause you’re not as good as someone else in something isn’t good or healthy at all.
    No one’s perfect. Embrace your imperfections and be proud of who you are, no matter what age, size, gender, etc. you are.
    You didn’t get in that workout today ’cause you prefered to take some quality time with your family or friends ? You had no time to work out ’cause ‘life happened’ and screwed up your plans to workout ?
    Fine, that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Those things are no excuses, those are damn good reasons to ‘screw’ workouts.

    I recently caught myself getting trapped in that ‘No excuses’-mindset and feeling bad when I missed a workout ’cause I had other things to do or just didn’t feel like working out cause I’ve been damn tired and that feeling is so damn wrong!
    To me a ‘healthy lifestyle’ ( as fitspo so often emphasizes on ) isn’t just about working out and eating clean. You need balance in your life as well and that balance isn’t just about working out regularly and eating clean most of the time. You also need a balance between your workout times and qaulity times with your family and friends and indulging in your favourite foods from time to time, even when they are not ‘clean and healthy’.
    Living a healthy life means to me : Having a balance in your life but not the ‘no excuses’-mentality.

    • Yeah, those are all good points.

      It also strikes me that having a “no-excuses” mentality is probably a pretty good way to suck all the fun out of exercise! Like, it becomes just another chore instead of something you want to do. I can see the utility of making a point to do it every day, because routines are powerful, but making it an obligation, something you stress out over and feel bad if you can’t fit it in (or just don’t want to), seems like it could end up doing a lot more harm than good.

      Like assigning moral values to food. No, eating chocolate cake is not “bad” and eating kale is not “good.” They’re both just food.

      • Right, there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food. Everything is olay in moderation and there again you need to find the right balance between fruits, veggies and all the other foods. I lost about 38 lbs since june 2012 and gained some muscles but i never forbid myself to esr something. I just ate a little less of it than I did before and I enjoyed it more and really paid attention to eat while eating it.

  17. I find myself far more inspired by the images of Suzanne than by the image of Maria. While I don’t begrudge her for looking the way she does, I do feel that the image focuses far too much on her appearance of being what most people believe fit to look like and less on actually being fit. I think I would be more inspired if it were a different pose or an image of her doing something. I know I would be more impressed if the text were different. I personally find the text on the meme and her non-apology to be condescending and snotty.

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  19. I think her message came out as strong and pushy. In a country that is on top of the list for obesity we can’t be sweet about it anymore and sugar coat it. In the end it’s kind of like watching the Biggest Loser and which trainer’s attitude and approach fits your personality

    Just wanted to share my opinion on this whole topic as well on my blog Pearls, Diamonds and Everything Else

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  21. Yeah, I’m generally super enthusiastic about anything promoting exercise, and my first response to a woman talking about her rigorous exercise program is to go “Yay!” but the “What’s your excuse?” tagline really bothers me. Excuse? When did having a particular hobby become mandatory?

  22. Thank you for this post! Especially the point about how different it would be if it showed Maria running, having an active life, or something other than just posing.

    Really, what’s the focus of fitness in her picture? Having a six-pack, lean legs, toned but not bulky arms, and boobs. Nothing about athletic performance, nothing about actual physical ability, just appearance. She’s quite made up with her hair done, far more than one would expect when someone is about to do or just finished a serious workout.

    It’s easy for me to come up with excuses for not looking like that — I don’t want to carb deplete or dehydrate because it kills my performance on a long run or swim. A chest like that would require surgery for me (no clue whether it did for her or not), which would require time off workouts, screwing up my training schedule and, far more importantly, going under anesthesia for no necessary reason.

    I much, much prefer Diana Nyad’s ‘Find a way’ mantra rather than the ‘No excuses’. To me, it’s inspiring but realistic. Yes, there will be obstacles or changes. Work starts early, so we get our workouts in at lunch. Injuries may change how we can work out. New passions come up, and maybe we’d like to limit our workouts to devote more time to woodworking.

    I get that Maria wanted to say that no matter what is going on in your life, you can be fit and healthy. However, she chose to package that message in a stereotypically packaged fitspo message that how the body looks, rather than how it performs, is THE sign of fitness.

    Don’t think I’ll be replacing my laptop wallpaper picture of Diana Nyad pulling herself out of the water at the end of her Cuba-Florida swim with this one any time soon. I prefer to take my inspiration from images of women actually, oh, doing something.

  23. I bet she can’t bust up seven-forty on the leg sled. Just sayin’. I ain’t got that etched abdomen but as I said to some dork who called me the “strongest GIRL” in the gym — “If I kicked your ass, you’d know it.” Smek.

    Really, my bottom line with “recovering” people who throw down the gauntlet to anyone is… um… you ain’t that recovered.

  24. I think everyone gives these pictures to much power. I think she is beautiful and I was not offended. I immediately got what she was trying to say. I am in no way close to fit and I have two daughters who are much older. I admire her for making her body a priority. Sadly, I do not. (working on that). I just don’t understand why people get so bent out of shape about it. If I don’t like the image or the message, I stop looking or reading.

  25. Great article. Anyone who’s ever been Facebook friends with a fitness enthusiast has seen many pictures like this. I guess, they are meant to “inspire” or maybe they just want to show off their results. It’s fine. Whatever makes you happy.
    I, for one, believe that change comes from within and no one picture would ever inspired me to make long term changes.
    And, if I was a working mother with young children and my husband showed me this picture, asking me “What’s your excuse?” It would be the last question he ever asked. THAT is the source of at least some of the anger.

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  28. What about the image of someone deadlifting who has only one leg and writes “What’s your excuse?” Would you condemn this person or commend this person on his/her accomplishment? I think we need to stop and take a good, long hard look at ourselves before we decide to roast someone over the fire for doing something that may not be our goal. Perhaps my goal is NOT deadlift. Then my reaction to the one legged person deadlifting would be, good for you! But I don’t want to deadlift. Or I can’t. I have a torn muscle in my back. I don’t let “What’s your excuse” bother me because, well, their goal is not my goal. I have a long history of eating disorders and body image and Maria’s picture did nothing to set me off. In fact, I applaud her because I know how hard she has worked for her GOAL. My goal is to bench my bodyweight. If I change my goal and decide I now want a six-pack, well, my work will have to change to meet that goal. As Dan John said, “Keep the goal the goal.” And I am sure he meant YOUR goal.

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