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The first time Maria Kang posted a picture of herself in a sports bra and workout shorts, surrounded by her three young sons and posing the question, “What’s your excuse?” I reserved judgment. She was posting on her own page, to a certain demographic, and that’s her prerogative. She was raked over the blog and forum coals, of course, and I sort of felt bad for her. She was trying to be motivational (or so she says), despite being somewhat misguided in her approach. Fine. It gave the Internet something to talk about for a couple of days other than Justin Bieber. And I didn’t write about it, because I didn’t want to add to the maelstrom of anger and resentment.
But then, last week, Ms. Kang posted another picture. Another pair of tiny workout shorts with another sports bra. This picture is annotated from head to toe, with phrases like “limited sleep” and “strong, not skinny.” When I first saw the picture, while I read the morning news over the weekend, I rolled my eyes and closed the webpage, moving on to another story. But I couldn’t get the image out of my head all day Saturday (and not because I found it encouraging). This time around, I do not feel bad for a woman who is clearly looking for social media popularity. Or infamy, if you ask me.
Maria, I don’t have to have an excuse to look like me, rather than to look like you. But if you want my “excuses,” here they are:
1. I’m an average weight; on a good day, I can fit into a size 10 but most of the time, I’m a textbook size 12. I can rock a Joan Holloway dress without thinking twice. But I have to fight to stay at this size. I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which makes it difficult for me to lose weight and even easier for me to put it on. When I had my daughter in 2011, despite remaining active during my pregnancy, it still took me a year of effort to lose the weight. I did not, and do not, sit on my couch and eat chips all day long. I work in long walks with my Fuel bracelet, the occasional aerobics class and dance-exercise DVDs so I can pretend I’m not working out.
2. Even at my lowest weight, when I was running six times a week in training for half-marathons, I was still considered overweight by the BMI.
3. I don’t want to spend my days in the gym. I read your FAQs on your website, and if I followed your daily schedule of a trip to the gym every morning, I’d still look like me. You say it has nothing to do with genetics, but I beg to differ. Either that, or you’re spending a lot more time working out than you’ll admit, but if you are, that’s your lie to live with.
4. My husband and I leave our house at 7am every day to get our daughter to daycare. Even if I got up at 5:00am every day to exercise, I’d still only manage a quick workout. As it is, I get up at 5:45am. (And again, it wouldn’t be enough to have toned abs and rock-hard thighs.)
5. My family shows love by cooking. My mom always says, “If I cook for you, it means I love you.” I’m not going to turn down a plate of my mom’s spaghetti and meatballs so I can be a size two. That’s my choice, I agree, but it’s a simple joy that I won’t give up.
6. When I do have time alone, I’d rather be writing than running. I work to have “consistency, persistence, discipline, intensity, patience, desire, focus and faith” towards my dream of publishing a novel (or many). Just because I don’t look like you doesn’t mean I lack any of the qualities you strive for in your physical appearance. It just means I channel them into my own passion.
7. Lastly, I don’t want to be defined by my body alone. I don’t want my daughter to miss out on time with me because the little time I do have I’m spending it trying to look like you. I want her to see that you can look after yourself without killing yourself to do it. And I want her to be proud of me for being more than just a “hot Facebook mom” and a successful, driven, strong woman who works with what she’s got, because, face it, that’s all we can really do.
Maria, do yourself a favour and stop posting this stuff. I get that you’re proud of your body, and that you want other woman to follow in your footsteps, but can we be honest for a second? If you really wanted to empower other women, you’d reach out quietly. You’d stop boasting that you’re so damn perfect—because frankly, from your website, it seems like you’re pretty well flawless (don’t even get me started on the Photoshop work you had done on the second image)—and admit that we’re all in this together. That would motivate me. That would make me want to jump on your bandwagon. But instead I’m going to start a bandwagon of my own:
Tell me, world, for real: What’s your “excuse”? There are no wrong answers. Use #excusethis on Twitter or Facebook to share yours. Excuses don’t mean lack of motivation—it just means we’re all different, with different priorities, and that we should all be working toward lifting each other up rather than beating each other down.
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