Wednesday, October 16, 2013

No Excuses

"What's your excuse?"
By now, you've probably seen this photo (motivational campaign?), which has quickly made the internet rounds.

Maria Kang is, as she describes on her website, a "recovering bulimic."  I would hope that all women in recovery understand that images and messages like this are often difficult for women, with and without eating disorders, to tolerate.

The word "excuse" has a judgmental, shaming connotation to it.  If you're not doing it her way, then clearly, you're not doing it right.  Already, many women have spoken out with their "excuses," from lack of time or other resources, to serious illness.  How's cancer for an excuse for not rocking Kangian abs?

The reality is, most women's "excuse" is simply genetics.  Even if they spent three hours daily at the gym (and really, how healthy would that be?) and ate only unprocessed, organic, vegan, dairy-free, sugar-free, gluten-free morsels at two-hour intervals throughout the day, stopping by 7pm, of course (and really, how healthy would that be?), they still wouldn't look like this.  Because their genes just don't want them to.  Their bodies would rebel from over-training by getting sick and injured and they would compensate for caloric restriction by overeating or bingeing when given the chance.  And their lives would be monumentally out of balance. . .

There are hoards of athletic, flexible, strong, in-shape women who can run marathons or climb mountains, hoist dumbbells, office printers, or six-year-olds, who earn cardiovascular and metabolic gold stars at each and every doctor's visit, who look nothing like this.  The reality is, by looking at the photo of Kang, we can't even know if she's healthy.  We simply know that she's thin.  The more we equate health with appearance, the more we encourage exercise as punishment (rather than life-affirming recreation) and promote cultural-sanctioned disordered eating and body dissatisfaction.

And until women can come together and stop judging, criticizing and attacking one another, we really don't stand a chance in tackling the many forms of competition and adversity we experience in our roles as mothers, in the workplace, as sexual objects, etc., etc., etc.

Motivating people through judgment, shame, and attack isn't motivating, at least not in the long-run.  My hope is that women like Kang can motivate her fitness audience through accurate information, encouragement, and support.  There are plenty of forces and factors in this world that denigrate women; let's at least call it a truce with one another.


FlaxenGirl1978 said...

Thank you so much for this post, and the points you make! I look forward to the day when people stop constantly competing with each other and move toward encouragingly supporting & accepting ourselves and one another. When that is the dominant attribute of our culture, we will all rejoice : )

FriendlyFace said...

We need to be more careful of our word choices. If we assume the ad means "What's your excuse for not being thin?" we are creating a straw man to attack. There are so many ways that phrase could end: "What's your excuse for not being in shape?" "What 's your excuse for not acheiving your goals?" for exmple.
We need to move to using better language overall in the dialogue about health.
You perpetuate the problem when you write a phrase such as, "The reality is, by looking at the photo of Kang, we can't even know if she's healthy. We simply know that she's thin." That's not what we know - we know she is in shape for her body type. The phrase "in shape" implies the shap your particular body, given your particularly set of genes and health, should be in. Let's reshape our language and have a real discussion on those terms.

drstaceyny said...

FF--I can't tell that she's in shape. She has muscles, and so I believe that she's strong, but I'm unsure beyond that. I have no idea how her musculature/strength translates to physical output. I think you're confusing form with function. If she had shown a picture of her completing a road race or a picture of her benching her one rep max, then maybe I'd have an idea as to what her body is capable of doing, but because this is just a photo of her physique, I can't extrapolate fitness from that. Fitness= cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength/endurance, flexibility, etc., and I have no idea if she's "in shape" based on these indices. So yes, I'd need more info if that's what she meant. Also, again, I have no idea about her health (cardiovascular, metabolic, musculoskeletal, etc.)--all I can see is that she's thin and has some musculature. So, to me, how she presents the image dictates the message received.

I Hate to Weight said...

when i was bulimic, i looked pretty darn healthy. i was no longer the 85 pound anorexic of my 20s, nor the 200 pound teenager of my childhood.

lots of muscular, "in shape" athletes later admit to eating disorders -- gymnasts, swimmers, figure skaters, wrestlers...

and "no excuses". do we know if she has a full time job? household help? blah, blah, blah. it's useless to compare ourselves to an advertisement!

Professor & Mom said...

And let's not forget the airbrushing, unless she just has naturally flawless skin!

Lindsey Reed said...

Wow this is incredibly powerful! I work for Project Bliss, an eating disorder treatment center, we often discuss these issues with clients and attempt to spread the awareness you demonstrate here. It is refreshing to know there are still people out there who do not have a distorted sense of food, appearance, etc. We would love to host you on our blog sometime, if you'd be interested.
Thanks again for your inspiring words!

Meg said...

I hate this picture! It implies that the most important thing in life and the ultimate goal you can achieve is a perfect chiseled body. I am sure she has given up countless hours of time with her precious kids to achieve that chiseled body too! What erks me the most is that the symbol of success implied in this picture isn't being a mom of three and how her body created life but how "disciplined" (or addicted) she is in exercising. Not everybody has a chiseled body at the top of their priority list, especially with three little kids to love and nurture. Health is important, a chiseled body is unnecessary in my opinion. Our society is just crazy confused when it comes to health. And who knows this may be bold but since she is a former bulimic whos to know for sure she didn't get that chiseled body with some eating disorder behaviors? You never know what people are doing with food and exercise that's why its important not to compare but to just focus on ourselves and taking care of our own bodies. Every body is different. Many people would have to give up their entire lives and dedicate most of it (aka become obsessed) with food and exercise to achieve this portrayed body sacrificing other, more important things, in their lives. I feel bad for everyone who is exposed to these lies and encourage them to not believe them. Oh and the chances that their is 0% Photoshop used in this picture is slim to none. I am a recovered bulimic myself and my passion in life is helping others truly find freedom. My blog is