Fitspo Memes and Maria Kang

I have mixed feelings about the ‘What’s your excuse’ debacle, because I do think Maria Kang looks great, and I acknowledge her hard work, and I HATE that (some) people are ridiculing her appearance.

On the other hand, I totally get why so many people feel like the meme is shaming. My friend Holly said something really on point about it (you can read the whole conversation here):

“The only reason is has legs is because it really appeals to two BIG cultural sacred cows: 1) the notion that you can have anything as long as you sacrifice/work hard enough, and 2) that women should be “hawt” above all else/in addition to everything else.

If I went around saying, “I got a PhD in science…what’s YOUR excuse?”, I’d be a total asshole. Not everyone is interested in science. Not everyone wants or needs an advanced degree. Not everyone has the background or particular skills that are required. Not everyone is cut out for years of academic and lab study. Most people really don’t give a shit. These seem obvious.

Why is it de rigueur for fitness memes? Because sacred cows/cultural values.”

Having goals is great! Having aesthetic fitness goals is great! Go on with your bad self and do your thing! And, respect that other people have other goals. Exercise is important for maintaining good health, but no one needs to look like a fitness model in order to be fit and healthy. Non-aesthetic goals are just as worthy. No one’s value as a person should be measured on their physique.

And that’s about the long and the short of my take on this whole situation. I made my own meme about it too. Cuz you know, memes are cool and everything.

Screen Shot 2013-10-17 at 10.59.36 AM

34 thoughts on “Fitspo Memes and Maria Kang

  1. I think the only “excuse” anyone needs for anything is “because I’m not that interested in it” or perhaps just “it’s not important to me”. As your friend said, not everyone has to get a science degree if they’re not interested in it, the same as not everyone has to be into training if they don’t feel like it.
    I don’t think that was the point of the image and the “what’s your excuse” caption though. There are many people out there who aren’t happy with where they’re at in life, and the only thing stopping them from getting closer to where they want to be is the story in their head about how they don’t have time, or it would be selfish, it is only possible in for lucky people in ideal circumstances, or whatever else. Meanwhile other people with the same set of circumstances have found a way to make time and make it happen, because they want it bad enough.
    I don’t think people need an excuse for not doing something that doesn’t appeal to them, but if it’s something you want, something that will make you happy and give you a better quality of life in the long term… the “excuse” in many cases would more accurately be described as a “limiting belief” that isn’t actually true anyway.
    I think that was the intention of the image and caption; to empower people who have the desire but not the belief to say to themselves “well if she can do it, I can do it”. What I take from all of this outrage is that people don’t like having their beliefs challenged, even those negative ones that tell them they deserve and are capable of less than other people.

    • This response is perfect! It’s not about expectations, it’s about people claiming they want to be that fit but then following their wish with an excuse about why they can’t do it. As a single mom, I made the choice to go back to school and finish my bachelor degree. No, it’s not as time time consuming as a pHD, but challenging none the less. I was constantly getting remarks from other moms about how they “wished” they had time to go back to school. I could care less if anyone else goes back to school, but don’t tell me you want to go back to school and don’t have time, because I am not a superstar and somehow made it work, and went to school with other parent who made it work. It’s about priorities and time management, the same as it is with fitness goals. Maria Kang wasn’t pushing expectations on anyone, she was responding to the “I wish”ers. She runs a motivational fitness page…..knowing her target audience is probably searching for motivation to become more fit, the message seems appropriate.

      • “It’s about priorities and time management, the same as it is with fitness goals.”

        Finding time to go back to school is not the same as fighting genetics. Some of us can/do work just as hard, or harder, but we will still NEVER reach that body type. That’s the problem I have with her “what’s your excuse” tag line (see my earlier comment above for more regarding that).

    • Good comment.

      There are better ways at motivating people. “What’s your Excuse” is really just blatant peer pressure, with a pretty face. No thanks. I didn’t just fall off the stupid truck.

  2. I blogged about this, too. I didn’t think it was the “fat shaming” so many people labeled it as but I certainly, as a not fat but also not fitness model esque woman, felt shamed when I looked at it. I had the same thought as the PhD example but imagined it being some big paycheque that a person might flaunt–again, not acceptable! Your post is bang on. Thank you!

  3. Right! Choosing not to engage in the same workouts or nutrition patterns is not an excuse if it is a choice. Its not the same thing. Its not her poster that bothers me but other people’s responses to it. Shame on her for being fit while others are saying shame on you for being fat and lazy. I mean come on. Don’t be mad either way. Her poster was nothing but self-promotion anyway. She isn’t a trainer anymore. She has no real concern over anyone but herself and her family. To be honest. I personally feel she can’t relate in any way to moms who suffer obesity. She just doesn’t have a clue about the psychological impact that obesity can have on a person. Many would love to climb the mountain to good health. They are just very confused about direction. I also think the root of women being hurt by the poster is they feel like they are being told their efforts of caring for everyone but themselves still isn’t enough because they don’t look a certain way. Women who feel this way may need some encouragement or acknowlegement that they are doing a great job but they deserve to put themselves first in their lives as well.

  4. What about the part where even if *I* did work out as hard and as often as this person and ate the same things, *I* would probably not look like that.

    FWIW, I’m a new(ish) mom with a 14-month-old who has just started to be able to work out again because of time/full-time job/priorities/breastfeeding/small child/mental health/exhaustion/sleepless nights, etc., and so on. I’m on the edge of obese on the BMI charts. I haven’t lost all the “baby weight.” But I’m working out again. And after about three months of working out consistently, I feel healthy again. I’m trying to my best not to focus on the number on the scale and to not fall into the “I’ll do anything to lose this weight as fast as possible” trap because lord knows I don’t want to go down that road again. Finding this blog has helped!

    Instead, I’m running three days a week (because it’s what I enjoy) and I try to do a bootcamp/interval workout at least twice a week. And while I’d love to make it my job to have a six pack, I probably never will, especially now, with post-baby tummy and, you know, I’m pretty sure no one is going to pay me to work on my abs. Personally, I think it’s pretty badass that I workout five times a week, take care of a toddler, work full time, manage to keep my house not a complete nightmare, and continue to have relationships with other humans.

    I’m rambling, and I’m just trying to make myself feel better.

    • Hi,
      I have 3 boys and my youngest is 19 months. I haven’t lost all of my pregnancy weight yet. I just started working out again this week. I’m so sore but I can tell this will help me feel better and help me lose weight. My 19 month old still occasionally gets up at night, I stay at home an homeschool my other children, and we only have one car- so in order for me to go to the gym I have to wait and my husband has to drive me to and fro from the gym (I can’t drive a stick shift. What’s my excuse? I’m scared to death of it!). I tried just working out at home and being active while focusing on my diet. I didn’t lose for months and months. So going to the gym is a real sacrifice for our family. I’m glad my husband is willing to give up some of his evenings when he is incredibly busy. I also have had a lot of hormonal issues and its taken me a while to figure out what I needed and thankfully, I think I’ve figured out the supplements needed!
      I will never look like any of these fitness people. I’m not huge but my stomach is “ruined”- my babies were very big and I was huge when I was pregnant. New stretch marks every pregnancy!
      I love how this post is encouraging and not shaming. I already have spent 19 months (plus ALL of pregnancy! No 2nd trimester glow! Sick for 18 weeks, severe pelvic pain for 20) feeling fat and cruddy, I don’t need someone reminded me of how terrible I feel.

  5. I think its interesting that Kim Kardashian’s recent picture isn’t getting more attention like Maria’s did… maybe because it didn’t have a distinct caption with it, but I still think she put it out there as a way of proving “hey guys! I’m not fat! You can stop talking about how big I got when I was pregnant because I’m hot again!” When in reality, why did she need to slim down 3 months after having a baby?? Reminded me of your “look at my self discipline post”
    Thanks for another great blog post Amber, you have helped me so much in the past few months, after a really confusing couple of years trying to figure out what the hell was/is wrong with my body that I thought I treated so well. I think 180 Degree health and Youreatopia are somewhat helpful resources, but they are more extreme in their recommendations for healing. I took Youreatopias advice too severely and ended up overfeeding myself for too long and feeling like crap.I like your balanced and logical approach that you have to eat for your specific body, activity level and lifestyle. Thanks again! 😉

  6. Nothing intelligent, but where are the bra and shorts on the right from? My yoga practice needs these!

      • Brilliant, thank you. I am in the US in Jan (family disney holiday – I am the sullen and reluctant aunt) so will track down athleta and explore. (There’s also this place called lululemon that I’ve heard enough about to think it might make up for having to endure spoil toddlers and mickey mouse.)

  7. You know why I don’t look like that?

    Because I don’t look like that.

    I work out 30-60 minutes every day. I eat well. I still don’t look like that. I have spent the past 9 months struggling to get a mere 15 pounds off my 4’11” body that started out 30 pounds overweight despite regular workouts and eat a fairly nutritious diet. To lose any significant amount of weight I had to be hyper-vigilant about my diet. Even with everything I have done, fat seems to love my body and takes long periods of time to come off. My fat is stubborn and relentless. I know it’s going to take a good two years to get to my goal weight.

    That’s why I hate this meme. It implies if you don’t look like that, it’s your fault. You are out of shape and doing nothing. You’re a lazy slob who is making excuses. I’m pretty darned fit, thank you very much. I’m still a bit soft and chubby (4’11” and currently 126 pounds and 21.8% body fat that all seems to be in my belly). I resent the implication that my less-than-perfect figure is the result of excuses. I admit I probably have a worse diet than Kang’s but it’s still packed with nutrition and low in sugar and if I likely take more indulgences than Kang, then it’s because there are times when enjoying life takes priority over looking like a fitness model!

    • “It implies if you don’t look like that, it’s your fault. You are out of shape and doing nothing. You’re a lazy slob who is making excuses.”

      Yes, yes, YES!!! I will NEVER look like that – believe me, I’ve tried, and damn near killed myself doing it. I just don’t have the genetics for it. Even underweight, the way my muscles are shaped, and where they attach on my frame, will not allow my body to look like that – NOT EVER! It was a hard realization to come to, and even after years of eating disorder therapy I still struggle with it, but there it is.

      I wish people would stop and THINK about what they’re putting out there. The world is holding up that body type/look as an attainable ideal “if we’d just stop making excuses and put in the effort,” but it’s not realistic. Some of my friends are dead from trying to attain what is actually NOT attainable by all (and yes, there’s more to eating disorders than that, but the media contributes and images like this fuel disordered thinking and low self esteem).

    • Yeah, don’t give her the time of day, then. Work on loving yourself, that’s better than looking like she does, girl 🙂 I felt sad when I read your comment – nobody else but HER looks like her, we’re not cookie cutters thank God. She hasn’t helped you; leave her behind and keep looking and learning.

      • Goodness! I didn’t mean to make you feel sad. I didn’t say that I didn’t love myself. I accept my body is what it is. I don’t need anyone else, particularly a fitness model whose job it is is to look a certain way, tell me I’m “making excuses” if I don’t look like her. That has nothing to do with not loving or caring for myself. Considering everything I have read about how fitness models achieve their physique, I think I love my body far more than she does because I love myself enough to not put my body through that.

        I still wonder how people would react if Maria Kang weren’t so pretty. What if she didn’t have long hair and such delicate, feminine features? I’ll bet no one would pay the slightest bit of attention to her.

        • I would have to guess that nobody would care if she wasnt hot. Its a mix of shame and jealousy.

  8. Perhaps we can merely accept that for some people, reading the words, ‘What is your excuse?’ and seeing three happy smiling children and cut abs on a Mom, is actually motivating. Yes, those people are accepting a shaming tactic, and using a shaming tactic, and it must work for them. Other people need a level, non-abusive eating/exercise paradigm, and that works for them, some others may really like to analyze the what and why of fitness, almost as if it were a philosophy. And we all live side by side on one planet.

    • Interesting perspective. I, actually, did find it motivational, but not because I felt ashamed. I am a first time mother to a little girl and I really am trying to get my body back (and beyond). When I saw that photo I thought, “You know, she’s right. I can either sit here and find reasons to not get moving today and then be miserable at the end of the day, or I can quit making excuses and do something!” I was actually surprised at the negativity surrounding the photo. Now that I’ve heard other people’s complaints I can understand why it may see like shaming or boasting. I really don’t think that was her intent. Sometimes I’m frustrated because it seems like people nowadays just look for reasons to be offended instead of thinking, “Well, this offended me initially but I he/she probably didn’t mean for that to happen. Yes, he/she could maybe have said it better or differently, but, hey, I can’t criticize because I know I’m not perfect either!”

      • Yeah, that was sort of my reaction to the initial image. then her ‘apology’ came out, and she basically said ‘sorry you’re offended, but you’re just making excuses’, and then I really did get offended.

    • While her fitness accomplishments are obvious, I question her motivation. There is a clear lack of compassion & empathy throughout her publisings, making her appear more narcissistic than anything else. This is futher evident by the recent banner “What’s your excuse”, which truly underlines the hype.

      Shame-based tactics always do harm, no matter how you gift wrap the box. She might one day be held accountable for attempting to polarize women’s appearances after so progress had be made since the dark ages of women’s issues.

      I must hand it to her, though, for exploiting her resources (including her children) to become famous.

  9. I’m a Maria follower long before this recent bout of publicity. And if you take time to read her story and follow her posts, you will see that she that she’s NOT trying to say that you must try to achieve a body like mine so what’s your excuse. She IS trying to say that you can also make strides in your life to get more fit (whatever fit means to you) even with a crazy busy life. In her private support group, many are a size 14 trying to get to a size 12 as their goal. A couple of women are in competition state but that seems to be the minority. Everyone is welcomed and held up and encouraged and loved, regardless of the current state of their fitness.

    • I respect that she motivates you, and sharing our realizations can be uplifting, true, but that is not what “What’s your excuse” is all about, sadly. It’s about shaming people, and that is bad karma.

    • And I don’t know why men can’t just learn to stop telling women what to do.

      (BTW, this has nothing to do with women not ‘getting along’. We are not children. When women like Amber speak up about current issues, all we ever hear people say is that it is ‘creating drama’. It’s not drama, it’s called commentary.)

      • You were the first to mention “drama,” not me.

        A woman posts a photo of herself with her children and it becomes an issue. I think it is reasonable to ask why a photo becomes an issue. I don’t see too many men commenting about the photo in question, it is pretty much all women.

        Why do women react to that photo the way they do?

        It’s just a photo. Why not just think “Heh, nice photo,” and let it go?

        • I’m commenting on the many other times I’ve heard what you stated and then later it came out that guys think women are being dramatic. I didn’t say you said ‘drama’.

          Why not just ask that question, “Why do women react to the photo the way they do?” which would get you your answer. Instead, you made a statement about women getting along, which I felt sounded condescending.

          Either way, the photo (actually, it was her question IN the photo) obviously struck a chord with many women for a certain reason (their reasons are valid, I’m sure) so why the need to make people feel small with your statement? If you truly desire to know the answer, pose the question. But telling women to ‘get along’ is annoying and unproductive, IMO. Men aren’t commenting on her photo because her question seemed to be directed at moms, as she used her status as a busy mom to drive her point. That’s why I wasn’t personally offended as I’m not a mom and my ‘excuses’ have nothing to do with kids. But if I was a mom I might feel differently.

  10. I don’t particularly care about the “What’s your excuse?” verbage — it’s weirdly in-your-face for her stated goal, but whatever — the thing that makes me vaguely uncomfortable is the same thing that makes me uncomfortable whenever I see people who have recovered (or “recovered”) from an ED held up as body-size inspiration. It sounds like Maria Kang really is recovered and is living a great life, but a lot of the press about this brouhaha hasn’t really made that clear.

  11. Your meme sums it up for me. I am extremely fit, but do not–nor will I ever– look like Ms. Lang. As a “professional freelance writer” (so am I), she should know that a successful communication requires a writer to correctly communicate her exact meaning to her audience. She did not do that, so her “apology” blaming the reader for not understanding her “true” meaning is disingenuous at best, insulting at worst.

    Women like her, the “all you have to do to look like hottie me is exercise and eat healthy” ones, are why I looked at pics of myself just completing my first Spartan Sprint at age 43 with a top 45% overall finish, top 30% female finish and had the initial thought of “I look fat.” Needless to say, that is a ridiculous thought and I was immediately pissed at myself for doing it, but unrealistic expectations of what a fit, single mother who works full-time based on images presented by women like Ms. Kang at the very least feed into that skewed mentality of not promote and exploit it for gain and notoriety.

    Bottom line– shame on her and she should have known better. She should provide a REAL positive example and offer a real apology with some grace and humility.

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