I read a great blog post recently by Mama Lion Strong about our culture’s obsession with perfect abs, skinny bodies and the unfortunate shaming that we as women succumb to, both through feeling shame towards our own bodies, and shaming other women for where they are at in their personal fitness journey.
In her post, Jen was responding to a woman’s photo of her incredible abs with a caption that read “I have a kid, a six pack, and no excuse.”
I’m tired of this message. Just SO tired of it. There’s nothing new or original about this message. I don’t feel anything when I look at it, except sad for the women who are struggling and feel hurt by it. I remember when Maria Kang’s famous “what’s your excuse?” photo went viral. It stung. I was two months postpartum, completely exhausted and run ragged, and still feeling I was falling short.
I can relate to Jen’s feelings. Yes, I want to surround myself with people who are a few steps ahead of me in every aspect and use them as mental/emotional/physical/spiritual/etc. inspiration for taking things to the next level and being the best woman I can be. But, there are two important factors that are key distinctions between inspiration and shame:
1. The image presented must be attainable. For most people who do not have a job that revolves around fitness and our bodies, a completely shredded midsection is just not realistic. When we hold ourselves to an unrealistic standard, we get discouraged and either give up or get down on ourselves.
2. The image presented must be something worth achieving. This distinction cuts to the heart of the issue at hand. Many people don’t have a strong desire to have six-pack abs, chiseled biceps or the current obsession – a thigh gap. For those people, they have something else that they value about those things, be it family, friends, their career or other personal goals. This does not mean that those women are making excuses for not being skinny or fit, it’s simply not their number one priority.
As women, I see us falling short on both sides of the fence. For the women who are fit and healthy and want to reach out to inspire other woman, I see a need for setting reasonable and attainable goals. Sure, share your success stories and photos, but show the space in between the before and after picture. Show the steps it took to get there. Use inspiration and encouragement to help others meet their goals, not shame.
What’s more, don’t assume that everyone is going to value fitness to the same degree that you do. Some people value health, regardless of their jean size, while some people don’t value health and fitness at all. The point is we all have something we value. We should celebrate each other’s values and recognize that what some people call an “excuse” for not exercising is simply a passion for something unrelated to fitness.
And, for the woman on the other side – those who don’t have fitness goals as their number one priority, I see a need for acknowledging their priorities and the reality of those decisions. It is sheer craziness to get down on yourself for not being fit and having washboard abs when you don’t eat right or exercise regularly. Don’t judge your body based on other people’s fitness success. Remember, fitness success comes as a result of a lot of hard work, time, and by making it a priority. If you don’t have the same priorities as someone who spends a lot of time working out, then you won’t have the same results.
So to the women out there who have made fitness a priority, I say that I admire your determination and strength. But please, don’t say that other women’s lack of fitness is somehow due to their lack of determination. Some people just won’t value fitness the same way you do. I guarantee those same women have strengths in other areas that you aren’t as competent in, they just are unrelated to fitness.
And to the women out there who don’t make fitness a number one goal in your life, I say, awesome! Don’t you love that we all get to prioritize our lives in ways that work and make sense to us?? Don’t allow other people’s differing values (and successes!) to discourage you. And certainly don’t complain about a lack of success in an area that takes a lot of work to see results if you yourself aren’t putting in the work.
On a personal note, I simply wanted to share that I find myself in a sort of middle ground between the two groups of women I mentioned. I value fitness and strength, and I spend a great deal of time each week doing things to take care of myself physically. I eat well, I exercise regularly, and on top of that, I have a physical job as a yoga instructor. All that aside, though, I’m a momma first. Some days are so crazy busy with my family that I don’t even get to unroll my yoga mat. As a result, I’m not making huge strides in my personal yoga practice. It’s easy for me to get discouraged when I see other people moving forward and accomplishing new poses, but I have to remind myself that it is completely unfair to myself to hold myself to other people’s standards. I have to live in the truth of where I’m currently at. I have goals, I’m working hard, but at the same time, advancing my yoga practice or getting super strong is not my number one priority right now. So I shouldn’t expect my practice to look like someones who’s practice is their number one priority.
I too struggle with thinking my body should look a certain way, so I try to surround myself with people and images that are encouraging, not shame inflicting. I’ve had two babies. I think I look pretty good considering, but I also know that some things will never be the same. And that’s ok.
One of my all time favorite actresses is Jennifer Garner. Sometimes when I’m out for a run and need an extra burst of inspiration, I channel my inner Alias and imagine that I’m a kick-butt super spy. But recently, I was inspired by Garner in a new way. In a recent interview, she responded to speculation that she was pregnant by saying yes, she has a baby bump. But not because she’s pregnant. She has a baby bump and it’s named “Violet, Sam and Sera,” the names of her children. I love that.
As a mom, I have the unique privilege of not only carrying my children in my body, but then, carrying the effects of those babies on my body for years to come. My heart is that women recognize the delicate balance required for having a healthy body and healthy body image. It takes work to be healthy, but it’s our work. Don’t compare your work, your body, or results to anyone else, and don’t forget to encourage other women to find the win in their own journey.
Don’t forget to check out Jen’s Instagram @mamalionstrong to see inspirational photos of real women in their fitness journey’s!