Wednesday, October 16, 2013
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.