Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My "Excuse"

So, last week, an image of a super-fit mom with three kids started making the rounds of the Internet, with the caption, "What's your excuse?" In case you didn't see it, here it is:

My initial reaction to the photo was negative. Maybe it hit close to home because I have three young kids, too, and I certainly don't look like that. Even before kids, I never looked like that. My fitness regime consists of getting on my Wii Fit once in a while and being berated by an animated balance board for how long it's been since I last logged in and how far away my weight goal still is. If Maria Kang can make time for fitness, why can't I? Maybe I extrapolated a bit too much, and looked at all the other things in my life that I have no excuse for. I pictured a mom with three kids and a sparkling clean kitchen, "What's your excuse?" Hot dinner on the table at 5:30 every night, "What's your excuse?" Brilliant homeschooled kids who have never seen a TV show in their lives, "What's your excuse?"

It gradually dawned on me that it wasn't the picture that bothered me. It was the caption. I'm pretty good at beating myself up already. I don't need a picture on the Internet to accuse me of making excuses. I already do that to myself pretty much constantly. Maybe there are people out there who would be motivated to do better by the, "What's your excuse?" mentality, but I'm not one of them. It just cripples me. If I feel lousy about myself, I shut down, and am less likely to push myself to do better. You know what motivates me? Confidence. Don't tell me I'm bad, and that I could be better if I just tried harder. Tell me I'm already good, and I can be better if I just keep going.

I wonder sometimes how much of the whole "Mommy Wars" thing is really just us, beating ourselves up, with no outside help at all. Yeah, there are jerks and bullies out there (especially on the Internet), but I think most of us aren't trying to make anyone else feel bad. I think Maria Kang is one of those people who motivates herself with the, "No excuses," mentality, and she genuinely thinks that it will work for everyone else, too. But it won't. Judging by the backlash against her photo, I'm not the only one who saw her photo and had a visceral, "I already feel bad enough about myself, and this just makes me feel worse," response. (Aside: There are some great responses to Maria's picture out there. This is one of my favorites. I'm not going to tackle the broader issues with the whole "fitspiration" genre; my goal with this post is just to talk about my personal reaction.)

Let's skip back in time a few weeks. I went to Goodwill on a shopping spree. (Yes, a trip to Goodwill is a shopping spree in my world. And I promise this tangent will be relevant eventually.) For some reason, my post-baby-number-three body is very different than my pre- or post-either-of-my-other-babies body. Not really bigger or smaller; just different. 90% of my the shirts in my closet didn't fit or hung funny on me or had holes in them. I felt frumpy and unattractive in my clothes, and I decided that I would feel a lot better about myself if I had some shirts that fit. That day turned out to be one of those magical thrift store days where someone with my exact size and taste in clothes must have just dropped off their entire wardrobe. I had 21 shirts in my "maybe" pile when Jeremy called and said the baby needed to nurse. So, rather than going back through all the "maybes" and putting back a whole bunch of shirts, I bought the whole pile. It felt ridiculously opulent to buy 21 shirts, but the more I thought about it, the less ridiculous it felt. 21 shirts is not unreasonable to replace an entire wardrobe, especially when it is not unusual for me to have three spit-up-related outfit changes in one day. And, at Goodwill prices, 21 shirts only cost me about what 3 shirts would have cost in a normal store. And, if the whole point of this exercise was to allow me to feel good in my own skin, silencing the inner voice that kept telling me I didn't "need" or "deserve" 21 shirts seemed like a step in the right direction.

So, I bought 21 shirts. And I posted a picture on Facebook of me wearing one of them. Then I posted a picture the next day of me wearing another one. And, before I knew it, posting a picture each morning of me wearing another one of the 21 shirts kinda became a "thing", so I kept going. I was about 17 shirts into this exercise when Maria's picture went viral. I don't post "selfies" very often. Other than my weekly pregnancy pictures, I can't remember the last time I posted pictures of myself regularly; and that was weekly, not daily. When I first started posting the shirt pictures, it was a bit of a confidence boost. It felt nice to have people tell me I looked nice. But, every day, I fought the urge to argue with them. "I don't really look this good. It's just the cut of the shirt. I'm sucking my gut in. It's just the angle." I kept posting the pictures in part because I knew I needed practice looking at myself in the mirror and liking what I saw. And having other people remind you that you do, in fact, look good, is a good push in that direction.

And posting those shirt pictures did something else for me. It made me take a few minutes to brush my hair and smile in the mirror each day, something I might not otherwise bother to do. It made me stand a bit taller and think about how my shirts hang on my body. And it made me just a bit more comfortable in my own skin.

Okay, back to Maria's picture. When I first had the idea of making my own parody picture, I was going to caption it, "My excuse is that I don't care." Maybe even stick my tongue out for good measure. But that wasn't right. I *do* care how I look. Maybe not much, maybe not enough to work out every day, but enough to worry what my body would look like in a picture wearing just a sports bra and bikini bottom. And really, "in your face" was what I was complaining about in the first place; responding in kind seemed hypocritical at best. My next thought was, "My excuse is that I'm happy with my body." But that seemed worse in a way. First, it's not entirely honest. I'm working hard to love my body, but it's a journey, and I can't say that I've arrived. And I am fully aware that I need to lose 15 pounds, although I'm not in a huge hurry to get there, because it's not my number one priority right now. Second, it felt a bit like an underhanded slam against Maria - implying that she isn't happy with her body, and that's why she has to work out so much. I don't know her, and I don't think it's fair to make assumptions like that about her. But I am okay with how I look, and happy with the progress I am making towards loving my body. And, as critical as I am of my body when I see it in the mirror, I love that picture of me with my kids. Every bit of it, even the parts I usually criticize in the mirror. Maybe because we were being goofy and having fun together as a family (my wonderful husband took the picture). Whatever it is, I am grateful for what that photo captures of me.

I wasn't expecting my picture to go anywhere beyond my own Facebook page. I posted it on my personal Facebook page, visible only to my friends. When one of them asked if she could share it, I deliberated for a while, and ultimately made it public, because it seemed to resonate with so many other people. Then one of my friends spotted it on the page of someone I don't know, and I started to wonder what I had done. But, people were sharing my photo because they get it. And I think that's awesome.

So far, the responses I have read have been overwhelmingly positive. The only thing that really bugs me so far is assumptions about my intent. I'm not trying to say that my body is normal and hers is not. I'm not trying to say that her priorities are out of whack. All I wanted to do was counteract her message of guilt with one of acceptance. To remind moms like me that our bodies are okay. We don't need to feel guilty for not making perfect abs a priority. Being a mom is hard, and you should spend the precious time that you manage to carve out for yourself on whatever makes you happy. Working out, practicing piano, crocheting, baking, or just zoning out and watching TV. Yes, there are enough hours in the day, and if I was really dedicated to looking fit, I would find the time. But I don't want to, and I don't need to make any excuses for that. I am answering Maria's question honestly. I don't need an excuse, because I'm not ashamed of how I look.

This was going to be a quick post to explain why I made that picture, but once I get going, sometimes I tend to ramble on. Oh well. I have to go play dress-up with a 3-year-old, now, so I'll leave you with what I came here to do. Here's my picture. I hope it makes you feel good about yourself, too.