exercise17f-1-webMom of three, Maria Kang, has been accused of ‘fat shaming’ and ‘bullying’, when this image went viral in the last week or so. The image shows her in work out gear looking trim and fit with her three young children around her as she poses the question, “What’s your excuse?”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this image, and reading the responses it’s generated. And here is the conclusion I’ve come to:

1) I understand why this message has offended people. “What’s your excuse?” implies to some that if I don’t look like her, I must be making excuses. It insinuates that anyone who is not ‘fit’ and ‘beautiful’ based on the mainstream media standard is somehow doing it wrong, and that can be offensive. BUT…

2) I also understand those who are NOT offended by it, and who feel others are overreacting. Because this is a woman who worked hard to get the body and shape she has (GOOD FOR HER!), and was presumably trying to encourage others to accomplish their own health goals without excuses (and by the way, this image was originally posted by her, on HER fitness oriented Facebook fan page, so I’d say it was an appropriate motivator for where and how it was used.)

I could just as easily have taken a picture of all the books I’ve written in the last two years and put my three kids around them and written “Writers, what’s your excuse?” next to it, for the same message. Because that message can be applied to ANYTHING that you say you want, but then find reasons not to go after.

And that’s the bottom line here. That if you REALLY want something, you shouldn’t let anything stand in your way of getting it. If you aren’t as fit as your body is able to be (and not all of us can look like Maria Kang, no matter how much we work out or eat well, because we all have different genetics and body shapes and health issues–and from what I’ve read and seen about her, she’s not trying to MAKE YOU look like her, just trying to INSPIRE you toward your own fitness goals… ), but if you don’t have the body and health you want, and it’s TRULY important to you, then don’t make excuses. JUST DO IT.

But what if that’s NOT a priority for all women everywhere? I think that’s what’s rubbing some the wrong way, the assumption that this SHOULD be the priority for all women everywhere. That somehow we are all morally obligated to make working out and looking good (and even being super healthy) a top priority in our lives. 

But what if it’s not? Is that okay too? Are we allowed to have different priorities?

Obesity and having the ‘perfect body’ have become loaded issues in our society. Moral issues. So much so that people feel morally obligated to speak out about their obese neighbor, friend of family member. (Or random person walking down the street.) And so much so that one Facebook meme meant to motivate has come under attack. As someone who has had the near ideal body and look, and who is now not so ideal at all, I have felt this discrimination and glorification from both sides of the fence.

I don’t care for either. I didn’t like the attention my body got when it was close to the ‘ideal,’ and I don’t like how it feels to be out of shape and overweight. I have beat myself up a lot about it these last several years, and about a year ago I had a long talk with my best friend and finally understood something I hadn’t until then.

This is the truth we all need to grasp.

I had to choose what my priorities would be. My body and my life as a whole reflected those choices. I could change those choices at any time, but I couldn’t do EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE. I had to prioritize.

Some of you know some of my story, how I was in an abusive marriage for many years and finally got out. How I met the love of my life on Twitter. How I was a single mother of three young girls. How I discovered undiagnosed food allergies that had made me sick and inflamed my body until I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and put on pain meds.

Getting back in shape for me wasn’t just a matter of hitting the gym and eating better. I had to really carve out a serious chunk of time, money and free attention to make my health, healing and all of that a true priority. Which meant I had to give up something else.

And for too long, I was sinking financially, struggling just to keep food on the table for my children. I only had enough free attention to keep my most basic health needs met during that time.

Then, Dmytry and I got together, and we worked hard to build our career as writers. While we wrote all those books, we still had bills to pay and kids to feed, so we also did other work. I was a publicist for clients and marketing director for a publishing company. I did freelance writing and took on jobs (like ghost writing real estate) that were tedious for me, just to pay the bills. All the while trying to build my career.

And I’d be so upset that I couldn’t also get healthy and in shape during this time. Until I realized through my talk with Jan, that I could, but it meant giving up something else.

I had to choose!

And so I did. I chose financial stability. I chose building my career so that I could ultimately free my attention to handle my health once I was working as a writer full time. This was MY choice, and it might not be the same choice you’d make. I had my reasons, and looking back, I’m glad I made the choice I did. I’m now a full time writer with a comfortable income and the free attention to start handling my health issues without the added stress of wondering how we’ll pay the rent or keep the lights on. For me, I couldn’t address my health, as complicated as it was, while also worrying about basic survival. I had to get past that first, and I have. We have.

Now we are living an incredible life that is better than I ever dreamed.

And now I can finally start handling those other back issues, like my health.

So, I get the message this meme was trying to send. And I get why people took it the way they did. Because ultimately, “What’s your excuse?” is a genuine question we should all be asking ourselves when it comes to something we desperately want but don’t have in our lives.

And ultimately, we have to prioritize and decide what we want most RIGHT NOW, and what will have to wait a little longer. We have to stop judging each other too, because that’s just silly. My choice to write and provide for my family isn’t better or worse than your choice to hit the gym everyday. Maybe you already have that financial stability. Maybe the health thing needed to happen first for you BEFORE you handled the other stuff. I don’t  know, because I’m not you. I’m ME. And I made the best choice for MY LIFE, just like I assume you will do for YOUR LIFE. And that is OKAY.

We are all beautiful souls traveling this path of life, doing our best to make the right decisions. And life isn’t a multiple choice test. The right answer for me might be the wrong answer for you, and vice versa.

So instead of asking, “What’s your excuse?”, why don’t we instead focus inward and ask ourselves, “What am I willing to sacrifice for RIGHT NOW?” And instead of judging others by our own standards of what’s important (and attacking those who are trying to inspire others in their goals), why don’t we step back and give each other the benefit of the doubt that they are doing what’s right for them, just as we are.

I don’t think we need to storm at Maria Kang with pitch forks and torches. And I don’t think it’s wrong to question the bigger message either. But we do need to stop judging each other by arbitrary standards that don’t need to apply to everyone just because they apply to us.