In the never-ending quest for Pinterest-like inspiration on everything from weddings to natural hair styles, “fitspo” was born and continues to prosper on social media. It’s mainly photos, with the occasional 30-day challenge or fat-shaming quote thrown in, all with an air of assumption that most people don’t look like Jillian Michaels replicas because they just don’t try hard enough.
It’s all kinds of crazy, the general idea that everyone can have the stereotypical “gym body:” a square frame, muscled arms, ripped abs and a high butt. There’s also the assumption that everyone should want that kind of body, or certain aspects of it. And not to mention the levels of privilege associated with either frequenting the gym enough to look that way or naturally looking that way.
Again, the fitspo ideology is just all kinds of crazy.
Fitness blogger Maria Kang, a mother of three with very little apparent body fat, got the brunt of the trend’s inconsistencies last week when she posted a photo of herself in workout gear that bared her flat stomach. With her children, ages 8 months to 3, crouched around her, the text read “What’s your excuse?”
The Internet then went crazy.
Yahoo! Shine, a website for women, reported that the photo drew 12,000 comments, mostly from disgruntled women who felt the photo was “obnoxious,” “fake” and amounted to nothing more than bullying.
Jezebel.com highlighted some of the comments, including this one:
I can give you many ‘excuses’ to why a woman’s body does not snap back, or look like yours after having kids. Your comment is not only judgmental it’s biasly based on your own specific situation, body type, education, income, etc…. Why would you think that your comment is positive or motivational? Maybe something like – ‘You Can!’, ‘It’s Achievable!’, ‘It’s Worth It!’, would make more of a statement that appeals to more women without assuming we all are making excuses!
Other women commented that health problems, like cancer and fibromyalgia, prevented them from working out.
Everything really is valid—working out a lot, not working out at all, something in between. But that’s not even what’s so grating about the picture. Kang looks that way because of a variety of factors, some of which she controls (diet and exercise) and some of which she doesn’t (genetics, skin elasticity, where her weight naturally distributes, etc.), so to say that she is some wondrous product of solely her own drive is just silly. And, also, irrelevant because there shouldn’t be a value put on her body that’s any higher than anyone else’s body.
Some people want to look like Kang and some people don’t. Some people are able to look like Kang and they may be too lazy to work out as much or not disciplined enough to watch their diet, but, so what? Other people would never have a body that’s anywhere close to hers, even if they followed her exact regimen.
People are different. Bodies are different. Fitness looks differently on different people.
The problem with Kang’s photo—and with the fitspo tags in general—is that they exalt one brand of health and fitness and shame all others. By asking, “what’s your excuse,” she’s assuming that only people who look like her are working hard at their bodies and everyone else must be sitting on their asses all day with a bag of Doritos. That’s the kind of shaming and bullying that keeps lots of fat people away from gyms, y’all.
Kang responded to the criticism with the equivalent of a “sorry, not sorry,” according to Shine:
“I’m sorry you took an image and resonated with it in such a negative way. I won’t go into details that I struggled with my genetics, had an eating disorder, work full time owning two businesses, have no nanny, am not naturally skinny and do not work as a personal trainer.”
“What I WILL say is this. What you interpret is not MY fault. It’s yours. The first step in owning your life, your body and your destiny is to OWN the thoughts that come out of your own head. I didn’t create them. You created them. So if you want to continue ‘hating’ this image, get used to hating many other things for the rest of your life.”
Yeah. Kang, no. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to tell your story and inspire people, but it’s hard to think that the intent of Kang’s photo, and most of the fitspo out there, was actually inspiration.
Again, this exaltation of the super-toned body as the only one that is desired and worthy and healthy is problematic and too pervasive in our culture, seen everywhere from gym billboards to the fitspo photos reblogged on Tumblr. Of course Kang isn’t single-handedly responsible for our country’s collective low self-esteem, but she’s contributing to it. (And, sadly, suffering from it, as she noted that she struggled with an eating disorder.)
Being critical of her message and intent isn’t “hating,” either, so let’s leave the middle school rationale alone, too. There’s a way to be proud of your accomplishments (because setting and meeting any kind of goal is a big, huge, amazing deal) and not turning your success around to accuse others of laziness.