Do you guys remember Maria Kang? If you were a new mom around 2013/14ish and you were on social media, you probably do. She was better known as the fitness model mother of three who posted the viral meme “What’s Your Excuse?” as she posed in a sports bra and spandex shorts with rock hard abs and her young sons surrounding her.
I remember writing a passionate response after seeing it; it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. I was shaking as I clicked “post” on a rant I had written in a rush of emotion, releasing it into the social media world for the first time. It was something I’d never done before – sharing something that personal and that angry and that honest. Maria Kang was perhaps one of a handful of major catalysts to beginning my own blog.
Last week I saw that Kang has gained a little weight and has changed her tune on the whole “what’s your excuse?” mindset. I read she was going through some personal struggles in her life and she was being a little less militant on herself. I thought reading it would make me say “SEE!? AHA!!”, that it would make me feel righteous and smug but it didn’t, not at all. I felt tenderness towards both versions of her – both the proud, driven, determined “what’s your excuse?” version and the more compassionate, humble, balanced version.
Because I think I’ve finally grasped the fact – She is not me. Her journey is not my own. And her journey has no bearing upon my own. Her journey is not a comment on mine. And how I react to her says more about me than it says about her.
I sought counseling in 2015 to heal from birth trauma I experienced with my first child, and to prepare myself for the birth of my next. But along the way a lot of other “stuff” came up, and a substantial amount centered around my body image. It turned out there were a lot of reasons for this, all the influences I have in my life both good and bad, but at the end of the day many of my struggles (body image or birth related or otherwise) kept coming back to the same thing:
I was letting outside voices dictate my life. Other people’s opinions determined my inner worth. It sounds so cliché, so “therapy chic”, so “touchy feel-y” but that’s it, guys. I wanted an A+ from everyone. EVERYONE. In every area of my life. I spent very, very little time thinking about what felt right for me. I paid attention to what others were praised for, and I got that. I worked for that. I attained that.
That’s why I felt completely crushed, and like a total failure when my birth didn’t go well and the doctor all but told me it was my fault, all but said out loud “you failed.” Because doctors are authority figures and I wanted them to be proud of me. I wanted their approval.
That’s why it shook me to my core when I realized I wasn’t the kind of mom I saw portrayed by everyone on social media – the kind that only said how amazingly in love they were with their child and how they cherished every single moment and for whom becoming a mother made all their dreams come true. That was what a “good mom” looked like. And is there a bigger failure than not being a “good mom”?
That’s why not bouncing back to my unrealistic pre-pregnancy weight in a month or two or even a year made me feel disgust and shame. Because that’s what the best women do. They bounce back. They look sexy hot and super thin immediately. I saw it on magazines and television and social media and real life – those were the mamas who got praised, who got showered in compliments and jealousy and awe.
So I failed in the trifecta of motherhood tests– bad delivery, not a perfect, loving every second of motherhood mom, not back to pre-pregnancy body. It crushed me. That’s in large part how this blog was born – because I needed to deal with the overwhelming urge that I was failing at everything important and yet something deep inside was gnawing at me that that wasn’t true. But I couldn’t reconcile the two. All I had was intense, bitter anger and resentment and defensiveness because I couldn’t quite put my finger on how to fix it.
That’s why when I saw the article about the “new” Kang I had to stop for a moment and fully appreciate the tenderness I was feeling for her – in both situations.
I’ve stopped believing that someone else’s journey is a comment on my own. I used to feel a fiery fury at those companies targeting post-partum women. I used to think those women who “love their tiger stripes” were full of shit. I used to assume everyone wanted to be skinny. I used to assume everyone was trying to be skinny. I used to assume everyone who was on a laser-eyed mission to “get her body back after baby” was sad and unhealthy. I used to assume that eating healthy and exercising were only for the purpose of looking good. Now I know that’s all bullshit. I know better. I know better than to assume everyone has the same body issues as me or that what is healthy for me is the right thing for everyone else.
Since having my son, my daughter has told me on at least three occasions that my tummy looks like there might be a baby in there (never again, child, NEVER. AGAIN), a friend referenced the fact that I “have a harder time losing the baby weight”, and I’m not sure anyone has commented on how amazing I look after having a baby. Like, no one. Last time I checked I was five pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight, which is a lot of pounds over my pre-ever pregnant weight. All of these things would have had the potential to absolutely crush me a couple years ago. But today I’m unattached to these comments or lack of comments. Truly. Today I’m feeling proud of myself, feeling gratitude for this body and for this mind that has the ability to grow and change.
I was more like the “what’s your excuse?” version of Maria Kang than I knew – hard on myself because I wanted the world’s approval, their compliments, their nod that I was an A+, top of the class woman. Hard on myself to the point of misery, anxiety, disgust in myself. I feel compassion for that older version of me. Its hard to wrap up such a huge shift in my life with a cute little closing line to end a two page blog, so I will just say this feels like a really, really good place to be.