I love catching snippets of "Good Morning America" before work for two important reasons: 1.) I have a sick obsession with hate-watching sensationalized media stories for writing inspiration. 2.) Josh Elliot is an under-appreciated dreamboat.
Incidentally, I also have an alert system in my brain set up for all body image-related hysteria taking place in any part of the world at any second. So, when Josh and co. tease a segment about a mom and fitness blogger inciting outrage with her own brand of viral "fitspiration," I braced myself for what would surely infuriate and inspire me (in the creative sense, not the "sweat until you cry and vomit!" Jillian Michaels-esque sense, but we'll get to that in a minute).
Meet Maria Kang. She's a 32-year-old mother of three and she really wants you to know that. She also wants you to know that she's adorable and absolutely ripped. And she wants to inspire you. Kang posed for a now-infamous Facebook photo, featuring her, her adorable sons and her hard-to-miss six-pack-abs, front and center (helpful hint: should you somehow miss them, they are hovering directly above the blissfully unaware eight-month-old boy in the foreground). Kang's slim thighs and sculpted arms are relatively easy to spot too, in a teeny-weeny black and red bra top/booty short set that I would not be surprised to learn was from her upcoming athletic collection for Target (I completely made that detail up, but if it happens, I will be demanding a cut of the profits). And hey, Kang looks awesome. She looks happy to be there, showing off her proudest achievements: the tiny human beings she produced, and the startlingly taut body that shows no evidence of having produced them.
And that would all be fine, if that's where the photo stopped. Because hey, if a woman feels good about herself and wants to flaunt it, more power to her. We should all be so lucky to feel comfortable enough in our skin to simultaneously bare an exposed abdomen and a genuine smile. But Kang couldn't let the photo speak for itself. Instead, she printed the words "What's Your Excuse?" (in a visually offensive sans serif font, no less) across the top.
Great question there Maria, glad you asked. Lots of people had answers. "Not that I *NEED* an excuse for not working out, but here's mine you self-righteous idiot... fibromyalgia," wrote one commenter. "What's my excuse? Cancer," wrote another. Serious answers to a ridiculous question that Kang insists she posed in order to "inspire" (there's that word again) other women. "I wanted to say, 'I know you think you don't have time if you have kids. But if I can do it, you can do it, too,'" she says.
So, look. Here's the thing. Many were outraged over what Kang was insinuating -- that fitness should be a priority, no matter the cost. Many chimed in to voice their reasons for not being able to work out -- whether because of health issues, occupational obligations, or time constraints. And those were all valid reactions and responses. But I have yet to see anyone answer Kang's question with one simple word: Genetics.
We could all work out like Kang, squeezing in tricep dips at the playground and jogging in place while cooking dinner for the family. And some of us do. But the fact is, some of us can cut carbs, do some crunches and come out looking like Kang, and some of us can hit the gym twice a day and starve ourselves to near-organ failure and still not look "thin" or "toned" or "ripped" or "athletic" or anything like Kang. To think that achieving a certain look that our society associates with discipline and hard work is a matter of calorie counting and good old-fashioned exercise, is complete B.S. It's ridiculously simplistic to think the human body can be molded into a particular shape and size because we apply a formula of self-restraint or subscribe to a certain mentality. Some of us can work ourselves to death and still never, ever look like Maria Kang. And that's not an excuse -- it's just DNA at play.
You'll meet men and women in your life who seem to eat nothing but fast food with a side of lard, but remain rail thin. You'll meet people with bulging biceps and washboard abs who've never stepped foot on a treadmill or lifted a barbell. And you'll meet people who work out religiously, eat as clean as every obnoxiously arrogant health article instructs them to, and who are overweight. That's life. That's the genetic lottery. And no amount of shaming or "inspiration" will change that.
All of this calls to mind another viral trend that for some (most?) people is an unreachable reality: The thigh gap.
The thigh gap refers to the much-coveted negative space between one's legs that supposedly signifies enviably thin limbs. This is apparently the newest way teenage girls are torturing themselves -- pining after an empty pocket of air in an effort to prove their self worth. This is one of those times I'm ridiculously grateful that the Internet was but a creepy, futuristic concept when I was a teen. Model Robyn Lawley recently spoke out against the trend, calling it "just another tool of manipulation that other people are trying to use to keep me from loving my body." And she's right. And again, like in the case of Kang's "no excuses" body, some of us will never, ever achieve this supposedly admirable trait. It's complete insanity to assume every body is capable of attaining the ever-changing standards of physical perfection. I won't even attempt to articulate it better than the queen herself, Ms. Tina Fey, who wrote in Bossypants:
Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a 9-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes.
My final thoughts are this: We're all different. Whether we want to admit that universal rule of nature or not. Genetics have this funny way of prevailing, despite our best efforts to override them. Is this a free pass to Lazytown, USA where they serve nothing but Twinkies and "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" marathons? No. We should all still strive to remain healthy and fit, but we should also learn to let go of any notion that "healthy and fit" looks a certain way.
And if you need real inspiration (not the fitspo kind), take heart that even the most "genetically gifted" of us aren't good enough by today's absolutely absurd standards of beauty. Models (you know, those bizarrely beautiful freaks of nature who are paid to look like themselves) are no longer beautiful enough and are subjected to more Photoshopping than any of us might realize. Not to mention, so many of the flawless faces we see are hit with a heavy dose of paint and spackle before even going near a camera. So the next time you're comparing skin or abs or arms or butt with anyone, remember there are some facts of life that make us different, and we shouldn't need excuses or explanations to justify our individuality.