We Don't Need an Excuse

Who gave Kang the right to set that standard for all mothers? Why does Kang's body type have to be the ideal? And why can't we have our own priorities?
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Last year, Maria Kang (aka the "Hot Facebook Mom") posted a gorgeous, but controversial, photo. It features Kang -- splendidly toned and supermodel-beautiful in a sports bra and briefs -- posing next to her children. Splashed across the top is the question, "What's your excuse?"

Kang's challenge sparked a Facebook frenzy of both indignant and supportive responses. So much so that Kang (who is also founder of the nonprofit Fitness Without Borders) created a fitness movement around it: No Excuse Mom: Health Starts At Home. To promote her newest endeavor, she recently posted a second photo. Also emblazoned with the "What's your excuse?" tagline, this photo details all of the excuses Kang could make for not working out:

  • works 8hr+ days
  • limited sleep
  • no nanny or chef
  • gave birth to sons in 2009, 2010 & 2011

These bullets are facts of life shared by many Western mothers. We work, we manage our homes without nannies or chefs, we run on little sleep... But we don't all look like Maria Kang.

When Kang's first picture blew up on Facebook, she posted a non-apology:

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. You can either blame, complain or obtain a new level of thought by challenging the negative words that come out of your own brain.

For the record, I agree with part of the above. We all have a choice in how we interpret the "What's your excuse?" banner. But asking people what their excuse is for not having a body like Kang's was intended to be provocative. That word -- "excuse" -- served up a healthy portion of fat-shaming, regardless of whether Kang chooses to admit it.

An excuse "frees one from fault or blame." It is a defense. A justification. Needing an "excuse" implies that the person is falling short of some standard. Kang was asking us to excuse ourselves for what? For not achieving some Kang-ordained level of physical fitness? And if we aren't at said level, then the implication is that we are flawed. Kang's hashtag is an attempt to define a mother's value based on her size.

Where Kang missed the point (and became disengaged from millions of women) was in her assumption that any of us need an excuse for whether we have jiggly arms or love handles.

Who gave Kang the right to set that standard for all mothers? Why does Kang's body type have to be the ideal? And why can't we have our own priorities?

Newsflash: Kang's priority does not need to be yours. Every mother has her own unique set of circumstances, talents and passions. We could all look around and ask "what's your excuse?" to those who are not pursuing our exact goals (but it wouldn't make a lot of sense, and it smacks of privilege).

The women in the pictures below represent a diverse array of interests and abilities:

Sara is President and volunteer for the Reno Ranch Dog Rescue. She does not, however, expect you to run out and foster the next stray you see. In a candid moment on Facebook, Sara had this to say about Kang's photo: "Limited sleep? Are you effing kidding me? Let me tell you about limited sleep. Limited sleep is going to bed at 5am, sleeping until 8am, getting up to do piano lessons, karate and school work, working a 16 hour shift, and then doing another three hours for a field trip, sleeping for one or two more hours, and going back to a 12 hour shift at work. Oh, and somewhere in there, pacing the floor with the acid-reflux baby to help her get some rest."
Photo: Tom Ford (Code Name: Papa)
Christina, owner of The Natural Newborn and studying to be a chiropractor, has a passion for changing healthcare: "I believe it should be more about creating wellness instead of treating illness. But that does not mean that we all should look like Kang, or even want to!"
Darcel of The Mahogany Way is teaching her children that a person's worth is not determined by his or her outward appearance.
Jessica Martin-Weber
Photo: Ashley Tingly
Jessica Martin-Weber (of The Leaky B@@b) needed no excuse to take a break from her volunteer work in India to share this photo. Jessica, along with a local nonprofit run by an Indian family, has helped get clean water by financially funding the drilling of a fresh and deep borehole in a remote village and has supported local efforts to increase educational opportunities for even the most unlikely children. To support a micro business of the women of this area whose profits go to a new school, see A.Ku Designs on Facebook and akudesigns.com.
Photo: Tom Ford (Code Name: Papa)
Dionna, author of Code Name: Mama (and Homemade Cleaners - Quick-and-Easy, Toxic-Free Recipes) is crunchier, but not crunchier than thou. She doesn't expect every parent to throw away their Windex and have a home birth just because those things work for her.
Lyndsay, author of Our Feminist Playschool, responded to Kang: "You know what – love your body, love exercise, love fitting into a stereotype created by a bunch of executives sitting around at a board meeting. But, don’t build your identity on the back of other people. Don’t assume that your adoration of your own beauty disqualifies anyone else from having the same feelings of self-confidence."
Lara was the impetus for this article. She suggested we send Kang photos of women doing their own thing -- butchering chickens, homeschooling large families, saving babies in the NICU -- and ask Kang what her excuse was for not doing all these other worthwhile things. (Except Lara said it very nicely.)
Candace, Editor-in-Chief of Luxe...with Kids believes happy families come from positive energy, practicing gratitude, physical activity, and tons of affection. She says "as moms, we should respect each others' priorities, even if they are different than our own."
Jessica M.
Photo: Tom Ford (Code Name: Papa)
Jessica M. (occasionally writing at Instead of Institutions) says, "Instead of demanding justification for the things we don't do, I would much prefer to celebrate all of the things that we do accomplish - all of the wonderfully diverse ways that we contribute to our families, our communities, and ourselves."
N'tima of We Seek Joy wrote: "Sure my belly is a bit softer nowadays, but the way it moves when I jump up and down sends my girl into fits of giggles. And yeah, my hips are hardly as narrow as they used to be, but they sure know the perfect figure-8 motion to sway her to sleep. . . . I am not something flawless in the eyes of society, or even close to what I once was physically, but my perfect girl sees me for who I am."
Michelle (Director of Activism for Best for Babes) says, "I could make my breastfeeding advocacy all about me - my goals, my successes, my hopes. But it's not about me. I advocate out of love, because I want to help other women. An advocate's message is often lost when - like Kang - their words ring with judgment."

Everyone could ask #whatsyourexcuse?

But it is Kang who defines controlling one's destiny as pursuing a certain level of physical fitness. Yes, it is healthy for mothers to make time for themselves. Kang chooses to make time for herself by working out. Good for her! That is her priority.

"I think the tone of 'what's your excuse?' is the issue," says my friend Lara, "because [Kang] is saying you should prioritize the same things she does." She isn't saying to find what is important to you and make no excuses; she's deciding what every mom's priority should be."

Mothers are not a homogeneous group. Nor are all mothers privileged enough to have the luxury of spending an hour each day working out. We have various challenges, loves, skills, goals... To ask a mother how we can support her in taking time for herself, that's an empowering offer. But to expect every mother to mimic one set of priorities is folly.

So what's my excuse? I don't need one. I'm busy living my own life, and I don't need to justify my choices or how my body looks in a lycra blend to Maria Kang. And while I don't have washboard abs, I am proud of my other accomplishments -- as are the women pictured above. We all have our own priorities. We are all "No Excuse Moms."

Dionna Ford is a lawyer turned work-at-home mama. Dionna shares her passion for attachment parenting and natural family living at her website, Code Name: Mama, and in the book she recently coauthored and published, Homemade Cleaners - Quick-and-Easy, Toxic-Free Recipes. She cofounded two other websites for parents, Natural Parents Network and NursingFreedom.org. She makes her home in Kansas City, where she is active in the parenting and homeschooling communities.

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