Thursday, October 17, 2013

Excuses And Realities

There was a recent skerkuffle over a picture of a "stay at home mom" (ahem, she's a personal trainer on TV and a model  --and owns a residential home for the elderly --"on the side") with a photo of her incredible (and nearly naked) body, posing next to her three kids (under the ages of 4), saying "What's Your Excuse?" and implying that mothers don't have any excuses to be overweight, even though they have kids. I wasn't going to share the photo, but just so you know exactly what's going on, here it is:

People love it.

People hate it.

I just feel sorry for her.

She has no idea that her life is the exception to every rule of physics, genetics, and the realities of parenthood. She is not the ideal, nor is she the norm. She is the exception. The rarity. The diamond in the rough, the gold at the end of the rainbow. She's the unattainable, like most models. Ah! Objectification terms, yes, but she has chosen to objectify herself by putting her worth out there as a beautiful body --not one that has created and given life, but one that has overcome the physical changes that come by creating and giving life. She has chosen to glorify her non-stretch-marked skin (genetic, btw) as something all women can attain if they would just "exercise one hour a day" (her words).

People, here's the thing: Normal is diverse. Normal is tall, short, fat, thin, up, down, black, white, yellow, purple, splotchy, acne, stretch marks or not, saggy skin or not... Normal isn't one-type-fits-all.

Normal isn't about excuses. Normal is about reality.

Here are some real-life examples:

1. I have a friend who has migraines so severely, that the only way she's been able to survive is to be on medication that has dictated she is done having children. This medication has made her lose weight drastically, too. People ask her how she got so thin, and truthfully, it's only because of this necessary medication. One that came with an overwhelming loss.

2. I have another friend who was so thin once that she looked anorexic. She kind of was, for a while, but it was due to her circumstances. People kept asking her, "Wow! You look so great! What kind of diet on you on!?" And all she could think was: "Mental illness and severe spousal abuse. Want some?"

3. I have a friend who has made running her hobby. She runs and exercises so much, though, that she has to hire babysitters often for her kids, sometimes for hours and hours, several days a week. It seems to have become her addiction, although she says it's better for the whole family. Maybe it is? I honestly don't know.

4. I have a friend who is raising nine children. She loves to run marathons, but her life ebbs and flows. Sometimes she can go running, sometimes she can't. During hospitalization for thyroid problems, she obviously did not. She is not thin, but she is healthy.

5. I have a beautiful sister. She is tall and very, very thin. She doesn't exercise a ton, however she does have good self-control in the eating area. But she struggles with acne (severely) and a very large bust, not to mention some foot problems and incredible sciatic nerve problems while pregnant.

6. I have an amazing friend who teaches music. She and her husband have faced overwhelming loss and infertility. She has been obese for most of her adult life, but she is a ray of sunshine to all who know her. She is busy working tough jobs and teaching lessons, and just barely chose to start making better choices about her health.

7. My paternal grandmother was always overweight, pretty much her entire adult life. I remember her soft hugs, because grandmothers with ample bosoms are the best huggers! I don't ever remember judging her because of her weight. She was charity and joy, and every moment in her home was positive. Even the time I accidentally brought the stomach flu with my kids into her home, she never made me feel bad that there was puke all over her living room floor. I miss her so acutely because she exemplified pure love.

Let's look at me, now. I'm incredibly overweight, although I haven't always been, and I'm a mother. I am absolutely positive that the picture of that personal trainer was directed right to people like me. Right in the gut. My stretched out, padded gut.

"What's your excuse?"

My list is long. Asthma, Depression, Six children, Traveling husband.

Those aren't excuses, they are my reality. In fact, I started this blog post last night and it's taken me hours to get through this much, simply because my children need me. They need me for diaper changes, meals, ouchies, hugs, and a story or two. Are they excuses? Should I be sacrificing time with them in order to attain the body I'm being told I should have?

Should mothers everywhere be exercising more? Should we be eating better? Should we sacrifice some sleep to exercise? Yes, we probably should. But those are a whole lot of "shoulds" and they don't always translate into reality.

People will see my Depression as an excuse. "Exercise and diet will cure your Depression!" Six children are an excuse: "You chose to have them. You can choose to get up earlier to get to the gym." Asthma: "Lots of asthma runners out there!" Traveling husband: "You have kids old enough to babysit the younger kids, now."

I could go on. I already have for a while.

This is my point: Life is different for all of us. Shaming women into feeling bad about themselves and calling their realities "excuses" doesn't help anyone. It only divides us more. As women --especially as mothers! --we need to be lining up to defend each other and help each other!

So, yes. I feel sorry for that woman and her picture. I'm sad that she thought she was helping instead of hurting. I'm sad people have been mean to her and have called her mean names. I know she was trying to promote something she believes in and loves. I know. The intentions behind it were genuine --but how could she not see how hurtful it would be?

Maybe what would have been better is a picture of her wearing clothing, holding her babies, and saying: "Being a mom is great, isn't it!?" That kind of dialogue could have started something awesome.

I know it would have inspired me.


Mother of the Wild Boys said...

I don't care how hot your mom is, when those boys are teens they are gonna have some issues with that picture. Just sayin'.

Amanda D said...

Very well put, Cheryl. I agree.
(But it has made me think that I could probably try a bit harder.) Sigh.

Cheryl said...

Mother OTWB --HAHA! I didn't even think about that, but you're absolutely right!

Amanda --I think you are amazing. And beautiful just the way you are!

Diane said...

Very well said. I often wonder why women and especially mothers, feel like it will inspire others to take their clothes off. We live in strange times.

Camille said...

I had not even heard or seen this picture until just now. How sad that our world has made the issue of losing the "baby weight" such a big deal. Yes, I want to lose the last 15 lbs from having baby #5, 16 months ago, but I am not willing to sacrifice my family over it. I am doing what I can now, and trying to do better each day. My Mom had this saying hanging in her room while I was growing up and I try to remind myself of it..."One hundred years from now,
It won't matter what car I drove,
What kind of house I lived in,
How much I had in my bank account,
Nor what my clothes looked like,
But, the world may be a little better
Because I was important in the life of a child."
I would like to throw in there "Nor what my body looked like". I DON'T remember if my Mom wore the latest fashions, or if she was the "right" weight...but I DO remember how she listened to me, how comforting her smell was, her soft spoken voice (even when she was upset!!!), and that I knew she always loved me.
I love what you said towards the end of this post " As women --especially as mothers! --we need to be lining up to defend each other and help each other!". How true that is, and how much I wish that is how all women would be!!

Cheryl said...

I heard someone say that if she was focusing on health she would have listed her cholesterol level and blood pressure. This was all focused on how she looks and her body. Our entire society is so incredibly focused on how we look. I have a friend who weighs 105 pounds soaking wet, but has incredibly high cholesterol and never exercises. Another friend would probably be considered seriously overweight but yet she runs 20 miles a week and is incredibly strong due to her weight training. Who is healthier? Weight is a number...not a definition of who we are (now if I could always remember that it would be great :)

Amber said...

I totally thought that picture was asking us all why we don't wear coordinated clothes with our children! Silly me.

Awesome blog post, Cheryl; you're so clever with words. I especially loved the end, and your suggestion for a different picture :)

I happen to be a person who carries a lot of shame about my body and the fact that it doesn't match that "normal" that I've accepted. The only way I quiet that mean voice in my head is to think of my Heavenly Father. He gave me this body, He loves me, He thinks I am beautiful regardless of what shape I am. These reminders help me.

Really, so many good points, Miss.


"Normal is diverse." Amen, friend. Amen!!