October 18, 2013

I have no excuse.

I've spent an embarrassing amount of time staring at this picture.

At every. single. pixel.

I've stared at the professionally lit wall behind Ms. Kang. I've stared at it from corner to corner, trying to decide if it's been photoshopped to perfect smoothness or not. If it's in her gym or her home. If it's at a photography studio. I've wracked my brain for a single place I go in my life that has a blank wall large enough for this photograph. There isn't one. Not a one.

I've stared at her hair. At the careless way it falls against her shoulder. I've imagined what kind of incredible barrette must be holding it back behind her head. I've stared at each wave, imagining how much product is in there, how much time with a curling iron it took to get those perfect waves.

I've stared at her eyes, the judiciously applied pale shadow, the smizing that lasts for miles. Her superhuman eyebrows, with nary a stray hair.

I've stared at her teeth. Her bright, white teeth.

I've stared at her adorable little breasts.

I've stared at the sweet chubby arms on her baby. The confused toddler. The happy three year old.

And most of all, and as she absolutely intended, I've stared at her flawless stomach.

Whether it was her intention or not, her stomach turns mine into knots. First of self loathing, and then of anger. Because I've spent an embarrassing amount of time looking at my body, too.

"Lea in Blue" mixed media
I look at my stomach- cratered and scarred with deep lines, my "tiger stripes" that I have never learned to love. I know many women don't get stretch marks when they're pregnant. My mother didn't. But I did. I look at my stomach in the mirror and I hate myself. Not because I'm overweight- I'm actually pretty happy with my weight these days. But the drooping, sad, puckered flesh that sags over my waistband, helplessly empty, superfluous.

I see the bones of my hips, protruding in the way I always liked. Only the skin hangs off them, dimpled and textured loose. Soft. Maternal.

I look at my c-section scar, and it screams to me of failure, it gives me flashbacks of waking up soaked in blood, or waiting for hours in a hospital bed while my uterus tore inside of me.

I look at the black hairs that grow sparsely between my belly button and my crotch. Hairs women who show off their stomachs would be sure to pluck, or wax, and I simply can't be bothered to care about.

With my clothes on, I feel pretty good about myself. I feel good about my hair. I love my bushy eyebrows. I feel pretty okay about my teeth.

But there is nothing I could do- nothing on this earth- to have a stomach like Ms. Kang's.

That's not an excuse- that is a fact. I could have the best plastic surgeon in the world work on my stomach, and it still wouldn't look as good. The whole top row of her six pack would be obscured by my breasts. Her dainty hips could slide inside my skeleton and walk me around like a Halloween costume.

I don't have an excuse. I eat healthy, I exercise. I don't prioritize fitness over a lot of my other activities- Ms. Kang and I have different lives.

I can't afford childcare while I go to a gym, and I sure as hell can't afford a personal trainer- I can't even afford cable. Ms. Kang is a physical trainer. While she was studying the mechanics of the human body, strength training and endurance, I was arguing with my colleagues over the more ethical treatment of the poor, of ways to organize a public housing system that didn't facilitate the emergence of ghettos.

"Odalisque" Oil on Canvas
While she sculpted her body, no doubt BEFORE children, I spent sleepless nights painting the nude bodies of other women, beautiful women, large women and small women, memorizing the relationships between the roundness of their hips and the dimples of their belly buttons.

I would rather make a pizza with my kids from wholesome, homemade tomato sauce, fresh vegetables, and goat cheese, than have them sit on my back while I do push-ups.

I would rather make art projects with them, and read with them, or ask them questions that stimulate their imaginations and their sense of wonder, than run in silence as I push a stroller ahead of me.

I don't want them to see me struggle with my body. To see me fight to mold my body into something it can never be. I don't want them to think that there's only one way to be a woman. Only one way to look. Only one way to treat yourself.

And then, I look at Ms. Kang's picture again, and I see her three sons, and I wonder...

Would she be making a different statement if SHE had daughters? If she was raising girls into women, girls who so often attack their bodies, assault them, starve them, mutilate them?

I wonder. I really do.

I wonder about everything in this picture.

As the sort of mom who considers three showers in one week REALLY nailing it, I wonder what kind of life she must lead to look this way, not just her abdomen- but her skin and hair and teeth.

As the sort of woman who goes to the chiropractor weekly to get past the back pain of having an improbable chest, I look at her sports bra and laugh at the intense uselessness I would get from it. I wonder at the ease and accessibility to just that most basic necessity of a decent workout that she has and I lack.

As the sort of woman who believes that love of self comes before love of your body, I look at the blank wall behind her and wonder what shelves of books are missing. What prints of painted masterpieces. What stacks of old records. What stained collection of recipe cards. What family heirlooms.

I have no excuse, Ms. Kang.

My body is not yours. My body has been through different challenges. Different ordeals. Different experiences. My body is a tale of a genetic history that doesn't include slim hips and small breasts and labors that don't involve a knife slicing through layers of my abdominal muscles.

My body is a story of kneading challah with my daughters, of soft lumps that act as pillows and limbs that envelop my children when they have nightmares. It's a story of injuries and survivals and allergic reactions and marathons of costumes constructed instead of miles run. It's a story of counting chapters in my book instead of counting calories.

That's not a judgement, and it's not an excuse. It's just a fact. I have a different life.

I'm not you. I'm me.

And it is, quite literally, the best I can do.


  1. Amen. You said it all. She needs to quit bragging and trying to raise society's "standards" higher, and go have some fun with those beautiful children of hers.

  2. Yay for her that she is so fit. Truly. I will be the first person to cheer for health and fitness but health and fitness doesn't always look like her picture. It was the "What's your excuse?" that was off putting. It was the old, worn out, divisive language used to pit women against each other. We are all doing the best we can- we all come with different heredity packages and all shapes and sizes can be "fit and healthy." Your words are honest and raw. Thank you.

  3. "I simply can't be bothered to care"

    Sums it up perfectly.


    Those paintings remind me... Did you keep that painting of me? If you did could you post it somewhere so I can have a copy?

    1. You know, I didn't. But I think my mother might actually have a slide of it. I'll see if I can find it!!!

  4. So funny you wrote about this today. I saw the photo this morning, and my first thought was, "I wonder what Lea would have to say about this"? We twin Mommies have it a bit tougher than others, and I thought the same thing - she looked like that before. I have never, in my life had a belly that looked like that, and never will, no matter how hard I worked out or even after surgery. Thanks for being real.

  5. My excuse is that I love cookies!

  6. Being "you" should never be an apology. Because it is a triumph! Never forget that BecomingSuperMommy!

  7. I am all for fitness and health -- but mostly I am about self love and self respect. She is comfortable with who she is, and probably with her life choices .....and so I am. So, I feel no need to be offended or pile any hate on this woman. I get that the question is asking "What is your excuse for not exercising?" and NOT "what is your excuse for NOT looking like me?" She has a personal story too - if anyone took the time to read it. I have one too and it involves 3 C sections and one pregnancy of complete bed rest. Nope - my stomach is not likely to ever look like hers now (although, it was close before babies and surgery) - but meh, who cares. it's not what is important, right? Being fit and healthy: that is important, but it also looks different for everyone.
    I feel no need to be threatened by her hair, her shiny smile, her abs. If someone is threatened, then I do say: it's not about her, it's about You. And you should explore that deeper, because that is part of being healthy too.

  8. Amen. I have no problem with staying fit, working out and all that stuff. The photo itself is actually very encouraging and can drive inspire women to work out. I think the problem is the phrase "What's your excuse." Just because she has a body like that doesn't mean the rest of us aren't doing something worthy with our time.
    Dropping by from Bloppy Bloggers!

  9. Simply love your post! I don't have an excuse either! But I rather to spend quality time with my children than been 24/7 on a gym, plus live happy with my body. People should stop stereotyping this is why so many young girls become anorexic and they do not live happy with their bodies. Love your post! Proud mother of 2 boys and do not need an excuse to give to this lady!

  10. I love this so much. Thank you for your perspective. I think more women could relate to you than to Ms. Kang.

  11. I knew there was a reason I loved you so much. You have such an amazing way of putting what I'm thinking into words AND saying them much nicer than I would. This is a perfect post. I will definitely share it!

  12. I didn't see this until people pointed it out. I think the "what's your excuse?" is a little obnoxious. Really, I don't care how great she looks. Great for her. She could have done something different with her tagline to make it more uplifting and less off-putting. I think I look pretty good for my age, but I'd never in a million years wear something like that and have my picture taken. Not because I'm embarrassed on my body, but because I feel no need. And no, I don't look like her and I am sure I don't work out as much as she does. I've chosen to spend my time differently, in a way that's of value to me.



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