They say ” a picture is worth a thousand words.” They invoke a meaning and depth that we may not notice at first glance.
I look back at my family’s pictures and it brings back wonderful memories. When I see the photos it reminds me of what I was feeling when the pictures were taken- was I forcing a smile? Was I truly happy and enjoying life? Was I annoyed at my son’s goofy smile? Sometimes a photo can spark a deep emotion if it reminds me of a time in my life where I was hurting or depressed.
Sometimes a pictures can trigger an emotion that reminds us of something we don’t like about ourselves. When I was recovering from anorexia, my counselor knew that I hated my butt. I still don’t understand this exercise, but he wanted me to cut out pictures of women’s rear ends, that I thought were big and bring them in to show him. (okay, now that just sounds really creepy. disclaimer: my memory in this area may be fuzzy) Perhaps it was to see what my triggers were? To see if I only saw myself as fat and not other people?
Some women use photos as inspiration. I remember cutting out a photo of a woman in a bikini that I wanted to hang up for my inspiration to look like her. For most women, the photo is their kick in the butt to start exercising and/or eating healthier. For me, and those who struggle with body image or eating disorders, it serves as our excuse to sabotage ourselves.
Now a days, we have moved from the photos of women in bikinis, to photos of strong, muscular, women. Many times the photos contain some kind of caption such as “Strong is the new sexy”. This trend is referred to as “Fitspiration”. Essentially using these buff women, with flat, muscular abs as inspiration to exercise.
I get it. I totally understand the desire to look like these women. Six weeks after my second child was born, I joined a mom’s fitness group called Stroller Strides, and it was an awesome work out. The kids were with us in strollers and we would jog and stop and do strength training intervals, some plyometrics and body work. I was in the best shape of my life. I could finally see muscle definition in my arms and my legs were getting stronger. I no longer had bouts of back pain and I had a ton of energy. I didn’t stop doing this until my second child was 3 years old. But guess what? My stomach never changed- even with all of the core exercises I was doing. I fell into a deep depression because I was constantly comparing myself to other women who looked like they had never had children.
Using fit, strong women as inspiration stopped working for me.
My problem wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy exercise. It was that I am such a black and white thinker that it was easy for me to want to give up, after I tried my hardest and STILL didn’t look like the women in the photos.
I”m sure by now you have seen the photo of the fit woman, Maria Kang, with her three young kids, standing half-clothed with her work out clothes and the caption “What’s Your Excuse?” (click for photo) .
I talked about it on my Facebook page and it’s been shared by other people in my news feed, ad nauseum. Many people are asking if this photo is fat shaming or if it’s an inspiration. Those who say it’s fat shaming are annoyed by those who say it’s an inspiration- and vice versa.
I believe that this lady had the best of intentions. She was able to find what most would say is the ideal body, after having three children, all close in age. I admire her and she has every right to share this photo. However, the problem comes with how we interpret the caption. As I mentioned, photos can trigger different emotions in different people. I did read her post in defense of the photo and she claims that the meaning behind “What’s Your Excuse?” was “What is your excuse for not exercising?” and not “What’s your excuse for not looking like me?”
HOWEVER, this is where the problem lies. We all view life through a different lens. Those of us who struggle with body image or eating disorders were probably triggered by this photo. I know I was. I read the caption in a shaming tone. I do acknowledge that it may have been a mirror of how I have been feeling lately. I admit I have not been exercising as often as I should be. But that’s just it. I do NOT need a photo to remind me of that and I sure as hell do not need to feel GUILTED into doing it (even if that was not her intention).
I was chatting with someone who shares the same Health At Every Size philosophy as I do. She mentioned something that I LOVE:
Instead of saying “Fitspiration” we should say “FUNspiration”.
After all, exercise should be FUN, right?? This is partly why I did my “Ladies Healthy Happy Hour” where we tried a new exercise every month.
(Zumba class, May 2013, Ladies Healthy Happy Hour)
It was not to guilt us into exercising, it was to find an exercise that we enjoy– for the sake of enjoyment. Can’t we do things because we find PLEASURE in doing it vs. out of fear, shame or guilt?
I have a friend who eats healthy but is struggling to lose weight. She is coming to a place where she is learning to accept her body and to take care of herself so she can find pleasure in life vs. trying to be super skinny. She recently joined Cross-Fit and she LOVES it. She never thought she could do it. She gets up very early in the morning and comes home totally exhausted. Yet, she keeps on doing it. So, SHE is my inspiration because she has found a good balance of not using family as an excuse, while at the same time exercising because she ENJOYS it, and NOT to look like the latest “Fitspiration” model.
Friends, please do NOT let a photo destroy you. Personally, I found Maria Kang’s photo to come across as fat shaming. (but only because that was my personal trigger)… HOWEVER…. it does not ruin how I feel about myself. I acknowledged my feelings about the photo as NORMAL, replaced it with a POSITIVE AFFIRMATION, tried to put myself in her shoes (at least believing that she had good intentions), challenged myself to not let photos like this determine how I feel… AND strengthened my resolve to continue to inspire YOU guys in my own way…. with NO fear, guilt or shame.
Here is a photo that inspires ME… my kiddos after receiving their soccer trophies. 🙂
So, I will leave you with this: Instead of asking, “What’s Your Excuse?” I will ask, “What’s Your INSPIRATION” for taking care of yourself and LOVING yourself, no matter what you look like?