October 28, 2013

Open Letter to Maria Kang. ~ Saralyn Ward

Editor’s note: welcome to elephant.

To me, the photo in question seems inspiring. But that’s my experience, no more. We can all welcome all thoughtful points of view without boycotting diverse experiences and welcoming only those similar to our own life experience.

In this Fox/MSNBC society, we have to remember to “like” pages or communities that challenge our views. My dad is Republican, my mom is liberal, and I love them both! ~ Waylon.

PS: want to read another amazing article? Relephant: To My Post-Partum Self: Things I Wish I’d Known. And, To My Post-Partum Self: Things I Wish I’d Known.


Dear Maria,

I’ve seen your “What’s Your Excuse?” photo all over the news and Facebook today and it got me thinking.

A lot.

So, I’ve decided to get some things off my chest. What good is a blog if you can’t air your thoughts, right? Well, I’m here to weigh in (terrible puns aside).

First, congratulations! Getting back in shape after having a kid is no joke. I am learning this now. I, too, am a 32-year old fitness professional and I am six-months postpartum.

For one, witnessing our bodies go through unprecedented changes to spawn a child and then experiencing the recovery process is equally humbling, fascinating and awe-inspiring. Couple these crazy changes in our physical bodies with a crazy lack of sleep and free time and I commend anyone and everyone who is able to fit in a workout—six pack or not. But the fact that you do have amazing abs after three kids is fantastic.

I know how hard you’ve worked to get there.

Now here’s where it gets a little dicey for me. When I first saw your “No Excuses” photo, these are the thoughts that immediately went through my head:

Wow, she looks great.

Wait, how old is her youngest?!

Wait, why is she doing the Sexy Straddle over that child?

“What’s your excuse?” (Ugh. Cue Mommy guilt)

I’m only six months out. Still have two more months to look like that. (Cue unhealthy comparison)

Why am I feeling guilty? Good lord, I’m sore from my last workout and I’m already planning how to get one in today.

Actually, on second thought, I’m not really making excuses. I am making time. I am getting healthy. I am losing weight. I’ve lost almost 3/4 of the baby weight already!

But still, I don’t look like this yet.

I wonder if she’s nursing?

I wonder if she works full time?

She probably doesn’t eat. Yeah, they said she used to be bulimic. She probably doesn’t eat.

I wonder how long she works out each day? What does she do with three kids while she works out?

Is this a professional photo? Yep. Definitely Photoshopped. She’s probably a model anyway.

Well. She probably just has a (insert appropriate superlative here) life than me.

For the love of God, I’m now looking for excuses why I don’t look this way?! I’m one of the full-time-working, no-sleep-getting, boobs-out-all-the-time-moms that is actually working out consistently!

Was this meant to be inspirational?

So, as you can see, that tagline really got to me. I imagine this train of thoughts is not that far off from what a lot of other moms felt when they read, “What’s Your Excuse?” …even if they aren’t making any.

But, I was nothing if I wasn’t intrigued. So I went to your Facebook page. I went to your website.

What I found actually inspired me.

I found your fitness evolution page and learned that you aren’t all that different from me: a fitness enthusiast who, despite continual exercise through pregnancy, still gained 35 pounds (for me it was more like 38, but who’s counting). A wife. A mom. A woman with a social conscience. A blogger who tries to keep it somewhat honest and real.

I found your FAQs page and realized you, too, had struggled with breastfeeding. You actually have stretch marks.

You also have the confidence to post photos of what you looked like right after giving birth, muffin top and all. And you sometimes still indulge in a doughnut.

These are the facts that inspire me. It’s not your photoshopped photo. It’s certainly not the “What’s Your Excuse?” tagline.

It’s not the hot-mom status that you’ve been granted—in fact, the same media that crowned you queen of the MILFs is also the media that has plastered your “No Excuses” photo everywhere, taking it out of context, offering you up for dissection by people who are sitting on their couches, more comfortable judging others than finding out the truth.

But I want to ask you a favor. Please, can we maybe alter that motto a little?

I get it, I do.

I understand your well-intentioned point. But here’s the deal: the last thing any of us mommies need is a second helping of guilt or shame. What we desperately need is a dose of encouragement and truth. Like I said in an earlier post: “There are too many people giving too much advice and too many women feeling too badly about themselves.”

Please, for God’s sake, let’s support one another. We are all passionate about our children. We all want the best for them. We are all doing our best for them. Our choices may be different, but our motivation is the same.

What works for one will not work for another. Please, be forgiving of yourselves. Please, be compassionate to others. Please, stop telling each other they aren’t doing it right. All we can do is all we can do.

If all of us, as mamas, come together and support one another, think of the mountains we could move. The choices you make aside—formula or breastfeeding, cereal or vegetables, cloth or disposable, daycare or stay-at-home—our children look to us to lay the groundwork for their perspective on the world.

We directly have the power to make a cultural shift. If we begin by tearing others down, what example are we setting? Let’s welcome everyone to the table.

I’m ready to change the dialogue.

I’m ready to help women realize that every body is different.

When we focus on the perfect, idealized end result, we fail to recognize the truth: that you woke up at 5am to work out despite the fact that your little one woke you every hour before that.

The fact that your skinny jeans still didn’t button until four or five (or more?) months out. The fact that last night you were just too damn tired. You decided you could only muster ten pushups on the living room floor and called it a workout and yet tomorrow is another day.

Fitness, especially as a mom, is a journey. One that is not consistent, nor always progressing.

Sometimes there are setbacks and sometimes there are plateaus. No two people are exactly alike, but we can all strive for and achieve our best versions of ourselves. This is the truth. And yes, This is the inspiration.

I’m starting today, by posting pictures of my six-month postpartum body. I took these in my hallway this morning. I hadn’t shaved my legs. I hadn’t even showered. The photos sure as hell are not photoshopped.

But, this is my truth.

This is where I am, today. I don’t have any excuses. And I have a few more pounds to lose before I’ll be comfortable. It might take me 10 months, a year, or even longer to get my body where I want it. But it will happen.

A before photo—Our Honeymoon

37 to 38 weeks pregnant

Six months postpartum

I am guessing, based on what I read on your Facebook page and website, that you actually are a pretty inspiring person and that you got the short end of the stick with all the negative comments you are getting. I’m sorry—haters will hate.

I hope they do a little more research and look you up before they dismiss you and yet, I hope you will join me in changing the message we are sending to moms everywhere.

Instead of focusing on what they aren’t doing right, let’s focus on ways to help them do what they can.

It’s not enough to say “I did it, so can you!”

As fitness professionals, we need to show them how. Let’s be honest. Let’s give our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses as much air time as our victories.

Let’s be real people.

Let’s celebrate the journey.

Crossing the finish line is so much sweeter when you can look back at how far you’ve come.

Thank you for sparking this dialogue and blessings to you and your beautiful family.

In health,


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Assistant Ed: Steph Richard/Ed: Sara Crolick

{Maria Kang photo: via mariakang.com; other photos: via Saralyn Ward}

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