Open Letter to Maria Kang. ~ Saralyn Ward

Via Saralyn Ward
on Oct 28, 2013
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{photo: via}

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,


Like elephant Family on Facebook.

Assistant Ed: Steph Richard/Ed: Sara Crolick

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


About Saralyn Ward

Saralyn Ward is a movement educator, biomechanics nut and wellness advocate, realigning and rebalancing the masses, one body at a time. After graduating from Penn State with a degree in Dance and Kinesiology, Saralyn moved to New York, NY to study the Pilates method. She was fully certified by STOTT Pilates in 2004 and by Pilates Academy International two years later. Meanwhile, she taught various group fitness and dance classes around the New York metro area. Simultaneously, Saralyn was licensed as an Instructor Trainer for Pilates Academy International and began mentoring new instructors in the Pilates method. After teaching at PAl’s certification headquarters for two years, she moved to Boulder, CO to open a satellite certification center. Saralyn has starred in several fitness DVDs, including Reebok’s Total Body Toning Kit and the SELF DVD series. She has contributed to publications such as Dance Spirit, Pilates Style and FitPro magazines. She’s also provided Pilates content for, and presented at the LOHAS conference. In 2010, she began partnering with Dr. Shay Bess, spinal surgeon and scoliosis specialist, to research the use of Pilates as preventative and pre-operative care for patients with severe spinal conditions. An advocate of lifelong learning, Saralyn recently completed her personal training certification. Her teaching is designed to inspire and empower people of all ages, ability levels and physical conditions. By refining and strengthening their movement patterns, Saralyn helps her clients live a full, balanced and pain-free life. Currently, Saralyn enjoys educating group fitness instructors around the world as an educator and the Project Manager for MyGroupFit, the newest FitPro North America brand. When she’s not hard at work, Saralyn enjoys travelling, hiking, skiing, cooking, dancing and taking in live music with her husband Tommy. They welcomed their first child, a girl, in April of 2013. You can connect to Saralyn on Facebook and WordPress.


73 Responses to “Open Letter to Maria Kang. ~ Saralyn Ward”

  1. saralynward says:

    "go with [what makes you happy]. Be healthy for the sake of being healthy." YES YES YES!! And agree, it's all about priorities – someone mentioned to me that she makes time for volunteering instead of working out because that is a bigger priority to her. Who can argue with that? And it hardly qualifies as an excuse in the negative sense. Thanks for your beautiful response!

  2. saralynward says:

    Wouldn't it be wonderful if a) all partners/husbands were like yours (and mine, thankfully!), and b) the focus was on being a good mom more than what our postpartum bodies looked like? Here's to hoping we will get there one day. Thanks for reading.

  3. saralynward says:

    Thank you! Yes – I wouldn't be practicing what I preached if I shamed her. There is definitely a way to offer constructive criticism, disagree and engage in dialogue with respect. No one is all bad or all good. We all make less-than-perfect choices at times. And as they say, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

  4. saralynward says:

    I LOVE THAT! Bounce forward, mama, bounce forward.

  5. saralynward says:

    I agree that sometimes words and actions meant to be motivational can have the reverse affect when presented in an alienating way. I believe that to create lasting change, we should strive to inspire people to make that change from within. We all go about that differently. I wish you all the best in health and happiness!

  6. saralynward says:

    Everyone is different, and I know several people who feel the exact same way you do. Great point.

  7. saralynward says:

    I love this. Every month my little one ages, I think to myself, Thank God! We are both still alive! No joke 🙂 thank you for sharing your experience.

  8. saralynward says:

    I have to say, your comment makes me laugh. I don't drink milk at all, nor do I eat much dairy. Didn't work well with breastfeeding. And also, your comment implies that I am trying to look like Maria, which kind of misses the point I was making. My point is: I want to look like my best version of myself. Thanks for the tip though.

  9. saralynward says:

    I appreciate your feedback, though I have to respectfully disagree with you. First, I did play "real sports". And I was a dancer for 25 years, in pre-professional ballet and modern programs, and danced in New York after college. I understand mental toughness, discipline and competitiveness. I also understand compassion and vulnerability. And I understand that none of those aforementioned qualities are mutually exclusive. Thanks for reading.

  10. saralynward says:

    Yes, and to a certain extent, the words 'you look great' become less meaningful after awhile of hearing it. You are right, those words don't really get to the root of what new moms feel. I would much rather hear "you are a great mom" than "you look great." Any day.

  11. saralynward says:

    I read your blog, Elissa, and so appreciate your voice. We need more of that. You've definitely made me think about my word choices, and for that I am thankful. I can only be who I am…. my voice won't be like yours because that's not my style. But I recognize all that you say and hold it close at heart. Maybe someday our paths will cross. I'd love to have a conversation with you over a few beers… like drunken sailors.

  12. saralynward says:

    Thank you!! and agreed on all accounts re: the media.

  13. saralynward says:

    Love her!

  14. saralynward says:

    I, too, love that comment. A new beautiful shape. A new version of who we are as people. I for one know I'm a better person now than I ever have been – motherhood has put so many things into perspective. Thank you!

  15. Toaster says:

    Me too!

  16. guest says:

    Saralyn you kick ass!! The world needs more people like you; real, honest, not instantly judgmental, inspiring, and fyi, you look amazing!

  17. Lori says:

    It is funny how we all interpreted this photo, and her words, in different ways, and hence it is a great conversation starter, right? I actually really love her photo and find it inspiring. Why shouldn't she be proud? I am sure she worked hard for that body and yes, I feel jealous. I am sure I am not the only one! I think one of our downfalls as women is our competitive nature, and instead of supporting and being happy for someone we get jealous and mad and turn it around on them. Let's just be happy for a woman who has worked her butt off (literally) and is trying to motivate others to do the same.

    Also, everyone has a different version of their idea of health, and for women who are completely happy with where they are, that is their idea of health. I have a 9 month old and have worked hard to get my body back because for me, health is the most important thing. I want to feel like I am the best I can be when I am with her. I want to be able to lift her high ten times if she wants, run when she is running, and carry her without tiring, when she weighs 30 pounds. For me, I want to be strong for her. Strength means strength as a mom and as a woman and for me, it translates to internal strength as well. I just feel more confident when I am proud of ourself and feeling strong (physically and mentally).
    Great dialogue here, and let's all try to support each other in our journey to health!

  18. editorstet says:

    Thank you for this. This is the one response I've seen to this photo that takes into account the context of it all: her life, our society, the larger implications of the line and the reaction to it in general. I found this thoughtful and inspiring, and you articulated many of the reactions I had to this as well, the idea that the dialogue must change in particular. Thanks for not railing or praising, but giving an honest and well thought out look at what this says in a larger context. You've helped make this a dialogue, and it's one that, in my opinion, is much needed.

  19. @jennyjenjen says:

    If the message had been something like "You can achieve this, too" instead of "What's your excuse?", even us non-mom, don't-have-a-lot-of-excuses fatties could probably be inspired. But she chose to go with "What's your excuse?", thereby making us all look like we're making excuses for bodies some of us struggle with constantly.

    For the record I'm sure she is a great person and it is really amazing what she has been able to achieve. I do think though, however, that it alienates more than it inspires.

  20. Marilyn says:

    When did fitness and health become such competitive, confrontational exploits? When someone stood to make a buck on it! As long as society keeps women worried about their appearances, postpartum and otherwise, then men will be calling the shots as ladies endlessly compare themselves to one another. Don't nobody pay attention to the guy behind the curtain!

  21. Ailmentridden says:

    I found this response via a link in the comments on a news article about this.. I was reading something else and was curious about the headline.

    I’m not a mom. I run a rescue , I’m a college student(3/4 time currently) , and a person with multiple illnesses/diseases. I originally gained weight when put on 2 medications as a teenager, only to find out several years later I was misdiagnosed, but by that time, I had fibromyalgia and a whole slew of other physical issues.

    I know losing weight will help, although it won’t be solved. I don’t snack, eat fairly healthy (veggies, chicken ) although I do have a couple things I’m adjusting.

    The problem is essentially explained by this

    To live my life, I use up all my spoons. In fact, most days I run out before half the things I need to do are done.

    Why would I be offended by her caption?

    Simply put, because women (and men) DO react that way towards people with weight issues!

    The one day I’ve stopped at McDonald’s in a month and got a chicken sandwich because I’ve been running all day and need to have something to eat… People look at you and yes even comment ‘do you really think you need to be here! ”

    The days when I’ve worked so hard, I’m having muscle cramps so bad that my boyfriend has to bend my body parts back into their correct positions to relax the muscle because the cramps have tightened up so much I can’t do it myself… And I HAVE to shop, so I get into one of the motorized scooters and hear people comment that I’m just fat and lazy…

    The day my friend went to subway to” splurge” as a reward for losing 30 lbs in 2 months. A 6″ turkey on wheat, no cheese, lettuce Tomatoes mayo and onions.. The girl making her sandwich asked if she was SURE she didn’t want light mayo, TWICE, and kept arguing with her to add spinach to her sub!

    Things like this happen ALL THE TIME.

    Look at Facebook, Craigslist, forums or anywhere online and people judge and belittle FAT people without knowing anything about them. People deciding who you are and what you are capable of without even knowing your name.

    The reason some folks took the ‘what’s your excuse’ caption as a snotty judgmental statement is because people DO actually think this way and it’s a lot more than you probably believe.

    Yes, as fat people, most of us, despite what they may say in their faux confident voice, hate ourselves… But whether it started this way and the world reinforces it, or vice versa, it’s the chicken and the egg

    The women who took this negatively weren’t simply projecting their own feelings, the voices we’ve heard all our fathood sound just the same as this woman’s caption.

    I don’t know her, she could be one of the people who silently or not so silently judge others for what she perceives as their shortcomings, without any real knowledge.. Or it could all be innocent, honestly we will never know because we aren’t inside her head.

    It’s not about moms or non moms as someone said. It’s about stopping even our silent voices from assuming we have any right to even have an opinion on someone else’s body.

    Sorry so long, I just felt like everyone was accusing those who were offended as some inferior ‘fatties who’s real problem is with themselves’ (actual quote, from an adult WOMAN, with daughters btw, on another site) I really wanted to try to explain how it is on this side of the aisle…

  22. Suzie says:

    I hear what you're saying, Kim, that Maria is an inspiration to you–and we can all use some inspiration! But when I hear "what's your excuse," no matter what the issue or statement is, what I hear within this context is something like "you need to look like me, and if you don't, then something must be wrong with you." When we need an excuse, its because we've committed an error, or have a special "reason" why we need to be allowed out of a situation (like sick leave from work–which isn't always allowed!) until we can get back to a place of okay-ness and return to where we "should" be. For me, it would have been even more inspiring for Maria's caption to be one of support instead of comparison, but I know that our society isn't focused that way. And when I hear about what Maria's "intended" message was meant to portray, I believe that what we intend to express and what we actually express can be vastly different things, especially if we're not really conscious of what we're presenting. When we communicate from a place of compassion, our words will reflect this choice. But in advertising, I understand that instigating people (and women, in this case–and men's ideas of women too) to want something that they lack (through their own fault) is part of the culture and continues to be the underlying message. When we say that a person can "choose" whether or not to look like Maria, this is totally false. There is only one Maria, and only she can look as she is. If the message was "Your body is beautiful, just as it is," then maybe this "kick up the butt" motivation would more positively benefit women into love and self acceptance, which is the only truly positive source of motivation, not because we feel guilty, judged, or defective for looking as we do instead of looking like Maria. When we're motivated to punish ourselves into being like someone else, then we fail to accept our beauty and worth as it is right now. And if we have goals to improve our health, then we should do so for internally motivated reasons. …When are we going to change this?

  23. saralynward says:

    Thank you so much. You response humbles me – that was exactly what I wanted to come from this: an open, fair, real dialogue.