Two toxic little words put forward as a search function that surreptitiously wheedle into our subconscious and undermine our well-being, confidence and self-worth. Last week I sat in hospital recovering from an operation to repair some of the damage caused by delivering my two lovely (though one decidedly over-sized) children. I’m not going to lie, it left me feeling somewhat vulnerable and emotional, perhaps a little indignant with women’s lot and more to the point, contemplating what next for my health.
I have been a martial artist for almost twenty years. I met my husband at Taekwon-Do, you might even say “some of my best friends are martial artists”. It is a central pillar of my social and mental well-being and it is a pursuit I take seriously. I am a fourth Dan black belt, I teach, I travel regularly overseas to attend training sessions and seminars with Grand Masters and World Champions. What I am not, however, is a ripped, six-packed, muscular behemoth of womanhood. I’m a mum. I’m a savoury addict. I quite like two or three large coffees a day. I’m fond of pasta, and as a vegan, sadly, carbs are over-represented in my diet. The upshot of this? My physique is somewhat, stodgy. But I am well (mostly). I travel for my sport, I snowboard for four to seven weeks every Christmas. I love to walk, kick bags, and find the patterns of my martial art meditative. I can do the splits. My resting heart-rate is pretty good (around 50), my blood pressure is 110/75. Let’s not talk BMI.
The point of all this is that while I would love to be a bit thinner, a bit more toned, I am generally speaking, to quote my anaesthetist last week, “boringly healthy”. But that’s not enough, is it?
This is where #noexcuses comes in. The seeds of this post actually began on Mother’s Day when a post came up on my Facebook feed from a local company selling exercise equipment. I have nothing against this company, their product looks great, and I’m sure they are well-meaning and genuinely interested in helping people with improving their strength and fitness. Their post for Mother’s Day, however, made me steamingly angry. It was a photograph of an attractive woman (that’s fine), in a crop-top and track pants (it’s a fitness brand, okay), with a six-pack (lucky her, I guess), looking extremely glamorous. All of that is fine, it’s the type of image we see all the time in fitness posts—my social media pages are inundated with muscular, tanned, blonde women.
Then I read the words. Here is a screenshot:
There are some things I’m okay with in this post, namely: “if it wasn’t for this girl [while women love being infantilised, I’ll let girl slide for now] torsion bars would not be where it is today”—tick; “A huge happy mother’s day to all those Mums out there (Mums should not be capitalised in this sentence, but that’s being pedantic)—tick; and the “Happy Mother’s Day” lettering in the photo. All very lovely, positive and supportive. If it had been left at a Happy Mother’s Day and a thanks for the support the woman in the photo gives the company, all good.
What I don’t like: “You do an amazing job to not only take care and raise your children but still put fitness as a priority”; the aforementioned “girl”; and of course, #noexcuses. I’ll look at each of these in turn.
Firstly, “still put fitness as a priority”. That sounds fair enough, innocuous, right? But it doesn’t say put your “health” or “wellness” as a priority. Instead it says fitness and presents us “amazing mothers” with the image of a six-packed “mother of three” who doesn’t lean on “excuses” for not being ripped and super hot. As though to be an amazing mother, you also have to have an amazing physique. (Spoiler: you don’t.)
Second: girl. Don’t even get me started on that. (That is a whole vomiting rant unto itself.)
Third: #noexcuses. There are a myriad of excuses as to why (I) and most women don’t look like the wonderful and successful woman in the photograph—bearing in mind that this is her marketing brand, so her body IS her job.
I had a think about all the reasons women (and men for that matter) might not have time, motivation or indeed the ability to pursue the kind of body ideals the fitness industry promotes through its use of the #noexcuses tag.
Work load, family load (physical and emotional), mental illness, pelvic organ prolapse, back injury, Hashimoto’s disease, autoimmune disease, endometriosis, polycystic ovary disease, study, caring for others (parents, grandparents, disabled family members), migraine, arthritis, sick children, sick partner, financial constraints, life is just too much for me right now for no specific reason other than I’m busy…, oh! I nearly forgot (in my case) genetics.
Here is another image from clothing brand Lululemon that I came across as I scrolled through Facebook while in hospital:
Ripped six-packs. No heads. *Excuses not applicable. Hmm.
So here’s the thing Lululemon, I like your products for the most part, but they really are only designed for women who have already achieved the above results. As a slightly doughy, larger chested woman of the world who enjoys high-impact sports like sparring and bag-work, your apparel is somewhat lacking in the support department. I’m an Australian size 12 (so not petite but by no means enormous—in fact, exactly the Australian average) and your “large” exercise tops may as well be my (skimpy) pyjamas. They are made for my ten-year-old daughter. Indeed most clothing brands that produce exercise-wear are not particularly helpful in supporting women in their exercise goals, but rather produce images and ideals of taught, muscular, thin (small breasted) women that show off their designs—which are quite pretty and look great on the models.
I would love to stare wistfully out the window of a brightly lit exercise studio in a criss-crossed bra and leggings, with a cheeky off the shoulder jumper draped artistically across my body, drinking a protein smoothy (that’s a lie, those things make me vomit) and flicking my high pony-tail while I elegantly point my toes in yoga socks, but… oh wait, I’d better stop there because of your *excuses not applicable exclusion.
Instead, I stick to my awesome Triumph Triatholon sports bras, with an XXL crop top over the top (sigh, enter the monoboob.)
*Excuses not applicable? See above.
The point here is not to berate women who do make this level of exercise their priority, good for them—I personally would love to be leaner and stronger, but even when I was a twenty-four-year-old training intensive martial arts eight sessions a week, running twice a week, as well as two sessions of yoga a week, I still had that little layer of fat over my belly. I did not look like a fitness advertisement, but I was healthy and damn strong.
The point is that the #noexcuses or *excuses not applicable mentality when it comes to anything simply acts to denigrate and demotivate.
I ask those that use the #noexcuses hashtag: what haven’t you made a priority that others have? #noexcuses can be used for any form of achievement that takes sacrifice and effort but has been co-opted by the fitness industry.
No astrophysics career? What’s their excuse? #noexcusesnotbriancox
Volunteering in local the community—#noexcusesnottohelp?
Are they proficient at a musical instrument, or art?#noexcusesforbeingtonedeaf
What does their garden look like, is it in the open garden scheme? #noexcusesforweeds
Haven’t cracked nuclear fusion? #noexcusesfordirtyenergy
Haven’t won the Nobel prize? #noexcusesfornotbeingextraordinary
Don’t read books? #noexcusesforclosedmindedness
Can’t cook? #noexcusesforpacketfood
I think you get my point. We all make time for the things we enjoy and the things that make us feel good.
As a person who does prioritise exercise, for all of its health benefits, #noexcuses and the passive aggressive, fake-positive messages of the fitness industry just make me feel terrible.