By | March 17, 2014

Have you heard of Maria Kang? She pissed off a lot of people a few months back with her extremely annoying “family portrait.”

Maria is someone who spends a lot of time on her body. Even a quick glance at her portrait will tell you that she is a woman dedicated to strengthening, training, and sculpting her physique into something amazing.


She is also a mom of three. Yes, Maria Kang. You can do it all.

Now, even if you’re able to squelch the green-eyed monster and appreciate Maria as a woman who takes care of herself with the devotion of an olympian athlete, there is still the annoying text to deal with:

“What’s your excuse?”

Now this, this was directed to other moms.

Bad move, Maria.

Social media dealt with the fallen goddess’s hubris by flinging her out of Facebook and into the lakes of Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, and blogger hell.

I watched the whole thing happen while munching on a bag of Doritos.

Welp, she’s at it again and this ballsy mom didn’t even change her slogan! You too can join the No Excuses Mom and find other moms who don’t make excuses for their less-than-perfect-mom bodies. Instead of sharing bowls of Kraft mac n cheese with their tykes, No Excuses Mom[s] whip those bodies back into the shape they were meant to be (read: not resembling anything that once gave birth).

I kept quiet last time she made waves.  This time I want to talk. And it’s not even really about Maria Kang and her obnoxious movement, per se. It’s about all these fitness and health campaigns that slap you on the back and say, “Come on! Why don’t you have an athlete’s body?! Try harder!”

I come from a family where fitness is very important. I’m not going to post a picture, but basically I have a really handsome dad and really handsome brothers–and they all work out. They all look good. My mom and my sister do the whole half-marathon thing. They hike, run, and take dance classes. Being “fit” is very big in my family.

The only difference between my brothers, sister, and I is that I got sort of cut off from the whole fitness regime at an early age.

I would have been that obsessed runner. I was that obsessed runner–for a time. I know what the runner’s high is and let me tell you–it’s good. But right when I sort of got the itch for it, I found myself in surgery. I had about a decade of foot surgeries that told me, “No, absolutely not,” every time I fantasized about running again.

I thought that the foot surgeries restricted me, and then I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

I’ll never forget the moment where I was bathing my infant son, Chaucer, and everything fell apart. He was about four months old, his head cradled in my hands, his eyes gazing into mine with that gooey baby-love that speaks, “I trust you with everything.”

My hands just collapsed and Chaucer’s head fell under the faucet. I called the doctor the next day and thus commenced the dramatic process of my diagnosis.

It escalated to the point where I couldn’t open a jar of mayonnaise. I couldn’t buckle Coco’s carseat. I couldn’t turn the key to my front door. I couldn’t pull my hair into a ponytail.

I am no longer that girl. I can do all those simple things now with ease. {Praise God!}

But when I view Maria Kang’s image, when I read her words, I am suddenly that girl again.

I see things I cannot do. I see squats that will throw my knees and hips out. I see dumbbells that cannot be grasped by  shriveled hands. I see pushups that result in torn rotator cuffs.

I see tears, heartache, and overall–bitterness. What’s my excuse? I can’t even bathe my baby, let alone grasp a 5 lb. dumbbell, Mrs. Kang.

My ability and confidence in myself went from ten to zero during that bath episode with my son. It scared the bajeezus out of me, as I’m sure it would any mother.

The pain and limitations are pieces from my past as I am now in remission. However, I will never forget what it felt like to be truly limited in everything I did. And I will never forget what I learned while I was sick:

There are thousands of people who are sick and struggling. People who you would never guess are living in excruciating pain. These are the people I think about when I see Maria Kang’s campaign.

To be clear, I think it’s admirable to strive to be as healthy as possible. I also commend those who are able to complete such challenges as triathlons, marathons, and the like.

Where I stand apart is the language and the expectation to be as close to perfect as possible.

fitness collage


My Pinterest feed is replete with images like these. I know that they are meant to serve as hope and motivation for moms with love handles. I know they inspire many people to make better choices and to keep going even if they feel like giving up.

I also know that for every average mom with love handles perusing Pinterest during lunch, there’s a woman curled up with a heating pad waiting for her pain pills to kick in. She looks at those pictures and feels worse. She feels more isolated, restricted, and banned from normal life because of the messages that underscore each image.

I don’t want to ban Maria or Crossfit or fitness memes.  I just want to be an advocate for those voices that you aren’t hearing in our body-image-obsessed culture. I would like to stand up for the sick.

Have you ever thought about what those memes and campaigns look like to someone battling cancer? Or Multiple Sclerosis? Or Lupus? Or Rheumatoid Arthritis? Or Fibromyalgia?

Here’s what I want to put out there for those who are chronically ill: you’re not alone.

We humans get these shells that are supposed to last us through one lifetime. Often, they fail to do that. Things need replacing, extracting, and sometimes they just don’t make it through. No matter how sculpted or fit the shell, it cannot be exempt from things like illness, accidents, or death.

fitness motivation

That’s depressing to read, isn’t it? Well guess what? This is what I see when I read arrogant propaganda about “lifestyle,” “discipline,” and “hard work.” Of course those things count in achieving a great body–but they won’t protect you from losing it all. Trust me.

If Maria Kang ever finds herself absolutely betrayed by her beautiful body with something like debilitating illness, I doubt that her six pack will be what she misses most. I mean, I hope that’s not what she misses most.

rheumatoid arthritis

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

To my fellow travelers who are sick–don’t let the world tell you what your treasure ought to be. Sculpt and nourish your soul. Discipline your mind with the fervor of an olympian athlete. Know your body for what it is–a shell.

To my friends who are strong and healthy–stand up for the sick. Be kind. Be compassionate. And know your body for what it is–a shell.

rheumatoid arthritis

17 thoughts on “Excuses

  1. Melody

    I appreciate this post, and being someone who doesn’t face a serious illness or debilitating disease (though I do have sculiosis which will worsen with time) I have to step back and applaud your stand for those who do face these daily struggles. BUT, I saw a world hate a woman who put her lifestyle out there to be an inspiration to others, and plowed her over ruthlessly. I’d encourage you to check out her reply to all of the cruel comments she’s received. It’s located on her webpage under FAC’s. There you’ll discover a woman who isn’t flawless, who has her own struggles, and who missed the mark on “inspiration” but had good intention. I believe her second post was to make herself sound more real in pointing out some of her flaws (on her air brushed body, ha!) and was also a miss, but she had good intent. She’s a wellness and fitness role model- it’s kind of her job. Doesn’t Nike tell you to “Just Do It” and people haven’t fallen apart over that? It’s all in context, and I believe more of her than a spineless fitness model who’s so blind she doesn’t think anyone has any problems, or excuses, which might keep them from rock hard abs and perfectly sculpted calves. So let’s think more of ourselves and make no excuses for tearing down another mom- who, make no mistake, has struggles of her own. Good post, and hopefully it encourages those who found her posts insulting or discouraging to press on- no matter where they are in life.

    1. hillary

      Thanks for reading, Melody. I did read her posts–and yes, she has made a career out of fitness so it is her job to motivate. I wasn’t even really directing this at her so much as ALL the fitness campaigns that just make people with disabilities feel like crap. To me it’s about the language, and also recognizing that fitness is a privilege that can be snatched away at any given time. There is so much emphasis on the “lifestyle” and “choices,” but when you encounter a diagnosis that limits you–no lifestyle is going to get rid of it completely. Sometimes its not about the choices you make but what God has allowed you to deal with.

  2. nicolette @ momnivore's dilemma

    Agreed mama. To me, health has been living without migraines for the past few years. To some, it’s the idea beach body. To others, it’s the energy and stamina to get through the days.

  3. hollow tree ventures

    Agreed – I think the implication (Maria Kang aside, I mean with the whole Internet/Pinterest feed thing) is that there really *isn’t* a good reason not to be fit. If you don’t get up and do it, you’re just lazy. If you don’t MAKE time in a busy schedule, you just don’t have your priorities in order. If your thighs touch each other, you must still be too fat. And so on and so on… If the focus is on health – not looking a certain way – without link bait, without shaming, without almost implied name-calling, then fine. But sometimes there are valid reasons, and that doesn’t make them “excuses.” Good for you for calling out the ones who are more interested in being better than others rather than trying to be inspiring.

  4. Jen

    Hi, I don’t make a habit of replying to blogs, I don’t follow that many but I stumbled across this post and since it moved me to tears I felt it deserved the spoon or 2 for the response. Thank you!! I suffer with fibromyalgia and M.E (it’s called Chronic Fatigue Sydrome in the US but I hate that name as it makes it sound like we just need more naps and we’ll be fine LOL) and I was also plagued by surgeries on a pilonidal abscess when I was younger, before the rest set in. At 30 I can now just about hobble round my house though I fall often and I’m in an electric wheelchair for most things outside the house. Therefore I can’t do, and have never been able to do the whole exercise/super fit workout thing either, I eat the best I can with stomach issues and the obstacles of not being able to cook safely without lots of help, but I’m still quite overweight. I’ve only just realised how awful as campaigns like this make me feel, esp around January when everyone turns into a fitness freak for approximately 6 weeks. I feel like a failure of a person because I don’t run or go to the gym. People who see the Jen in the wheelchair would never expect me to, but when I’m lying on the sofa in pjs with tv shows that I can’t even concentrate on, I still feel like a failure. Thank you for posting this and bringing awareness to invisible illnesses and the pressures that these ‘inspirational’ campaigns put on people. I also applaud you for managing all you do with your kids. Most of all though, thank you for making me feel like I’m not alone!

  5. Nikki

    Great post…I think if everyone just concentrated on eating healthy that’s a great place to start! If you can add some exercise, then great!

  6. Chris Carter

    BRAVO!!!! BRAVO!!!! STANDING OVATION!!!! Brilliant post Hillary!!! Oh yes oh yes oh yes!!!!! Bless your precious heart! You nailed it with this one, my dear.

  7. Abby

    I won’t overtake your comments section with my own story–or that of my mom who has had 13 spinal surgeries and has a completely fused neck and back–but thank you. While I understand that it’s a career for Maria Kang, she has turned it from a quest for health and motivation into a quest for fame and viral attention. Is she really concerned about the health of the nation or only the health of her bank account? Support and encouragement are much more motivating than shame, and the fact that so many people do have a valid “excuse” as to why they don’t look as she does often gets lost in the hype.

    1. hillary

      I think as a blogger I get so annoyed by her pointed aim towards viral attention. I mean, we all know what it takes to get noticed but most of us don’t want to be jerks about it.

  8. Lisa H.

    Great post! I am not athletic, but many of my friends and family are. I have been blessed to easily remain at a healthy weight essentially all of my life, but those campaigns sometimes get me thinking that even that isn’t enough. Even worse–and I am ashamed to admit this–they’ve led me to start judging people I love who struggle with being overweight. Thank you for being a voice of reason and inspiration. Here’s to loving the shells we are given and choosing our own priorities in life!

  9. Chris Carter

    I’m back to give you the link to a post I wrote at a lovely blogger friend’s site- in response to her post about her weight. I think you would totally appreciate it, my dear!! Here it is..

  10. Amanda Loomis

    I stumbled across this today. And … thank you … Really, I am speechless. I’m in month 5 of symptom-chasing with my doctors trying to determine the exact cause of my chronic pain, seizures, migraines, numbness, loss of strength, etc… It’s coming down to MS, FM, and the like. We’ve determined degenerative disc disease from L2-S1 as well as advanced arthritis and are working towards pain management to put off surgery as long as possible, at least while my children are so young. I am 31, my son turns 4 next weekend on Mother’s Day, my daughter 2 8 weeks later. I was so healthy in college, vegetarian weight-lifter, army-wife. Ignored all my poor-health symptoms, pushed through the pain. It’s impossible now and I’m 80lbs over-weight. Trying to even lose 15lbs the last 2mo to help with the back pain has been terribly hard, and discouraging when I KNOW that I have been able to do 3 sets of 25 65-75lb sumo-squats before and NOW 3 sets of 15 weightless has me hobbling & crying for two days …

    1. hillary

      Oh girl! I am so sorry for your pain ???? You are not alone.Thank you for sharing and I am lifting you up in prayer right now.


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