Thursday, October 17, 2013

What's Your Excuse?

Oh, Internet. I can't leave you alone for one minute, can I?

I went to New York City last weekend and when I got back, everyone online was raising a stink about a photograph.

I'm not going to post it here because reasons, but if you have spent any time on a computer in the past week you have probably seen it. It's a photograph of a mother with her three small boys. The mother is wearing a body-baring sports bra and booty shorts, so we can admire her impeccable abs. The caption at the top of the photo reads "What's your excuse?"

"What's my excuse for what?" I thought, because I enjoy being deliberately obtuse. But obviously, this woman is asking what my excuse is for not having a body like hers.

There are a lot of things I'd like to say to the world about pregnancy and childbirth and a woman's body. But Beauty Redefined says it better than I could, so I'll let you go there. The world isn't very kind to women who don't bounce back from a pregnancy with the speed and precision of a celebrity. You know what makes it even worse? Not having a baby to show for it.

I think that even though society has these expectations of new mothers, we're willing to make allowances for a woman if she's pushing a newborn around in a stroller. "Her midsection is doughy," Society says, "but she did have a baby a few months ago." When I went to the store with Roo, my baby belly was excused. I had proof that there was a purpose to how I looked.

After placement? I was just another fat girl. No one could tell that my body had done something amazing in growing a human from scratch. No one could tell that I emotionally gutted myself to give that tiny human a wonderful life. And it didn't matter - in the eyes of the world, I wasn't a birth mother or a woman or a child of God. I was just fat.

I don't like that word, by the way. Fat. I don't like the way it's defined today and I don't like the way that it's used. My sister-in-law doesn't allow her children to say it. They're allowed to speak in terms of healthy and less healthy, but never fat, and they understand that you can't tell if someone is healthy just by looking at them.

I've struggled with my weight and with disordered eating for 2/3 of my life. When I was 19 years old, I finally got skinny. I had flat abs and slim legs and I fit the societal definition of health because I could wear a certain jeans size. It's worth noting that at that point in time I still wanted to lose 10 pounds, because according to the Body Mass Index I was overweight. But, hey, I was skinny - my body looked a lot like What's Your Excuse Lady's, right down to the washboard abs, so I must have been fit, right?

Wrong. I had hypertension, my cholesterol and triglycerides were atrocious, I was sleeping 3-4 hours a night, I was a mental health disaster, and I got winded if I tried to run from the front door to the sidewalk. My physical appearance gave the impression of health, but I was as unhealthy as it was possible to be without a fatal disease.

I looked good, and I was constantly given compliments on my appearance. But my looks didn't tell the whole story.

What's Your Excuse Lady is probably much more physically fit than I was at my thinnest. Or, you know, maybe she isn't. Because all I know about her is that she looks fit. What's Your Excuse Lady might find my body repulsive, and wonder why it looks this way. I'm single and childless - why am I not working out an hour each day?

For the record, here are my abs as of three weeks ago:

Please note the myriad stretch marks. I am very proud of them. Roo gave them to me. When I see them, I think of her and how much I love her. You may also notice a few odd little horizontal white scars. Those are from the surgery to remove my gallbladder. Because when I was skinny and by all appearances healthy, I had gallstones. (When my gallbladder was inspected post-surgery, they lost count at 15 gallstones.)

These are my abs, and I am, at the age of 30 years minus a week, the healthiest I have ever been in my life. I probably can't convince you with the picture above, but it's true. I can do 10 pushups with perfect form. I can hold a full squat for a solid minute. I can do a 20-minute ab workout without a struggle. I can run - not super fast, but I can do it. My cholesterol is on the low end of normal. My triglycerides are perfect. My blood pressure? 93/50. I am happy and mentally healthy and, by the way, I weigh 155 pounds.

So, what's my excuse?

My excuse is that I think there are at least 600 things in this world that are more important than flat abs. My excuse is that "have a perfect body" isn't anywhere on my list of priorities - health, yes, "hot," no. My excuse is that I am so much more than what I look like. My excuse is that I would rather live a full and interesting life and have a doughy belly than spend 365 hours a year at the gym. My excuse is that I have value and worth beyond my physical appearance.

My excuse is that I am capable of doing things, not just being being looked at. My excuse is that I am strong, and strong doesn't have a single look, nor should it, nor should we expect it to. My excuse is that I earned this stomach, stretch marks and scars and all, and I love it. My excuse is that I am happy with who I am, regardless of the fact that no one covets my abs.

My excuse is a precious, perfectly imperfect little four-year-old girl named Roo who is going to take her cues about health and worth and womanhood from the influential women in her life. She is blessed with an intelligent, clever, and media-savvy mother to guide her, and I am so glad! I can't talk M up enough. If I ever grow up I want to be just like her.

I don't know how big of an influence I will end up having on Roo and the woman that she becomes, but I refuse to take any risks. I refuse to sacrifice any part of myself at the altar of "hot," because I don't want Roo to think it's something I place any value on.

I know that her parents will teach her well, as they already have. But if she ever looks to me as an example or a role model or even just as a genetic roadmap, I want her to see a woman whose imperfections give her strength. I want her to see a woman who is more concerned with making the world beautiful than she is with making herself beautiful.

My excuse is that I don't want the person I love most in the world to ever have to feel she needs to make excuses for the way that she looks. She is more than her body. She is precious to me because of who she is, not because of her looks.

I have made a lot of excuses today, but you know what? I don't need them. There are only a handful of things you can tell about me by looking at me, and none of them are important.


Shane, Meg, CJ, RJ, and AL said...

Brilliant. You made me cry. So well said, Jill! -Megan

Rachel said...

This is awesome!!

jgirl said...

Your answer Jill, was perfect.

Mother of the Wild Boys said...

This is the absolute BEST response I have heard to that picture. Thank you Jill.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I'm going to write a short post about this photo myself, and I'm definitely linking to yours. :)

My friend Dawn wrote a great post about this, too: You Don't Need an Excuse:

And I read another at Baby Dust Diaries that I definitely think is worth the time:

riversnake said...

You nailed it! Thank you :)

~ Jill

Amanda said...

I can't say thank you enough for putting words to my speechless state when that picture came out.

Lindsey from The R House said...