I’m a bit of a gym bunny. I don’t go as often as I used to, playgroup commitments getting in the way a little, but I do go fairly regularly and I love it. I also work out at home and have my own weights and other exercise related equipment. I am pretty fit. I have a bit of a six pack, fairly good arm muscles, and quite strong legs. I am a size 8 with a BMI of 19.2.
I also have stretch marks, saggy little post-breast feeding boobs, and assorted bruises, scars and bumps from being a clumsy mother to a crazy toddler.
My body is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but, equally so, I am proud of how far I’ve come and I am pretty body confident. I am happy to wear a bikini in the swimming pool, short skirts on nights out, and generally don’t feel that bad about “me”.
Until recently I had an Instagram account where I shared photo updates about my progress. Photos of my yoga poses and the improvement in my flexibility, changes in my body in terms of tone and muscle definition, and assorted pictures of me and Miss Rose goofing around.
Like with my clothes, shoes and make up, Miss Rose likes to copy my exercising. She loves my hoop, clapping when I hoola hoop and giggling hysterically when it falls. She tries to copy. She can lift my smaller weights and gets quite proud of herself when she does. She can also copy a lot of my yoga poses and when asked to show someone “baby yoga” will drop to a superb downward facing dog position and relish the cheers of applause. I take her swimming regularly, and she has come up to the gym floor with my mother whilst I’m working out to see me. Exercise and fitness are a standard part of Miss Rose’s life, and I’m comfortable with sharing that.
A mother in a very similar situation has recently come under quite a lot of criticism for that same behaviour, and it’s made me pause for thought.
Abby Pell posts pictures to her Instagram account in the same way I do, progress on her fitness, photos of her muscles, pictures of her with her child. She posted an image of herself exposing her abs next to her daughter, and the tag “I have a kid, a six pack, and no excuse”.
She was accused of fat shaming, exploiting her daughter to show off her own body, and setting out to make other women feel bad about themselves. She claims her intention was to inspire and encourage, that being fit and healthy has made her feel better about herself and she wants other mums to experience that same feeling.
I am torn.
I would never want to make other mothers, other people in general, feel bad about themselves. In any way, be it their bodies, their looks or their lives in general. Bringing other people down does nothing positive for me, other people being uncomfortable or unhappy makes me feel awful, so the idea that I have in some way done that is not one that sits well with me.
Equally so, I don’t think there is anything wrong in celebrating achievements in my life. Some friends share their academic achievements, others share promotions or advancements in a particular skill. I share my physical accomplishments. Because I am proud. I have worked hard, I put time and energy in, I feel good about myself and enjoy being in a physically fit state. So I share.
Until recently I shared on Instagram but after receiving attention more aimed at me being sexually attractive than anything else I decided to leave. I did not share on Facebook, and that is because I was worried about looking self centred, worried that I would look vain. I was worried that all the mothers I am friends with who struggle with their post-baby bodies would feel bad about themselves. The awareness is there in me and it is something I want to avoid.
I think the problem Abby Pell has is that the statement “no excuse” is pushy. It’s suggesting that women who do struggle with their weight, women who don’t have the opportunities or ability that she has, women who are too tired, or too sick, or too busy, are actually all just lazy. It’s suggesting that she is better, that she thinks being fit makes her something more than those who aren’t. In my opinion this is simply not true.
I am not better than my larger friends. I am not worse than my fitter friends. I am just different. I have accomplished things which are worth being proud of, but others have achieved I couldn’t hope to achieve. Achievements are to be respected, accomplishments are to be celebrated. But never at the expense of other’s happiness and well being. If my intellectual friends posted “Look at my new qualification, if you don’t have this qualification you are lazy and stupid” then I would feel bad about myself. If they post “Look at this qualification I have worked super hard to achieve, I am so proud of myself” then I celebrate for them and with them. This is the difference. This is how it should be with fitness and health.
So, to all people, mothers and others, I will celebrate your achievements and I will share my own. I will encourage you when you want to accomplish more, and I will relish your support when I too try to improve. But I will never, ever try to make you feel bad for not achieving the same as me, and I will never want to feel bad for not sharing the same successes as you. We are what we are, we do what we do. We should never measure our own worth by the success or failure of others, because we are all different.