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Looking Good is Overrated

Op-Ed: “Looking Good” is Overrated: One Mom’s Response to Maria Kang

By Lily July

Maria Kang, you look fabulous.  I fully commend you for the work you put into a goal that was important to you, and I congratulate you on your success.  I admire you for your self-reflective journey, your honesty in your writing, and your acknowledgment that everyone is different.  I looked pretty good before I got pregnant, but nothing like you. I also have an eight-month old baby, and a couple of older kids at home.  I have to say, I certainly don’t look nearly as good as you do now!

Looking Good is Overrated

The photo of Maria Kang that everyone is talking about

What’s my excuse?  I’m so glad you asked.  Well, my excuses are my body, my situation, and my priorities.

Everybody is different, and everyone’s body is different.

When I cut my food intake, my milk supply drops.  Feeding my baby is much more important to me than how I look.

When I do strenuous exercise, I get migraines and dizzy spells.  They hurt.  Being healthy is more important to me than how I look.

When I restrict my exercise to brisk daily walks, I don’t lose pounds, but I feel great.  Feeling great is more important to me than how I look.

Everybody is different, and everyone’s situation is different.

When I do strenuous exercise, I need more sleep and I don’t have time to relax with my husband.  Being intimate with my husband is more important to me than how I look.

When I go to the gym, I have to pay for daycare.  Having money, especially when money is tight, is more important to me than how I look.

When I spend more time working out, I have less time to write and do research.  Being productive is more important to me than how I look.

But that is just my body, and my situation, and I’m doing pretty well.  For so many people, the situation is dire, commuting between work and a home they can afford, making sure the kids are safe and busy after school, and juggling to get food on the table. I can ditch the gym for a walk around the block, but many women live on streets that don’t have sidewalks, or are unsafe. I buy organic vegetables, but in so many stores, subsidized Doritos cost less than a piece of fruit; it is no wonder that people “choose” junk food over being hungry at the end of the meal.

I appreciate the message that being healthy is worth making a priority. But blaming the individual obscures the problem. People’s energies are stretched thin, and the system is working against their health, not for it. Is that just another excuse? Or is it an opportunity for bigger change?

But there is another message here that is downright dangerous: “looking good should be the highest priority, or at least near the top.”  Women in particular are told over and again that our worth is based on how we look. We are supposed to spend time, money, and effort on being beautiful and attractive (presumably to men).

I discovered that looking good just isn’t as important as it is made out to be. Feeding my baby, being healthy, feeling great, being intimate with my husband, being productive, and having more time and money are all significantly more important than how I look.

So, the emphasis on looks is unfortunate, because it keeps women’s time and energy away from truly transformative projects. But this emphasis on looks is also dangerous because we are taught that our bodies are for other people to use. As the terrible statistics on violence against women show, men are learning this false message and using other people’s bodies–women’s bodies–for their own needs. And women are taking to heart the unhealthy flip side, which you describe all too well: if we don’t look good, then we aren’t worth anything.  And that message simply isn’t true.

Yes, I know that “good-looking people” get more job offers, higher tips, better customer service, and more votes. That is to say, I know that people judge each other by whether they look good as per societal standards. Perhaps everyone mistakenly thinks that I will be healthier and more productive if I looked better. Such people must be forgetting that everybody’s body is different and everybody’s situation is different. It is true that if I looked better, I might certainly be more attractive, but that is no one’s business but my husband’s and mine, and we are doing great (see above).

It makes me sad when people judge me by how I look, but it makes me even more sad when people judge themselves.

Ms. Kang, you look great, but I won’t hold it against you. I infer from your writing that you are also an insightful mom; you are productive and kind. You have worked hard to be healthy and, best of all, you don’t judge yourself by how you look anymore. Thus, I aspire to be like you, to work hard like you, and to do great things like you do. I just don’t aspire to look like you.

__________________________________________

Lily July is mom to a rambunctious 8-month old baby and three step kids. She has a Ph.D. in philosophy of science and a new-found interest in the philosophy of parenthood. 

30 Comments

  1. Annie

    October 27, 2013 at 10:35 am

    Well done Lily! Beautifully written, giving all due respect to Ms. Kang while pointing out some very important things that are true for you and for many others. Bravo!

  2. Erinn Crane

    October 27, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    Again, more excuses and a reason why 30 percent of Americans are obese. I am a mother of 4, work as a nurse with Long hours, spend a lot of time with my kids and husband but still manage to work out 1-2 hours a week. I eat a lot but yes, it is healthy but you can still buy healthy food and not spend a fortune. You just have to plan. I am setting a good example for my kids to be healthy and to hopefully avoid chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes that run in my family. Those things cost us and society much more than a gym membership (and most have free childcare). I work out a lot at home, which is free, and if I need to get up early to do so I do. It actually helps with my intimate time with my husband because I have more energy and because I feel sexier and I look sexier to him. Ask you husband. I am sure he would feel the same. Working out as hard as I do is not for everyone, but as a society we are becoming lazier and making more excuses for not being healthy.

  3. Erinn Crane

    October 27, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    One to two hours a day sorry.

  4. Nicole Williamson

    October 27, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    Erinn Crane: did you actually read what she said?! She doesn’t feel sexier or have more energy when she does strenuous exercise, she feels that way when she does light to moderate exercise! And yes, healthy eating costs less than heart disease and diabetes but the cost is spread over a long period of time, it doesn’t actually impact daily cash flow the way food costs do (as she pointed out in the article that a bag of doritos is much cheaper and much more accessible in many neighborhoods than organic produce – this is true!) I actually do enjoy strenuous exercise (I do 1-2 hours daily of running and crossfit), it feels amazing to me but I wouldn’t advocate it for someone who gets migraines or experiences extreme fatigue as the author mentions. Again, her point is: different bodies, different situations…stop JUDGING! Just because you feel sexier and have more energy as a result of your regimen doesn’t mean everyone does. The other is in no way presenting “excuses and a reason why 30 percent of Americans are obese.” And did you even catch the insightful ruminations about the fact that inordinate focus on looks gives women and girls the impression that their body is chiefly for the use, pleasure and voyeurism of others instead of for their own self-creation and evolution and the experience of the joy that accompanies these things.

    • Nicole Williamson

      October 27, 2013 at 10:52 pm

      *The author is in no way presenting…

    • Danielle

      October 29, 2013 at 1:20 pm

      AMEN.

  5. Megan

    October 28, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Some might argue that one to two hours a day is a little excessive and might not be a reasonable standard against which others should measure the amount of time they put into exercising for health (rather than for something else).

  6. Erinn Crane

    October 28, 2013 at 10:15 am

    I did read what she said and I do believe those all are excuses as to why she is still overweight. Even being slightly overweight leads to chronic health problems in the future. And that does affect everyone’s cash flow. Missed work, dr appointments, medications, cost of insurance etc etc. I even said you don’t need to join a gym. Working out is free. And when I do I sometimes take my older kids with me. I am also not saying that working out might not feel great right at the beginning, and some of her symptoms she has when she works out hard is actually because she is overweight in the first place. You will be tired at first after a hard workout. But as you get more and more healthy and lose the pounds, one will most likely experience more energy throughout the day. Bottom line, those are all excuses to not be a healthy weight. I want to do everything I can to avoid a chronic health problem in the future. That’s the most important thing and definitely trumps looks.

    • TereLiz

      October 28, 2013 at 5:13 pm

      Miss Erinn, that’s what works for YOU and makes YOU feel good. It doesn’t work for everyone.

      That is the whole point of this article—a point that you are dismissing as EXCUSES as to why the author doesn’t have a six-pack. Focusing on how she looks over how she FEELS is the problem. Get it?

      • Erinn Crane

        October 28, 2013 at 6:26 pm

        Never once did I imply someone needs to have 6 pack abs. But being overweight definitely has it’s effects on everyone in society. It is a strain on our health care system as well as our Medicare and Medicaid systems. That does affect everyone and that I do take issue with.

        • Lindsay

          November 1, 2013 at 5:54 pm

          Hmm.. Is there any reason why you believe this author is overweight? There is a HUGE chasm between an unhealthy body and a smoking hot body. Sounds to me that this author is advocating that a healthy body, mind & lifestyle is more important than smoking hot. Eating right, exercising and being healthy does not result in a body like Maria’s for most people – a potentially unhealthy prioritization of aesthetics (…or great genetics) is what results in such a body.

  7. Erinn Crane

    October 28, 2013 at 10:26 am

    And most people could definitely get down to a healthy weight doing 30-60 minutes of strenuous exercise per day. I add in more weights which takes time Because my job requires having to lift patients all day and it’s a very physical job. By building muscle I injure myself much less at work and have less pain in my joints than if I did not. So no, that is not for Everyone. It’s about finding a schedule, sticking to it and being as healthy as you can be.

  8. Single and Childless

    October 28, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    It’s apparent that some people will never get it.
    Sigh.

    Anyway thank you Lily July for articulating much of what I too was thinking–as a marathoner, dancer, and cyclist who still struggles to squeeze these in as a full time professor without children or an intimate partner.

    • Erinn Crane

      October 28, 2013 at 7:26 pm

      I too have 3 children, a job as an RN a husband and am a landlord. You are basically saying it is ok to be overweight. That it’s ok to let our children see us be unhealthy and therefore become unhealthy themselves. She might be happy, but is she really showing her kids and setting a good example for others? That it’s ok to be overweight ? How can that possible be a good example to set?

      • D to EP

        October 29, 2013 at 1:31 pm

        Firstly, not all people who exercise or who are traditionally physically attractive are healthy. Secondly, You don’t know what she teaches her kids. I personally would rather hang out with my kids after a long day of work than go work out. Sometimes hanging out is a walk, sometimes a trip to the park, sometimes we craft or veg out and watch a movie. Thing is, if I don’t judge you for giving up your already admitted limited time with your kids, why do you get to judge me for choosing to spend my time with my family rather than in a gym? Who are you to judge anyone? It’s great that you’re fit and enjoy working out, FOR YOU. Some mothers might wonder how it makes your kids feel that its more important for you to go work out than spend time with them. My point is, You can argue either side of that coin, sister. Safer to just not judge any other moms. You raise your kids, I’ll raise mine.

  9. Erinn Crane

    October 29, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Again, more excuses for being overweight in this society. By the way, I do work out when my kids are in school or before they wake up so I can spend all of my time with them. Thanks.

  10. Erinn Crane

    October 29, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    The what’s your excuse article confronts the elephant in the room. All along, we have been pretending that being overweight is ok. Well, it’s not. It affects everyone. It is a main reason why healthcare is so expensive, and it is teaching our children the wrong lesson. It creates chronic health conditions that degrade quality of life not just for the person who is sick but for everyone around. We can pretend all we want that we don’t have time, want to be with our kids, have to work etc etc but that is getting old. We need to be healthy and make not being buff a priority but being a healthy weight. I am a mother of 4 with a job as a nurse and a small business. I gave up the excuses over a year ago and decided I needed to take control of my health. I was not obese, but 30 lbs overweight, starting to develop high blood pressure and generally feeling tired all of the time. My joints hurt as my job is physically demanding, and I didn’t want to do things even with the kids after work. I just wanted to watch tv. This has all changed. Yes I work out 1-2 hrs a day, but I now have more time and energy for my kids, my job, my husband and every other aspect in my life. Work is now a breeze. Basically eating right and being a healthy weight has greatly improved my life. All because I stopped making excuses. So I applaud her for confronting that elephant in the room and those who feel uncomfortable with what she said should be uncomfortable and motivated to improve their lives which in turn will improve the lives of their families and everyone around them.

  11. Jen

    October 29, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Erinn,

    I’m glad you are able to find time to workout when your children are in school or before they wake up. Not everyone has a schedule like yours. I am a teacher and have to bring home work with me. I get up at 6 am, take my 15 month old to daycare by 6:45 am, go to work until 3:30 pm, pick my daughter up at 4 pm, get home by 4:30 pm to prepare dinner, play with my daughter and feed her dinner before 6:30 pm, have dinner with my husband until 7:00-7:15 pm, give my daughter a bath at 7:15 pm, put her to bed by 7:30 pm, grade papers and lesson plan until 9:30-10:00 pm, take a shower before 10:30 pm, and try to find time to be intimate with my husband more than once a month. I’m lucky to get physical activity in our schedules on Saturdays and Sundays (after church commitments). Because you are so adept at finding time in your busy schedule to workout, please let me know how to fit it in to mine.

    • T A

      October 30, 2013 at 12:01 pm

      Jen, I’m a stay home mom so I don’t have any rights to judge or talk about working moms. What I’m about to say is meant to be constructive. My husband has a schedule like yours. He has to be at work by 8 and doesn’t get home til 6:45. He wants to stay healthy so he wakes up at 4:30 T & T, 5:30 on M, W, F to exercise. He has been on low carb diet, cut down sugar for 2 years now. He definitely helps our son (who happens to love food…60 lbs at 5 years old) to understand a healthier lifestyle. Children learn from us! We dont teach them which body looks good but we teach them how to make smart choices on food and activities. My son once asked his dad “how do you get up so early dad?” My husband answered “it’s all in the mind son. Don’t give yourself an excuse for not doing something good to yourself”.
      PS: his sex drive? I can’t complain!

    • Erinn Crane

      October 30, 2013 at 1:45 pm

      Get up at 5. I do!

      • Sparky The Wonder Girl

        November 1, 2013 at 9:32 pm

        It’s well known by now that skimping on sleep is a stress on the body that can, ironically, make one gain weight. So that’s bad advice.

  12. Lily July

    October 30, 2013 at 1:33 am

    I appreciate the honest discussion. Erinn has many good points – and yes, there is more I could do to be in better shape. If I understand correctly, here is Erinn’s argument:

    1. If you do an hour of strenuous exercise per day, you can get down to a healthy weight.
    2. If you get down to a healthy weight, you can avoid chronic health problems in the future.
    3. You should avoid chronic health problems.
    Conclusion. You should do an hour of strenuous exercise per day.

    (This is Fallacy of Affirming the Consequent)

    I can see why this argument is so seductive. The first two premises are true. However, they don’t lead to the conclusion. That is, I can do enough movement to avoid chronic health problems without doing an hour of strenuous exercise per day – it will just take me much longer than 8-months, and I still won’t be nearly as fit or look anywhere as good as Maria Kang does with her 8-month old. And, as new science is showing us, I might still be overweight even when I am healthy (http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/health/body/head-to-toe/fat-but-fit/).

    Perhaps surprisingly, though, I am going to challenge the third premise. It is not true that one should avoid chronic health problems at all costs. Suppose I told you that you could avoid chronic health problems, and all you had to do was pay $250 per year. Would you do it? I sure would! What if the price were $25,000 per year? Hm, that is really expensive, but I just might decide to take on an extra job to pay for it. After all, health is important. But what if I said the price was $2.5 million per year? Is there a price where you would say it is simply out of reach?

    It is rare that the price of excellent fitness is actually so high that it is out of reach. And that is the wonderful, beautiful, and absolutely inspiring message in the “What’s your excuse?” genre, which focuses on people who pay high prices (the 100-year old weightlifter, the legless runner). If you are willing to pay the price, you can be super fit. But the price might not be worth it. I don’t mean literal prices, of course. We pay in pain, time, money, and effort, and also in opportunity cost: what other things could I be doing with my time, money, and effort? (And Erinn is right that there is often an investment of low energy and pain at the beginning.)

    There are degrees of health, and many people can be healthy enough, and fit enough, without looking great. Ultimately it is the opportunity costs that I worry about. I would rather spend time, money, effort and pain on making my community a better place to live, doing art, spending time with friends and family, learning, and discovering new things. We each find our own balance.

    However, we are all trying to find our balance inside a system that is constantly spinning. If we can change the system (bike paths to work instead of highways, cheap healthy food instead of cheap junk food), then more people will get healthier faster, and at a much lower personal cost.

    • Erinn Crane

      October 30, 2013 at 11:18 pm

      One hr per day and eating healthy would improve this society so much. I figured this. The dialysis center I work in brings in over $130000 a week at the very least. That does not include private insurance payments. Those are all tax dollars. The main causes of kidney disease are hypertension and diabetes. Both things that can be largely controlled by lifestyle. This is such a major cost to society for things that can largely be avoided! I am not saying everyone can be buff, but a good hour of moderate exercise to get the heart rate up and eating decently could save us so much money! And improve the health and well being of our society! So yes, I think it is a very worthwhile investment for everyone!

  13. Erinn Crane

    October 30, 2013 at 1:43 am

    Again, love excuses.

    • Jen

      October 30, 2013 at 7:44 am

      Erinn,

      My mom is a retired RN and retired earlier this year (42 years of service) so if you are a hospital RN, I know what your schedule can be like. Again, if you have suggestions as to what and where I can cut things out of my day to replace them with activities that truly are cardiovascular in nature, please let me know. The only cardiovascular activity I get during the week is playing chase with my 15-month old. When the weather is nice, I take her and my dog for a walk, but that does not constitute true cardiovascular exercise.

  14. Erinn Crane

    October 30, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    You sit down and plan it into your schedule. I work 3 very long shifts a week. But I work it in. My kids sometimes go with me to the gym. If you have a young one either pick times when your spouse can watch them or my 6 year old loves the kids area of the gym! If you cannot afford a gym, get a cardio workout you can use on your tv and have the child with you. I started on p90x and my now 6 year old would hang out with me and try and do exercises himself. Plan. Make it a priority. Make it part of your everyday routine. And eat well. It cannot happen without eating well. I eat tons! And I love beer! Fruits and veggies are so inexpensive at places like aldi! So stock up and substitute the good stuff for the bad stuff. It doesn’t have to be expensive! Once you get a system going it becomes habit. But that habit takes time. Push through it. And make your workouts count. Sweat. Push yourself. I always said if you can talk to someone during a workout and only slightly sweat you are wasting your time. It is hard at first. Slowly thought it becomes something you cannot live without.

  15. N

    October 31, 2013 at 1:28 am

    I am deeply disturbed and saddened by the arguments being put fort in the comments section of this article. I am disappointed with one commenter’s determination (evidenced by her many redundant posts) to judge, project, deflect and body shame women while completely dismissing key points as “excuses.” Instead of challenging traditional conceptions of beauty, attractiveness, health, wellness,choice and priorities of and for women, the discussion has devolved into a body shaming forum. I would like to think that the discussion has been derailed by a commenter determined to inflict her will, priorities, “wisdom” and agenda on all other women and mothers. Hopefully the conversation can get back on track. I’ll start. What does it mean to “look great”? And who gets to decide what looks great and what doesn’t? How does sexism and the normative gaze inform our ideas about what our bodies should look like? Isn’t Ms. Kang being a tad bit presumptious in asking “What’s your excuse?” The presumption being that we all endeavor to look like her. Suppose I have all the time in the world and access to generous amounts of healthy food yet I still choose not to devote my time and energy to working out 2 hours a day so that I can appear acceptable to Ms. Kang and Ms. Crane and whoever? Does mean that I am flawed? Essentially, Ms. Kang’s question and Ms. Crane’s argument ASSUMES that I want to be like them. What if I don’t?

    • Erinn Crane

      October 31, 2013 at 10:07 am

      Deeply disturbed and saddened? I have never once said that everyone needs to work out with the intensity that I do. Its all about balance. If you want to eat more, you need to work out harder or longer. If you choose to not balance, and become overweight (which is unhealthy and leads to many health problems) then it becomes a problem for everyone. One cannot have it both ways. If you are happy with an overweight body, then good for you. But not good for everyone else. I am not happy with my group insurance benefits being based on the unhealthy lifestyles of others. I am not happy with so much of my tax dollars being spent from the medicare and medicaid problems for those who choose to live an unhealthy lifestyle. I am not shaming those for being overweight, I am simply not sugar coating a major health issue in our country. One that affects everyone. One that our children are starting to adopt. So continue to make excuses. One day you will wake up, realize your lifestyle has created health problems for you and think to yourself, “maybe I should have done something about this long ago.” If this is too tough for you to hear, I am sorry you cannot face the truth.

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