If you haven’t heard about the body-shaming sensation that is “Fit Mom,” here’s a primer:

Maria Kang, from Sacramento, California, is a self-employed mother of three boys. She owns two residential care homes for the elderly, and she founded a nonprofit called Fitness Without Borders.

The original photo that sparked controversy.

The original photo that sparked controversy.

In September 2013, Kang posted a photo on her Facebook page that captured her in skimpy activewear, standing behind her three young sons, with the caption “What’s your excuse” emblazoned above her head.

The photo went viral, resulting in a lot of publicity for Kang, both negative and positive. It also sparked the No Excuse Mom Movement, which encourages mothers to create local workout groups.

I truly am glad that Kang is happy with her body. More of us should love ourselves as much as she does.

But I have a problem with the way the “What’s your excuse” image and tagline presents her message.

On her website, she extols the virtues of fitness and health, but the image of her flaunting her body with the antagonistic tagline “What’s your excuse?” undermines this message.

The image doesn’t refer to fitness, weight, or health at all. Instead, it is focussed simply on appearance. Kang insinuates that the goal is to look a certain way, rather than focus on any other goals (health-related or otherwise) that mothers might have.

And of course, not everyone can look the same, regardless of their health or fitness situation.

I can see that Kang is trying to inspire and motivate other mothers to stay fit. And perhaps, for some women, she is successful. But for me, all she succeeds in is making me feel bad about myself.

By trading on guilt and self-esteem supremacy in the name of publicity, the original image, as well as a follow-up photo drilling the message home even further, and even a swimsuit calendar(!!), are at odds with her stated mission of inspiring mothers to be more healthy.

Moreover, she places blame on the viewer of the image for their interpretation, saying: “Every woman is different and my intention was not to ask, “What’s your Excuse for not looking like me?” My intention was to imply, “What’s your Excuse for not exercising?” However you interpret the message is dependent on your emotional state when you read the caption.”

The style of photo she was trying to emulate.

The style of photo she was trying to emulate.

Why couldn’t we focus on other things that moms could achieve? Like finishing a master’s degree or coaching a soccer team to victory? Or better yet, how about we just stop comparing ourselves to other moms? We’re all just doing the best we can.

Far more inspirational to me, for instance, is the Body Image Movement, whose founder Taryn Brumfitt uses a much more positive and non-judgemental approach to inspire women, advocating body acceptance, positive body talk, and prioritizing health over beauty.

We should be promoting a healthy and happy lifestyle, not a certain (unachievable) appearance.

Tessa Needham Synnott discovered About-Face while completing her PhD in Performing Arts at the University of Western Sydney (Australia) in 2008. Her thesis explored the potential of performance to provoke change, and part of her research was Bodily, a solo theatrical performance about body image. She loves technology and the creative arts, and is passionate about the different cultural forces affecting the body image of girls and women. She is a freelance graphic designer, photographer, and WordPress developer: tessaneedham.com.