Maria Kang, a fitness model and mother of three, posted this picture to her Facebook:
It went viral over the last few days and it’s caused quite the stir. Some have called her a bully for fat shaming, others have called her a bad mother, and some have said the picture was inspiring and motivational.
First and foremost, I do not even remotely understand how she could be a bad mother. The thinking, according to one Facebook comment on the photo, appears to be:
“You’re (sic) children need a mother more then you need washboard abs.”
She certainly should not feel bad for devoting time out of her day (reportedly an hour a day) to workout. Choosing a healthy lifestyle and committing to it doesn’t make her a bad mother.
However, I can see why some would see this picture, specifically with the question, “What is your excuse?” as accusatory, hostile or condescending. The semantics of it – the “you” – would indicate that. For instance, one commenter remarked:
“Like we aren’t shamed enough by advertisers setting impossible standards. My “excuses” are none of your business. You should take this down.”
I get that. The supposed perfect body image is something women and men alike are inundated with, whether it’s a fit mom a few weeks after giving birth or a man with ripped muscles; it’s everywhere in advertising, movies, magazines and so on.
Will people, even if they exercise an hour every day, five days a week and eat right look like Maria Kang? Not likely. There is a multitude of mitigating factors that make that near impossible; genes being the biggest, I would suggest. But sure, there are medical conditions that may play a role as well. But even then, even all that taken into consideration, there are stories out there of people without limbs, mental disabilities, and so on running marathons or otherwise doing feats thought not possible given their circumstance.
On the flip side, though, people assume that she’s a bad mother and that she must have a nanny, bags of money, nutritionists and everything else to get that type of body; almost, as if she merely had to walk through a fitness chamber and on the other side, she was ripped. Everything else aside, she still had to work hard for that body. That seems to be lost in the discourse.
I particularly liked Jenna Karvunidis’ framing of this discussion. She says:
The stark cold truth is I could be in better shape. It’s not the hot Facebook mom’s fault that my inner and outer demons and interests have led me to prioritize other things over hot ass abs. Note: I said led me to prioritize, not led Maria Kang to wield her shame wand over me with universal truth that looking like a back-up dancer is the Number One Thing.
Her main point was, “Maria Kang’s success is not my failure.”
And when I saw the line, “What is your excuse?” I immediately interpreted it as a motivational kick in the ass. Wait, what are my excuses? I went through a mental checklist in my head, I’m too tired, I don’t have time, I’d rather be writing, I don’t have the knowledge to diet, I don’t have the extra money to join a gym, etc., etc., and so on. Just like Karvunidis, I recognize these as my excuses, no matter how rational they may seem in my head and even if tomorrow or rather, today, I decided to shed these excuses, I wouldn’t do so with the ultimate goal of trying to obtain a Kang-like physique. Realistic goals beget realistic ends and all that jazz.
As I said, I understand with the wording why some would take it as hostile, but I think the better question to ask, is why? Why do you take it as so hostile? Are you not just projecting your own insecurities, fears, doubts, etc. back on to Mary Kang because that’s the easy thing to do, just like those excuses? What’s the alternative, to not project healthy lifestyles or other positive, successful avenues because it would make someone that’s not healthy or making positive choices feel bad?
Don’t get me wrong. There are people out there that intend to literally shame people who are overweight and make them feel like shit because they’re overweight without taking into context any reasons for why they may be overweight and so on. That not only can have detrimental psychological and therefore physiological consequences, but it’s wrong and is bullying.
I simply do not see Kang’s photo within this same light. The line didn’t say, “What’s your excuse, you fat fuck?” To me, “What’s your excuse?” could easily be a stand-in for Nike’s “Just do it,” or other advertising slogans that I think are perfectly acceptable. Maybe some will look at Nike’s advertisements with scorn and say, “Well, I can’t do it because this and this and this,” but then we’re back at square one of internalizing and projecting.
Which is exactly what I think Kang intended with her picture; she wanted to encourage self-reflection. There is no harm in that, if you ask me.