America, I love you but, right now you are in a tough spot. Like Jay-Z in 2004, we’ve got 99 problems, the worst being that we don’t seem all that willing to help one another out. Lately, I have seen an increased number of pointed fingers and far too few outstretched helping hands. As a culture, we have started doing this thing where we shame our peers for what we see as their faults; in my humble opinion, this is the most unattractive problem of them all. Last week, mom of three Maria Kang added fuel to the fat-shaming fire when a six-pack ab revealing photo of herself with the caption “What’s your excuse?” originally posted to her Facebook page, went viral.
While some have shown support for Kang’s decision to post the skimpily clad photo, in which she poses with her three sons to show the pregnancies and motherhood she has had to overcome to accomplish her level of fitness, it has also been meet with a firestorm of criticism. The 32 year-old has been widely accused of fat-shaming and bullying, with one commenter calling her a shame to women. Many readers have expressed their negative views on Kang’s tactics, telling her the photo is not motivation but, rather “prideful brag” that “teases and mocks” her peers; some have even encouraged her to remove the photo. Much to their dismay, I do not see a retraction nor photograph removal in the near future. In what she calls her “First and Final Apology” on Facebook, the “fit mom,” as she has been labeled, does all but sincerely apologize for hurting anyone and actually places the fault back on all those who took offense.
As far as apologies go, I believe that may be one of the worst on record. Kang has obviously not comprehended that she has offended or shamed anyone but, instead is sorry that we have shamed ourselves with our own negativity. Rather than apologize for any messaging that was found harsh and take the opportunity to explain her story, possibly inspiring thousands of others to be healthy and fit, she immediately jumps to “not” go into the details and defend herself, faulting the audience for their wrongful interpretation in the process.
Plain and simple, I do not support fat-shaming. In fact, I do not support shaming of any kind which means I commend Kang on her health and fitness accomplishments. There is no denying she has overcome many obstacles to maintain an admirable level of fitness and she should absolutely be proud. For me, the biggest issue is the tactless delivery and closed-minded nature of her message. There are many roads Kang could have gone done to use her story as inspiration for other women to live a healthy lifestyle, one tailored to their unique situations. However, posting a photo of herself in peak physical condition, specific to her body type, eating habits, workout routine and general lifestyle and insinuating that other women must have an excuse if they do not look like her is the very opposite of encouragement or support. In addition, Kang herself briefly alluded to the fact that she suffered from an eating disorder, which means she should know first hand what it is like to feel bad about yourself; she should have an intimate understanding of the type of encouragement needed for women to remain healthy and see themselves in a positive light. Even more importantly, a woman who has overcome an eating disorder must sympathize with how quickly negative feedback and poor body image can force one to spiral into unhealthy habits. Despite what may have been good intentions, Kang’s photograph is not supportive and sends the wrong message to women of all ages. This behavior is insensitive, closed-minded and a prime example of the shaming we need to stop allowing to infiltrate our culture.
What Maria Kang fails to understand is that maybe, just maybe, women all across America don’t have the singular goal of looking just like her, a choice that does not require justification. Perhaps being healthy is enough and being able to pose in booty shorts and a sports bra is not high on their priority list. Further to that point, it might be that women in America aren’t all that healthy but, they are trying to get on track and it is simply harder for them than it is for Kang. No one has the right to make these women feel bad about themselves or discount even their smallest efforts because they don’t match someone else’s grand results. What the “fit mom” is also failing to take into account is that women are different. Yes, I speak the truth; women all across America have different body types, varying genetics and thousands of other unique qualities that make their health and fitness routines and results vastly different. I appreciate that Kang herself has had to overcome genetics, cravings and other factors to garner her results but, her struggles do not necessarily represent the masses and believing that they do results in a narrow vision and approach. Many women go to the gym five days a week, eat right and maintain excellent levels of health and they will never look like Kang because their bodies aren’t like hers. These women should not be made to look at her photograph and view themselves or their efforts negatively. Most importantly, what Kang’s message excludes is the fact that other women travel for a living, have families whose needs they prioritize over their own, have serious health issues they are battling or are the main caregiver to elderly parents; other women are not experiencing life in the same way she is, nor are their approaches to juggling competing priorities the same. These elements are not excuses, they are simply facts of life that should be accounted for, facts that should not have to be justified to anyone.
America, we need to stop shaming each other and women definitely need to stop shaming other women. We need to stop bullying, stop persecuting, stop all activities that make other women feel bad about themselves and their life choices. As a society, we are in the midst of fighting an uphill battle on numerous issues- obesity, sexual assault and bullying included- and shaming of any kind is only preventing us from reaching the top, together, as better people. Each of us needs to learn to accept the differences among us, give praise for success and accomplishment and offer words of encouragement during struggle. We may have 99 problems we can’t do much about as individuals but, shaming does not have to be one.
Feature Image via Newsday.