What's Wrong with This Picture? Why Maria Kang Can't Tell People What to Do.

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Maria Kang is getting a lot of heat for this photo:


Image: Facebook (fair use)

Now, I came here to defend her, actually. That had been my idea. I mean, she's clearly "fitspiration," and that's a genre. People attacking her for "what she does'" (which is also what she does for a living), is almost like someone attacking a romance novelist for not being Proust. They're not meant to be compared. Which, really, is one of the problems with this photo. It's meant for the "fitspiration" crowd, not for the general public.

The problem with "fitspiration" people is that they often assume that the general public is the "fitspiration" crowd, or would be if they could only see the light.

It's so easy, you see. Anyone can do it. What's your excuse?

And there's the second problem with this photo. Unlike the other "fitspiration"stuff Kang's posted that involve pictures of herself, she actually comes out and brings you into the equation. And you know what? We all have some pretty good excuses.

Here are a few from a Facebook thread:

"My "excuse" is that I don't work out for a living."

This is a good point. Maria Kang's business is fitness. It's what she does. She makes money from it, in addition to her social media presence. Blogging and writing are what I do. Unfortunately, they don't keep me fit. Come to think of it, they don't pay me, either.

"I don't have money for daycare or a babysitter so I can work out for hours or go on 10-mile runs."

Another excellent point. Maria Kang's husband stays at home and is extremely helpful around the house. They do have money. She does have time. These are not small issues.

I'm totally privileged in that I can afford to go to a gym that provides childcare, and I have the time to work out for an hour three times a week. I have a husband who looks after the kids on Saturdays when I go to that gym. I spend my days writing, being a housewife and mom, and going to grad school. This is privilege. I can do these things because I have advantages that other people do not have.

One person on Facebook commented that "it's pretty damned easy for a suburban soccer mom to tell a single mother with two jobs and barely enough income to afford fast food that she just isn't trying hard enough."

When you're working two or three jobs, as a single parent, and your car is on the verge of breaking down, and your kids need their time with you and you're just making ends meet, well, running 4x a week and doing your core 3x a week is not happening. It's not an excuse. It's reality. And when those parents sit down, exhausted, in the thirty minutes of peace they have between the time their kids go to bed and the time they drag themselves to bed, the last thing they want to see is some woman who doesn't get it telling them how easy it would be if they just gave up the excuses. The message simply cannot translate.

"My excuse is 4 kids in 5 years, an emergency c-section, and genetically inelastic skin. I had a consult with a plastic surgeon and the extra skin on my tummy falls into the "severe" category. So I can exercise like a beast (and I have), and I'll still look 4 months pregnant. So fuck her."

This is a biggie when taken out of the "fitspiration" subgenre (and even within it, honestly, because many, many followers of "fitspiration" have fairly insurmountable odds, or as Kang would call them, "excuses," when trying to get fit). It's great that Kang can look like that thirty seconds after giving birth (which she actually doesn't, but I'll get to that). The point is, not everyone is Kang. Not everyone can look like that even if they do everything she does exactly to the letter. Everyone's circumstances are different, and speaking as a lady with stretch marks and extra skin, it totally sucks. And seeing a (n edited) picture like that saying I'm just not working hard enough? Well, like the FBer said, fuck you.

Now, if you visit her Facebook page (which I have a lot to say about in a minute), you'll see at one point Kang posted a picture of herself where her pregnancies do show. There are the stretch marks I do recognize. There's the way my own skin wrinkles when I sit. And yes, I know that she can arch and stand in ways so that that doesn't happen (I do it myself for photos). But in the first picture I posted, those stretch marks are nonexistent. I blew that photo up to as large as I could, hunting for a tell-tale streak. Nothing. Photoshopped or airbrushed out.

So, Maria, what's your excuse?

How can you tell women that if they just put down the pound cake and took up your prayer and exercise regime, they would look like that, when you don't even look like that? I am ... disappointed. And none of this is to say her photo here isn't gorgeous. The only one saying that is her, when she thanks her fans for being "understanding and supportive" of her stomach skin. She is a damn knockout, as she is. I'm sorry she doesn't see it that way.

But wait! We're not done with real life "excuses."

"I have hypothyroidism, which means one of the many complex issues this causes is a slow metabolism. So it's not easy to lose weight, but it's reeeeally easy to put it on.

When you take a meme like "what is your excuse" and you put it on a picture that gets shared to the general public, you run the risk of people getting pissed off. Deservedly pissed off. Do you have hypothyroidism, Kang? Or lupus, or scoliosis, or fibromyalga? No, you do not.

And they're not excuses. They are reasons.

I visited her Facebook page after reading the Yahoo article about her (who gives an exclusive interview to Yahoo, btw?) and there are lots of "excuse" motivations on there. Like this one, of a disabled kid with the words "Your excuse is invalid."

Okay, now, I love this kid. I've seen this before, and I just love this kid. I'm not going to dwell on this point too much because I just don't know how I feel about it. But someone on Facebook made an interesting point which bears repeating here and that is: "those disabled "what's your excuse" memes are bullshit. Disabled people do not exist for your motivation."

I feel this is absolutely correct. I think the line here is where we stop celebrating our own fantastic-ness, and start telling others that theyshould be doing something just because we did it (or because the most adorable boy on the planet did it). Everyone has their own obstacles to overcome, and everyone overcomes those obstacles in their own ways. You cannot take someone else's (even your own) story, and push it onto people at large. Life doesn't work that way.

Love yourself, love your life, job, fitness level, etc. But don't preach it to people who didn't ask to hear it.

Not to mention that some people simply cannot get her results, no matter what, like the FB commenter who worked out for two hours a day for three years, and still couldn't lose the weight.

After many people gave their "excuses" in that thread, an interesting thing happened. People started asking Kang what her excuse was.

"I have 3 degrees ... what's her excuse?"

"Can she play tuba? No? What's her excuse?"

"I had my kids closer together than she did. What's her excuse?"

This is hilarious, but it also sheds light on something that isn't normally visible. No one would ever expect to see a tuba player's picture with the words "what's your excuse" atop it. And if they did see a picture like that, they'd most likely laugh their asses off. Because that's ridiculous. Not everyone wants to play tuba, so they don't need an excuse as to why they can't play it. Not everyone wants three degrees. And the people that do want three sometimes have the legit excuse as discussed above of not having the funds or the time to achieve them. And no one is posting pictures of themselves with their prizes and achievements in those areas asking others to justify themselves. Because that's silly.

But somehow it's not silly when someone does this in the working-out realm. "Fitspiration" therefore, is not just a subgenre, but is part of our general culture, and as such is open to these criticisms. Because the people hitting back don't find it silly or absurd. Shaming in this arena is such a part of our mainstream culture that people do get insulted when a random meme picture like this shows up on their social media. They get it enough everywhere else. They don't want it from a complete stranger, too.

The tuba player goes on to say, "Maybe it's not important or interesting to her ... Gasp, you mean different people have different priorities?!"

And that's the crux of the matter. Looking like she looks a year after having her third child is not a priority for most people. And yet somehow, when seeing a picture like that with a shaming message atop it, people do feel shamed for it not being a priority for them. And then they get mad. Because it's a dominant theme in our culture. One that needs to go away.

She has every right to be proud of herself, and every right to motivate those who are looking to be motivated in her arena, in her area of expertise. But she does not have the right to attack those who would fight back against her message. Because while she intended to say this: "I know you think you don’t have time if you have kids. But if I can do it, you can do it, too," she actually said this: "What's your excuse?" And those are two different things.

And it's not the first time she's tried to pass a genre message off to a mass audience. She frequently posts pictures like this one, which says, "The difference between want and need is self-control."

Which would be absolutely fine if it weren't so patently false. Again, these self-motivating message simply cannot translate into the wider world.

After receiving a lot of backlash for that picture, Kang took to her own Facebook page in what is now a pinned post saying:

"I've been getting an influx of new followers, emails and comments (on my profile pic) recently. Some saying I'm a bully, I'm fat-shaming and I need to apologize for the hurt I've caused women. I get it. SO here's my First and Final Apology:

I'm sorry you took an image and resonated with it in such a negative way. I won't go into details that I struggled with my genetics, had an eating disorder, work full time owning two business', have no nanny, am not naturally skinny and do not work as a personal trainer. I won't even mention how I didn't give into cravings for ice cream, french fries or chocolate while pregnant or use my growing belly as an excuse to be inactive.

What I WILL say is this. What you interpret is not MY fault. It's Yours. The first step in owning your life, your body and your destiny is to OWN the thoughts that come out of your own head. I didn't create them. You created them. So if you want to continue 'hating' this image, get used to hating many other things for the rest of your life. You can either blame, complain or obtain a new level of thought by challenging the negative words that come out of your own brain.

With that said, obesity and those who struggle with health-related diseases is literally a 'bigger' issue than this photo. Maybe it's time we stop tip-toeing around people's feelings and get to the point. So What's Your Excuse?"

Okay, so this is what's known in the business (the business being the internet, of course) as a fauxpology. And she doesn't even try very hard. This right here? "What you interpret is not MY fault. It's Yours." No. Just no. Words mean things. Interpretations are not pulled out of the blue. They are based on societal frameworks set in place long before Maria Kang got herself a "fitspiration"FB page. You want to write an aggressive, accusatory message on top of your amazing picture? Do it. But own it. You did it. You own it. Them's the rules.

It is not the reader's responsibility to place your intent into the latent meaning of the phrasing you used. End of story. Or, as someone on Facebook aptly said, "I love how I have personal issues if something on the internet makes me think the person who made it is kind of a douche."

The FBer doesn't have personal issues. She is interpreting a media message as she has a right to do. That apology is the most offensive apology I've read in a long time. And spending a lot of time on the internet (not at the gym!) I see a lot of false apologies every day.

It's also important to note that body image is so important to Kang that she once suffered from a very real eating disorder, one as real as any of the conditions listed above. While her struggle in no way disqualifies her from motivating others to be fit and healthy, it is something that perhaps she should take some time to parse.

In her own words:

"This cycle of bingeing (because I ‘can’) and starving (eating 1200 calories and performing a lot of cardio and strength training), really began taking its toll on my body and mind. In November 2003 I binged and purged for the first time. It would officially begin my 3 year war with Bulimia. I would have 2-3 episodes daily at least 3-5 times a week. It often happened when I visited home or became very anxious. In reflection it was shocking how much I could consume. I could literally down an entire sheet of cake, a half gallon of ice cream and loads of candy because it was all easy to uptake. I never felt full. I just felt incredible sadness, a sick void inside of me that I nourished through lots of food and eventually praying. At the time I was now working as a Fitness Manager and later as a Project Coordinator with 24 Hour Fitness Corporation. I kept a steady weight 135lbs until I was finally able to recover from having Bulimic Episodes. When the bingeing/purging stopped, my weight began to climb.

From the years 2005-2008 my weight would range anywhere between the 140s and 150s."

Looking at that paragraph, at her struggles with her own self-image and the societal pressures she felt, one would think she might understand how harmful a message like "what's your excuse" can be.

But it's not about Kang, and it's not about this meme. It's about an overarching theme in society where women feel threatened, shamed and bullied into looking a certain way. If that's the case, best to be part of the solution, not the problem.

As one FB commenter noted, "What it all boils down to is an inability to accept that other people's desires, motivations, abilities, obstacles, and circumstances are not the same as your own."

issue goes far beyond "fitspiration" and even beyond body shaming. It's a pervasive ideology in which people cannot fathom lives different from their own. Every life holds beauty. No one (at least no internet strangers) need to tell the people living those lives where to find it.

Maria posted a picture with a "fitspirational" saying a few weeks ago:

Don’t compare yourself to others. Compare yourself to the person from yesterday.

It's a message that rings true. It's a message that works across genres and boundaries and subjects. It's the true message for anyone looking better themselves. Let's concentrate on that, and not our "excuses."

If you would like to contribute to our body positivity project which uses the "what's your excuse?" meme as a springboard for loving ourselves, or you'd just like to take a look at all the amazing pictures, check out http://dontneedanexcuse.tumblr.com/

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