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Taking a second chance on a first impression

November 6, 2013

Weight LossFat HealthExerciseEating DisordersFat NewsDiet TalkFat PoliticsMy Boring-Ass Life

Trigger warning: Discussion of personal weight loss experience.

It turns out I have some corrections to make. For instance, it turns out I was wrong when I said it was unlikely I’d cross paths with Maria Kang. Her story exploded on my news feeds and, for the most part, it was the same photo with a headline to the extent of, “Is this woman a jerk?” One of the articles included a photo that made me think there was more to the story. So let me reintroduce you to Maria Kang:

KangFamily

Once again, she’s in activewear with her children, commenting on fitness. Only this one is a personal statement rather than a challenge. In my book, it puts doubt on the assertion that she’s a fat-shaming jerk.

One of the big challenges with the internet is that it’s a limited form of communication. You typically don’t get tone of voice or facial expressions to aid in context. Some forms of internet communication set a character limit and still photos don’t lend themselves to two-way interactions. What seems innocent to you can be a landmine to everyone else. Or maybe she is just a fat-shaming jerk. So I thought I’d reach out to her to find out.

I’ll call it a roving interview. She was on her way to another interview and I was on my lunch break. The connection wasn’t the greatest, so instead of a transcript, I was more focused on hearing correctly and scribbling notes. First of all, she was quite literally minding her business in the original photo as it ties in to her No Excuse Program. The link is neither an endorsement nor an agreement. You’re welcome to go there and form your own opinion, or not. She said she posed the question as a conversation starter, but it’s difficult to dialogue with a still photo. Personally, I’m more receptive to conversing with the message in the second photo.

In one of her blog entries, Kang wrote, “In no way am I stating others should look like me — in a world with over 7 billion people, that would be an outrageous statement to make.” What I took away from my time with her is that I didn’t detect malice so much as miscommunication. That’s not to say we agree 100%, but I do believe there is common ground.

For instance, her turning point reminds me a lot of Regan Chastain’s. They both decided it was time to stop hating their bodies and love them for the things they could do. In Maria’s case, it was her ability to have and nurture children. One of the interpretations she gave to her question was, “What’s your excuse for not prioritizing yourself?” Again, something many of us can agree on. It’s really easy to get sucked down into family, work, or any other number of activities that leads us to forget about looking after our own well-being. Though if you’re like me, you’re unlikely to consider that context on first glance. My initial contextual interpretation was “Leave me alone!”

She’d been accused of being a shallow person, a bad mother, being unChristian, and having an ugly inside.  How many of us have been on the receiving end of snap judgments for our appearances?  Exactly what does a good parent look like if they’re not a fitness model or a fat person? Ever had someone decide you’re lazy from a still photo? It’s my belief that thin shaming isn’t necessary for Fat Acceptance. Extending out to Body Acceptance, I’d rather judge the individual inhabiting the body than the body itself.

During our conversation she had mentioned that high BMI can be healthy. Now, obviously that doesn’t sell as well as calories in/calories out and I wish she was more vocal about that elsewhere. However, we both agree on the importance of looking after yourself at any size. That means eating the right foods for you, getting the movement that you enjoy, and generally caring enough about yourself to make those a priority instead of an afterthought.  Who here wouldn’t make themselves thin if they could will themselves that way?

Unfortunately, it takes more than sheer force of will. I remember being a Weight Watchers member for nearly a year, obsessively measuring food, counting points, and nearly going into a panic if I had to eat a meal without knowing its point value. I would plan exercise around the points I wanted to eat in order to create the biggest point deficit I could. The first week, I lost five pounds. The second week I lost three pounds. The next 50 weeks I gained and lost between one and two pounds. My loss “curve” was a flat line and this is why I take objection to the assertion that all it takes is discipline and willpower to lose weight. I was disciplining myself into disorder and none of it made me healthier.

Health started to happen when I found a doctor who could think outside the box to diagnose me instead of writing me off as crazy, telling me to lose weight, or running the standard tests and telling me everything was fine. Health came when I could keep food around long enough for it to do its job and nourish instead of torture. Health includes having the energy to exercise; call it excuses, call it an acceptable excuse, or call it a human experience. Why didn’t I prioritize my health? I didn’t like wasting money to be told I’m a liar. In short, we agree on the destination even if we don’t agree on the route.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2013 10:43 am

    Full of Grace, this. I am often misapprehended, as we all are from time to time. And two forms of exercise best avoided are rushing to judgments and jumping at conclusions.

    • gingeroid permalink
      November 13, 2013 10:14 pm

      Amen. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time refraining from those sometimes.

  2. November 6, 2013 10:45 am

    My problem with Maria Kang is that the original meme essentially said “Why aren’t my priorities your priorities?” The whole “what’s your excuse” thing presumes that anyone who doesn’t dedicate as much of their life and time to getting and staying thin is simply making excuses. But what exactly is the lifestyle that Kang is promoting?

    I checked out that “No Excuse Program” link you gave and read this post, where she says, “If your caloric intake is 1400 calories at the weight you exist at now, then you have to stay within that caloric range in order to maintain your body. Your caloric needs change as your activity changes… If you’ve been training 5-6 days a week and want to cut back, you can certainly cut back a little, but don’t cut back a lot.”

    Let’s assume she’s right and that eating 1,400 calories a day and training 5-6 days a week will lead in a linear way to you getting a body like Kang’s. Even if that’s true, I’m still skeptical that this is sustainable for most people. If you’re training 5-6 times per week, then 1,400 calories is ridiculously low. It’s unhealthy and your body is not meant to sustain that kind of lifestyle, yet here’s Kang saying this is your “new normal” that you must maintain the rest of your life.

    But, okay, you decide you have “no excuse” and you follow Kang’s plan as well as Kang does. What does Kang’s life actually look like. From her FAQ, Kang says she’s a “freelance writer, fitness blogger and director of a fitness non profit organization. I also manage residential care home facilities and recently built my very own!”:

    Since having kids my schedule has changed a lot. I am a stay-at-home working mom. After I nurse my son in the early morning, I try to get to the gym by 6:30am and workout:I like to get my priorities out of the way, the first being my commitment to my health and fitness. Then around 8am I get my sons up: feed, clean, play then I work on emails, phone calls, and writing and work projects. I sychronize my hunger with my meal times, which I’ve made it a habit to be at approx. at 9am/12pm/3pm/5pm and 8pm. I visit my care home facilities around noon and perform errands during the late afternoon. I also usually schedule my meetings around this time. Around 5pm I cook dinner, then try to get back on the computer later in the evening to write and respond to emails. At 10pm I fall asleep with the kids or work until midnight.

    Despite making it sound like she’s just has harried as the average Working Jane, Kang’s “real job” (the home facility she built) only requires her attention “around noon” followed by errands. She’s home to cook dinner by 5 and goes to bed between 10 and 12. So, by her own estimates, she’s maybe working 25 hours a week and depending on what she means by “early morning,” Kang is getting less than 8 hours of sleep per night, less than 6 if she works late.

    So, when Kang says “What’s your excuse?” she is comparing her own unorthodox work schedule to people who work 40+ hours a week and who aren’t earning part of their living through fitness evangelism. My problem with Kang is that she has made this brutal, rigorous commitment work for her and shames those who aren’t equally committed by labeling their real-life struggles as “excuses.”

    I have no doubt that Kang didn’t intend harm with her original image, but that doesn’t excuse what I see as a patronizing message. It also doesn’t excuse the fact that the lifestyle she is promoting is ridiculously unsustainable. Training 5-6 days per week and living on 1,400 calories is just plain stupid. Even if that’s what is required to look like Kang, that ISN’T what is required to be healthy. So, my first impression is the impression I still have: Kang is promoting an unhealthy version of “health” that emphasizes an ascetic commitment to extreme deprivation and obsessive exercising, while looking down on those who have different priorities.

    Peace,
    Shannon

    • gingeroid permalink
      November 13, 2013 10:17 pm

      As I said, I am not endorsing her. She’s welcome to her philosophy and people are welcome to follow it or ignore it. I just wanted to explore further into the question of whether or not she’s a fat-shaming jerk.

  3. Kala permalink
    November 6, 2013 11:15 am

    Shannon, maybe it’s just me, but this article seems to have been posted a few hours ago but it doesn’t appear on the main page.

    • gingeroid permalink
      November 13, 2013 10:13 pm

      I think WordPress just hates me. Some days it’s incredibly uncooperative :)

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