Taking a second chance on a first impression
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:
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.