Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What's Your Excuse? Maria Kang Tells It Like It Is: Fat-Shaming or Truth Telling?

Smoking is bad for you. It causes and/or correlates with lung and throat cancer, hypertension, heart disease, yellowed teeth and fingernails, erectile dysfunction in men and several other nasty medical conditions in both genders. Smoking gives your hair, clothing and breath what I find to be an unpleasant odor. Being around smoke gives me a vicious headache. I don't allow smoking in my home. I avoid cigarette smoke as much as possible. Yes we all know of or have heard of someone who smoked three packs a day, had clean pink lungs and lived to be 107 or of someone else who never touched a cigarette and died at 31 hacking up his esophagus and lungs. But those are considered to be outliers. Most people, even many smokers, accept, grudgingly or otherwise, that smoking is bad for you. Although the anti-smoking crusade may have gone too far in some aspects, there aren't many groups, other than tobacco company fronts, who argue with a straight face that not only should you have the right to smoke but also that smoking is a positive good. If you smoke there are few support groups who claim that other people should stop trying to "smoke-shame" you. But oddly enough, many people see overeating as being different from smoking.

Despite consistent and increasing medical and scientific evidence that overeating, avoiding exercise and carrying excess weight is, generally speaking, bad for you, there are several people who won't accept that fact and don't want to hear other people raise it either. Sometimes their defensiveness slides into rage at a person's justifiable pride at being in shape. 

Exercise enthusiast Maria Kang found this out when she was temporarily banned from Facebook and had her post deleted for writing that while we shouldn't hate fat people neither should we normalize obesity. Her post brought about a firestorm of criticism, presumably from overweight women, and Kang's words were said to be akin to hate speech.
I am a firm believer that one should love their body in order to start loving and nurturing it. What I don’t like is the fine line we are walking today – which is love and accept your body versus love and progress your body.  We should celebrate any person who makes their fitness and nutrition a priority. There is no one-size-fits-all in fitness. It’s unfortunate that we don’t see more variety in the physiques that bombard our media streams. I get that. That’s why I’ve never posted a motivational poster with a fitness model attached to the message (you can now look at my FB history) because I don’t want to perpetuate the notion that ‘fitness’ looks a certain way.
Please start your keyboards now (as I know many are thinking I encourage people to look like me) because I’ve never said that. I am not a size 0 like most runway models and I don’t have a six pack like most fitness models. I am not a paid celebrity. I don’t work in a gym. I have a stressful life. I don’t have the perfect marriage. I have struggled with food addiction. And I was not blessed with the best genetics. I run when I’m tired. I avoid food when I’m stressed. I discipline my constant desire for chocolate. I am barely 5’4. I have stretchmarks. I have excess skin – and while not perfect, I know this is how my body (not everybody) manifests after children through consistent nutrition and exercise.
While fitness changes lives, the lack of fitness destroys lives. I hate the pain of watching my mother not take care of herself. I hate watching friends pop prescription pills for cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes. I hate reading news about our healthcare crisis and I hate seeing people blame others for their lot in life.
 I know many people still get riled up with me and my convictions but the truth is I KNOW how it is to work your ass off and not have energy at the end of your day. I know how it feels to be overweight and not drop an ounce after years of disordered eating. I know how difficult it is to raise multiple children – all born a year apart – and make my fitness and nutrition a priority. Lastly, I know how it feels like to grow up with an unhealthy mother wondering if she will live to see your wedding day. I know it’s hard. I know it’s not easy to break habits and build new ones. I know your environment challenges you and I know making your health a priority amongst the many priorities to stay afloat in today’s world is difficult. But I will tell you this: IT IS WORTH IT.
Kang evidently didn't like seeing stories about lingerie for fat women designed to make them think of themselves as beautiful and perhaps similar stories of other bloggers attempting to spread fat acceptance. Curvy Girl Lingerie Owner Chrystal Bougnon reported Kang to Facebook for making "anti-fat" comments. "I want to be a safe place for women to talk about being fat," Bougon told NBC Bay Area. "People are sending in their photos and telling me they never felt beautiful until they found my page. I want to have a sliver of cyber space without people hating on us." Bougon feels that Kang – best known for her flat abs Facebook post in October with her kids, asking “What’s Your Excuse” – is “fat shaming” her and others who are overweight.
Bougnon, who has accused Kang of stirring up the controversy to sell fitness tapes, obviously also has a financial interest in keeping the pot boiling as she has used her Facebook page to promote what she sees as "real" (read overweight) women in all their glory and imperfection. I am aghast by the attempts by some "fat positive" activists to downplay or dismiss legitimate health concerns about weight or diet as "hate speech" or bully people into saying that fat women are always just as attractive as normal size women. Having read Kang's facebook and blog post I find nothing that's hateful.

There are a few points which I think are worth making.
1) The fashion industry, which excites so much attention from some women and subsequent rage at supposedly male derived beauty standards, is not in fact run or generally consumed by heterosexual men. The constant news about this or that celebrity mother's weight gain and loss during and after pregnancy is something that most men have little to no interest in. This is about competition between and among women. The women that heterosexual men idealize who are represented in the media are generally speaking a little heavier, often shorter, more feminine, and rather obviously differently shaped from fashion model types. Men are more accepting of women's weight than many women might think. And fat women get married, date, and have children like anyone else. And they seem to be increasing in number. Americans in general are getting fatter.

2) That said, everyone has an ideal of what's attractive in the opposite sex. That's life. Getting angry about this is like getting mad that when it rains you get wet. You can curse, scream and pout all you want but you're still gonna get wet. Since you can't control the rain, the smart thing to do is to get inside, wear a raincoat or carry an umbrella. This goes for both genders. The overweight or obese women complaining that weight related beauty standards disadvantage them could decide to lose weight OR they could find a man who, perhaps because he may not be what most women consider attractive, may be more accepting. Or maybe a larger woman can find that successful attractive man who just likes larger women. Those are the choices. Those choices are under the control of one or two people. But trying to change what millions of men find attractive, well quixotic doesn't even begin to describe that challenge. Good luck with that. Bring a lunch because I think it's going to be a while.

If you're overweight or obese, generally speaking it's because you are eating too much, eating the wrong foods and not exercising enough. It's simple math. 3500 calories = 1 pound. If you consistently eat more than required you will store the extra calories as fat. I don't know all the reasons WHY a person might be doing this. The reasons are as varied as the stars in the sky. But I do know math and mechanics. Burn more calories, consume fewer calories, reduce or eliminate bad foods, lose weight. Eat more calories, eat crappy calories, sit on your fundament all day, gain weight and eventually become fat. Obviously there are several external factors, what with subsidized sugar pumped into so much of our food supply, food deserts, and time constraints. However, an adult decides what he or she puts into their mouth. No one chased after a thin person, strapped them to a gurney and force fed them until they became obese.
It's probably compassionate to spare someone's feelings as you try to convince them to change something about themselves. I've done that myself for people I care deeply about and there are people who could honestly say they've done that for me. No one likes blunt criticism, especially from an intimate. Yes, the long term solution in solving someone's weight gain will involve finding out why they're eating more food than their body needs, not moving around enough and eating the wrong foods. There may be some deep emotional wounds that need healing. That can take some time and some pretty deft maneuvering around emotional and psychological landmines. But sometimes you must dispense with politesse and tell it like it is. If you are around (and I have been) when someone is undergoing diabetic ketoacidosis or experiencing a heart attack, it's too damned late to hold their hand and try to gently convince them that no they don't really need that extra sugar donut or that sodium and preservative laden fried food. No. If they are lucky enough to survive and wind up in the hospital the doctor will likely force them on a very limited diet that doesn't include the mentioned items.  And if they don't survive, well then you will have be proud that although you'll never see them again, at least you didn't hurt their widdle feelings. Wonderful. You were so freaking brave. You deserve a medal for your sympathy and empathy and compassion.
I've been there and done that.
Because of some painful experiences I have less and less interest in trying to spare anyone else's feelings on this topic, especially if they are people I care about. Being fat doesn't make you a bad person. I hope that is clear.Your problems are just more obvious than other people's. But being fat could and often does put you at higher risk for a variety of life threatening or life altering conditions. I've seen far too many people die, get permanent unpleasant conditions, suffer amputations or have eyesight issues. We shouldn't be silent about health issues just because some vain fat women wish to harangue people into attesting that fat women are beautiful. I don't believe that fat people must walk through life with people pointing and laughing at them. I've never done that and never will. But that just isn't what Maria Kang was advocating. The people who claim she was are just showing their own guilty consciences. When someone showing justifiable pride in her own accomplishments is accused of hate, our society is warped.

I think that people know that being morbidly obese is not a healthy or desirable state. And no amount of jawboning, guilt-tripping or whining about "fat-shaming" can make me think otherwise. But if someone disagrees that's fine. They can live their life as they see fit. If they want to desecrate the temple of their body, go for it. Eat buckets of ice cream and platters of donuts. Guzzle down high sugar drinks. Have not only dinner seconds but also thirds. Hook yourself up to a glucose drip if you like. Just don't tell me I must agree with or applaud such actions or their impact on your body. Because I won't.

Ever. Never. Ever.
If you're that rare person (and I know a few) who has underlying medical conditions which have caused weight gain that is obviously an entirely different kettle of fish. But most people who are overweight simply need to eat less and exercise more. As Kang said in a non-apology apology:
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."

What's your call?

Was Maria Kang engaging in hate speech?

Should her facebook post have been removed?

Is "fat acceptance" a good idea?

How did criticism become "shaming"? 

If you're doing wrong, shouldn't you be ashamed?

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