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What’s Your Excuse?

Inspirational or fat shaming, here’s my take on mother of three, Maria Kang’s “What’s Your excuse?” photo?

Maria Kang: “What’s Your Excuse?”

The pressures placed on new mums to snap back into shape only months after giving birth is never far from the headlines and now a mother of three, Maria Kang has women and men everywhere saying enough is enough. Being the perfect definition of a “yummy mummy”, Kang unloaded a photo to Facebook flaunting her hot body and her three young boys, as she asked the viewer “What’s your excuse?”. While no doubt Kang was aiming to inspire people to get active, the comments have been more negative than positive. Many people have blamed her of “bullying”, “fat shaming” and “being a bad parent”, while Kang’s attempt at an apology failed to shown any realisation of how words and actions may affect someone else. Instead, she puts the opinions about her photo back on the viewer and their own negative thoughts and interpretations of it. Clearly when it comes to improving society’s views on body image, weight and health, we’re still far away from the most effective strategy, but this picture raises a few important issues.

1. Weight Vs Health: Why does this image have to be about weight? Could we not view the photo as a young mum’s dedication to making healthy lifestyle choices such as finding the time to exercise despite having three young children under the age of three? The problem with the inability for many of us to interpret the photo in this way, is the body language of Kang and also the fact she is half-naked. Society and the media make most of the discussion around women about their weight and not their overall health and wellbeing. With the perception that thinness equates to success and beauty, it’s understandable why the majority of us can’t view images, or actions and decisions of others from a health perspective. We need to start talking in terms of wellbeing and health rather than shape and body weight.

2. Self-indulgent Vs Positive Role Model: Many of the comments about the pic were directed at Kang being able to achieve her physique only with the help of a nanny. Turns out Kang doesn’t have a nanny and she works full-time as the owner of a residential care home for the elderly and is also the founder of the non-profit organisation Fitness Without Borders. Without a nanny, other critics questioned her dedication to her children labelling Kang “self-indulgent” and a “bad parent” for placing too much focus on achieving rock hard abs at the expense of spending time with her children. But, with 80 per cent of Americans and 54 per cent of Australians not exercising enough, the fact Kang still manages to find the time to exercise gives her at least one tick in the positive role model column. Parents who lead by example create a positive environment for children to develop healthy habits, while a parent who sacrifices their own health those they can be more child-centred isn’t necessarily a better parent. Kids want to be able to play and be taken care of by their parents, which isn’t possible if their parents aren’t healthy.

3. Fat shaming Vs Inspiration: Fat shaming is a bullying tactic to make fund of an overweight or obese person under the guise of helping them realise that need to lose weight pronto. This is what many critics felt Kang was doing by uploading her pic. But the truth is, you can’t scare people skinny, with research showing fat shaming actually leads to weight gain. It doesn’t do anything to help them lose weight, and in fact can see them lose self-confidence and form a view with what they think the rest of the world is saying about them. We need to remove the blame attached with excess body weight and get people to focus on making healthy lifestyle choices. We also need to inspire people to want to change, which Kang may have been more successful had she dressed differently, worn less make-up and had the photo taken in a park where she is seen exercising or playing with her kids. Inspiration comes from real life situations, not from the picture perfect image.

4. Excuses Vs Can Do: Many of us come up with excuses for why we don’t have time for regular exercise or for making healthy food choices, but there are many other people (singles, couples, mothers and fathers) who set the goal to make healthy lifestyle choices a priority in their life. Most of us use excuses every day as a way of justifying our actions (or lack thereof), but we don’t want others to accuse us of doing so because then we have to acknowledge our actions and take responsibility for our own choices. People responded to Kang’s “excuse” remark with disgust even saying things along the lines of “she should count her blessings because in an instant she could lose everything and then won’t be able to work out”. Life’s full of challenges, of which we don’t know anything about Kang’s, and it’s up to the individual to deal with these the best they can and reassess their priorities accordingly. Kang’s pic never said anything about being easy, but she was trying to empower the viewer to take control of their life and stop making excuses. However with the insecurities and low self-esteem of many of us, maybe a simple work change “What’s your excuse?” to “You can do it too!” would help people view the picture from a more positive angle.

Taking these key issues on board, maybe the pic could have looked more like this one (just picture Kang outside actively playing with her kids, a little more covered with a positive statement).

Attempted re-shoot of original "What's your excuse?" by Mike Byerly
Attempted re-shoot of original “What’s your excuse?” by Mike Byerly

What are your thoughts on Maria Kang’s “What’s your excuse?” photo?

4 Responses to What’s Your Excuse?

  1. Great post. I think have the battle for people who need to make changes in their health is taking personal responsibility. On the other hand as nutrition/ fitness professionals we need to be careful how we try to motivate and address peoples health issues.

    • I completely agree. People have to want to change and need to be able to take personal responsibility for their choices. Change isn’t easy and as health professionals we need to understand personal situations and provide our clients with positive messages and strategies to make change possible, while also providing education and support. Thanks for your comments David!

  2. Revising the tagline to ‘you can do it too’ makes such a difference to the message of the image. Let’s not underestimate the power of words and the connectedness of emotions and body weight. Thanks Caitlin – great post.

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