Is Maria Kang Fat-Shaming?

Can you tell from this photo that I was once 90 pounds heavier? Fat-shaming sucks in all it's forms people.

Can you tell from this photo that I was once 90 pounds heavier? Fat-shaming sucks in all it’s forms people.

An Open Letter To Maria Kang:

You probably don’t know me. I’m an empowerment photographer trying to help heal self-esteem through photography. I get clients of all sizes who are self-conscious about their bodies. I’ve had clients who were overweight do empowering photo shoots with me and because of the self-love that I help them embrace they go on to make healthier decisions and get fit, go after their dreams, and make impressive positive changes. I don’t take credit for anything except that I don’t allow them to shame themselves in my presence.

Maria I commend you on being proud of your body. You obviously work hard to sculpt it. I commend you on your beautiful family and ability to balance motherhood and caring for yourself. I commend you for having the guts to say what you feel and fight for what you believe in.

But you say that you are not fat shaming, you are fighting obesity. I disagree.

You’re not fighting the war on obesity by shaming those who haven’t yet found YOUR path. Like religion, there are many different journeys to “healthy”. There are also many different reasons for gaining weight, some out of that person’s control.

Instead you are dehumanizing the very people you say you seek to help by only seeing their weight and “obese” status. Just as I am not “Lyme” people who are overweight are more than just “obese”.

We are are all human, no matter our body types. We are all people who have jobs and lives and families to take care of. Each person’s health journey is their own and you are in no position to be judge and jury.

You said,

“We need to change this strange mentality we are breeding in the U.S. and start celebrating people who are a result of hard work, dedication and discipline.”

To say that every single overweight or obese person can not also work hard, be dedicated and have discipline is not just fat-shaming but also unfairly lumps a population together regardless of their efforts. You’re not there with them every day to accurately judge.

I was obese. I don’t like talking about it. Our society sees being overweight as a weakness.

I worked HARD and was disciplined and built a career helping others from nothing. Along the way I tried many times to be healthy. No one who is obese truly WANTS to be. If they say they are happy being overweight it’s because they’re desperately trying to affirm something (anything!) positive about their bodies. Bodies that society is waging a war against.

If I were seeking a trainer (even 90 pounds thinner after seven years of hard work) I would not choose you.

I would choose a trainer who never uses fat-shaming as motivation. I would choose someone has been overweight and fought the uphill lonely battle of getting healthy. I would choose a trainer who says,

“Don’t kick yourself for how you got to this point. The human body is a beautiful thing. Just try to make better decisions to get you where you want to go.”

I don’t think your “What’s your excuse” post was inherently negative. In fact I thought there was a lot of hullabaloo about nothing when I saw it. I saw a beautiful mother of three trying to inspire others. Your word choice was more accusing than inclusive but it’s certainly polarizing and has gotten you a massive amount of media. In many interviews since you’ve shown that overweight people make you uncomfortable. That’s called fat-shaming.

We have a fear of fat in our society. Fat-shaming is everywhere. It’s not just you.

Eating disorders ARE an intrinsic fear of being overweight. When I was 250 pounds some people (including family) were so disgusted they couldn’t keep the derision from their faces. Some women say in hushed voices, “I never want to get Fat,” like it’s the end of the world. Many of the people who comment on obese or overweight bodies as offensive are actually afraid of getting fat themselves.

I didn’t want to either, but undiagnosed Lyme disease worked against me. Having been on the other side I experienced just how shaming and alienating our society is to those who are overweight.

I am not advocating that we don’t push ourselves to be better tomorrow than we are today.

The path to weight loss is taking one day at a time and making healthier decisions become habit. This takes time and a constant effort to be kind to yourself. It’s hard to be kind to yourself when people (like you) are judging from the outside. I can promise you that every overweight person has said everything you say to THEMSELVES.

You can’t tell from one photo whether that person ate low calorie healthy meals and ran two miles that day. You can’t tell from one photo whether a skinny person smokes or has a disease. Does telling an anorexic person that photos of them make you uncomfortable cause them to suddenly change their eating habits? Are you fighting the war on anorexia by shaming them? No! That makes it worse for them!

Many of us have put on weight in our lifetimes.

Many of us will feel ashamed that we don’t look as thin as we once were. And with negative thoughts about our bodies we will start the climb back to healthy. But in the process we should not have to feel ashamed of ourselves.

Maria I implore you, if you truly care about helping people who are overweight, address the problem not the symptom.

Judgement and shame is what kept me overweight. All we see on tv and in magazines are quick weight loss transformations. No one talks about the strenuous process of losing weight slowly with tediously slow progress. No one talks about how something like an undiagnosed immune disorder can keep you overweight despite 1-2 hours of cardio a day and counting calories like Scrooge McDuck counts money. There is little support and lots of shaming by society for the overweight person beginning their journey.

I would work out and watch my food intake for two months and barely lose three pounds. And I would hate myself. “You’re so lazy. You’re ugly and fat. If you really cared about losing the weight you would. You’re not trying hard enough.”

Then I would give up because fat-shaming yourself can only motivate you so far before you hate yourself enough not to care and reach for a freaking donut.

This cycle went on until something clicked in my head. “Instead of telling myself how awful I am, what if I try to find the beauty in myself now?”

And I searched for it. That’s how I fell into the world of photography. And I found a tendril of hope to cling to. “Maybe I am still lovable. Maybe I can change my world.” And then I took ALL the fat-shaming words and phrases out of my vocabulary.

The deciding factor that led to a weight loss of 90 pounds was self-love. Not self-hate.

My before (when I used fat-shaming to talk to myself) and after (when I stopped fat-shaming.) What a difference! AND because I wasn't hurting myself daily I was happier!

My before (when I used fat-shaming to talk to myself) and after (when I stopped fat-shaming.) What a difference! AND because I wasn’t hurting myself daily I was happier!

We have enough negative noise in our heads. So why don’t you start keeping your negative fat-shaming opinions to yourself? You can cringe in horror silently when plus sized women celebrate their bodies.

Maybe I’ll start sending you pictures of me eating donuts so you can pick on me instead. I do let myself have donuts in moderation. Or chocolate. You’ve written about how painful ignoring your chocolate cravings are.

I’d rather take the brunt of your negativity than an innocent woman on the beginning of the terrifying journey to get healthy, who is struggling to find what works for her.

Here's a beautiful pinup girl eating a cupcake and LOVING it! Scandelous!

Here’s a beautiful pinup girl eating a cupcake and LOVING it! Scandelous!

I’m glad that you have found what works for you. I’m sure that was a very personal process.

What OTHERS are doing should not matter so much to YOU. Everything is not all about you. Every other obese person in the world is not your mom. Projecting your issues and struggles onto an entire population is a true waste of your life force and potential.

By being insulted and very vocal that overweight women are allowing themselves a rare moment of self-love, you are trying to deny them their own journey to happy. Loving your body, whatever size is it doesn’t promote or celebrate obesity. It celebrates PEOPLE, human beings on the same roller coaster of life.

No one has the right to judge where other people are on their journey to health. I watched your Facebook wall for a few minutes today and was pleased to see how you responded to each person looking for help. But your comments, word choices and tone on television and in interviews come off very judgmental. I recently blogged about the epidemic of judgment hurting our self-esteem. I’m sure you’ve felt it from your detractors and it doesn’t feel good. If it doesn’t feel good when others judge you, why is it so important to use the platform and voice you’ve created to share harmful negativity? None of which fights the war on obesity you claim is so important to you.

If you really want to fight the obesity epidemic:

– Fight for whole foods that haven’t been genetically modified to be more readily found and priced less than processed food. It’s cheaper to eat McDonalds than shop for healthy meals.

– Help make fruits and vegetables cost less than processed junk food.

– Lobby food makers to stop using addictive and fattening ingredients like gluten and high fructose corn syrup in a massive variety of products.

– Teach children that they need to eat balanced meals and it’s ok to listen to their bodies when they’re full.

– Start a child care service for low income single moms to get a couple hours away to work out.

– Donate your services to a low income mom in need. Be the positive voice and support she can’t be for herself. Please don’t do this if you’re going to tell her there is anything wrong with her starting point.

– Make learning about healthy nutrition a part of school curriculum. Include the damage done by toxic food, GMOs and fillers. Include the signs and habits of people who gain weight so they can recognize it. Teach children what food addiction feels like.

If you, dear reader, are just starting your health journey and want to follow an amazing, inspiring and humble woman please meet my 8 Women Dream sister Heather Montgomery. She never judges you. She has been there and makes you feel like you can do it too. The woman is beyond incredible and an inspiration to me daily.

Above all Maria, when you find yourself judging someone else’s body (fat-shaming) seek a grain of empathy inside yourself to allow them their own process to a happy healthy self.

You can use your voice to help change the tone of the conversation from “there’s something wrong with you” to “how can we change this for the better?” And if you find yourself wanting to admonish others please listen the sage advice of a very wise being, Thumper from Bambi:

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Iman

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Iman is a photographer who, through her unique process of coaching and photography, can show a woman what other people see when they look at her. She is passionate about teaching other photographers how to live and be a professional and making change in the world. She dreams of changing the way women look at their bodies and how the world defines beauty. She also thinks being an instructor on CreativeLIVE would be incredible. Iman battles Lyme disease and shares her unique view of dreaming while fighting for her health. Her post day is Wednesday. info@imanwoods.com Iman Woods If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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  • Kelli Book-Evans

    Thank you thank you thank you. You’ve spoken about this in such an amazing and eloquent way.I posted on Maria Kang’s wall on facebook and pointed out that whether she knew it or not, she was engaged in fat shaming/body shaming. I spoke as one of thousands of people who has a weight problem that is directly caused by an illness, in my case 2 illnesses. I have Cushing’s disease, as well as Hashimoto’s. And while thyroid medicine does help to alleviate some of the Hashimoto’s symptoms, nothing but having this tumor removed from my pituitary will solve the Cushing’s problem. I have eaten healthy and exercised for years. I was an athletic child and an active adult, in fact, when I was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, I was walking 4-8 miles a day, swimming, cycling, dancing, swimming and weight training. My general caloric intake is roughly 1100 calories a day, preferring whole,real foods to processed junk. During that time, I had gained more than 100 lbs, and I was devastated. I have managed to lose some of the weight I put on, but since my disease is cyclic, it doesn’t matter how much or how little I eat, or how much I exercise, my weight goes up and down according to the amounts of excess cortisol flooding through my bloodstream at any moment. If you have ever seen someone who has been on any kind of corticosteroid treatment for any length of time, that gives you an idea of what my body does, all by itself.. My point to her and to others who feel that fat shaming is somehow a good thing or motivating don’t or won’t see that you cannot know someone’s story by appearance alone. I have friends who constantly make remarks about anyone who is overweight, but will tell me “oh you’re lovely and it isn’t your fault,” because they know my story, but to any random person on the street who sees me, I am just another out of control fat woman. Having Cushing’s disease has been one hell of a journey, and until I can be insured again and get the medically necessary treatment and surgery to recover, I will keep doing what I’m doing and taking care of myself as best I can.

    • ImanWoods

      Kelly it’s taken me some time to try to respond to your amazing comment. I’m not sure I’ll be able to be as eloquent as I would like. I can’t imagine going through this yoyo with something so integral as your body being out of your control. Your story is exactly why I wrote this article. Because there are circumstances outsiders might never know that affect our weight and no one is in the position to judge.

      The one things that gives me comfort is that you KNOW what’s going. Doesn’t make it easier, but it does remove the blame from you about it being a lack of self-control or discipline.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re a STRONG woman!

      • Kelli Book-Evans

        Thank you Iman, I am so grateful to my friend Dana for sharing your article with me.

    • Kelli – Catherine here from 8 Women Dream… I have Hashimotos disease too. My heart reaches out to you. I am always happy to meet a thyroid sister. Thank you for coming by and meeting our amazing Iman. I hope you will visit us again and if you ever need someone to listen who understands everything you are going through, please feel free to contact me here. I read your comment five times.

      Catherine

      • Kelli Book-Evans

        Wow Catherine thank you much for the kind words and understanding. I am so glad that my friend Dana turned me on to the 8 Women Dream website through Iman’s amazing article, and I am so glad to be among a community of truly amazing and supportive women. I tend to believe that it only takes one person to change the world and communities like this give me hope that there really are positive changes and happening and I look forward to exploring all of the blogs from all of the amazing women here.

        • It’s exactly why I started this – so that we can show what it is like to create change in your life. It’s not always easy and we are not perfect and that’s the point. SO glad you found us too! We are having some butt-kicking cold weather in Northern California and even though I like the med regimen I am on – I HATE Winters! My mantra is, “Today I am grateful that it is one more day closer to summer…” lol. xo

  • Danielle Jimenez

    I wonder what her view would be like if she had a daughter. I bet it would be completely different. As a mother of a 5 year old girl, I want my daughter to be loving and kind to all people, including herself. I don’t want her to see people at face value and judge. I want her to see people inside and out and to appreciate that we are all different. We all have our struggles with body image, and I know that when someone says something to me with love I am a 100x more responsive to it than if they were critical in a negative and shaming way. I want the world to be even better for my daughter when she is a woman!

    • ImanWoods

      Iman here, not sure why my comment didn’t go through. I think the point you bring up is huge, Danielle. What our kids learn from us is often not conversations even directed at them. If mothers are shamed of their bodies, daughters often are too.

      Your daughter has an amazing head start thanks the work you’re doing for yourself!

  • TC

    Here’s the thing, I’m fit. I’ve always been fit. BECAUSE I HAVE ADHD. I cannot sit still, even when sitting in a chair. Some part of me is constantly moving. Contrast this to my very tall, very large, football-playing soon who does not have ADHD, who has had to work his ass off to shape his body and anyone can tell there’s more to the weight/workout theory. I hit the gym MAYBE one day a week, whereas my son works out intensely every single day. I’m approaching 60, he’s 18. It would seem like our workouts should be reversed. Plus I am a sugar addict and he stays away from it for fitness reasons.

    As a coach, I have seen that people are different. Skinny young men tend to move around like they are trying to jump out of their own skin–they cannot be still, while heavier young men can stand in one place and focus. I’ve seen skinny young men eat the entire contents of my refrigerator and pantry without gaining weight, while the bigger kids refrain from carbs and sugar and go for salads.

    If it was simply calories in/calories out and working out then why are hyperthyroid people so thin when they eat all the time (and don’t work out) while hypothyroid people gain weight by breathing. The endocrine system does play a role in body mass. It is estimated that over 200 million people globally (about 35 million people in North America) suffer from at least one of the many forms of thyroid disease just as it is being reported that we have an obesity epidemic. Hmmm.

    Scientists have been looking at how the nuclear receptor Rev-erb-alpha links circadian and thermogenic networks through the regulation of brown fat and how lower body temperatures during sleep may have conveyed an evolutionary advantage by preserving energy stores when food was scarce, but today it is more likely to contribute to obesity. This could explain why hypothyroid patients complain of always being cold and hyperthyroid patients complain of always being hot.

    I agree with Cath, I thought the whole “mean-girl” bit ends in high school…

    TC

    • torri

      <3 Loved this … as someone who struggles with this and is in that roller coaster of trying to find the balance of what works for me when it comes to being healthy and losing weight w/ all the demands of my time and knowing my job is on the line if my waist measures too high on my physical training test (I'm military) … the judgement doesn't help but support and motivation does so I think sometimes when choosing a message folks need to really consider if what they are saying is really helping or hurting

      • ImanWoods

        Thank you Torri, there’s so much pressure on our bodies as it is, it’s even harder when your job depends on it. And judgement doesn’t help! You’re right! Support helps! I can’t think of one time in my life when judgment, no matter how gentle, made me want to make positive change. Keep believing in yourself.

  • What is even more alarming is the message she is sending to young girls. Here’s something to consider:

    “Girls as young as nine are being admitted to hospital with anorexia, alarming figures show. They are developing severe eating disorders before even reaching puberty, and some are so ill they have to be fed by tube.

    Figures show that the number of girls aged nine and under needing hospital
    treatment for conditions such as anorexia and bulimia has doubled in the
    past year…

    The biggest rise for those admitted to hospital for eating disorders was
    among teenagers aged 15 to 19, which went up by almost 15 per cent…” (DM)

    I don’t think she really thought about who would read her message and the ramifications it could have. I think she thought this was a plan to have a viral blog. She is finding out exactly what that’s all about… not in a good way I’d imagine…

  • Here’s the thing that bothers me about Maria Kang: her lack of complete transparency. Instead of saying to people, “Like how I look? This is how it’s done!” and telling the whole truth about her life, she goes to shaming instead of realizing that people face different challenges when it comes to losing weight.

    Does she work (besides on her blog) at a job out side the home? If so, how many hours a week? Does she have any financial worries?

    Does she have help with her three kids? Does she fix her own meals or does her husband or a nanny help with that? Who does all the household duties? Does she do all of her food shopping? How does she come up with her eating plan? How much does it cost?

    Do her kids go with her to the gym and how long are they there? Has she always worked out her whole life, or at what age did she get serious? Does she have help from a nutritionist and/or a coach? Were (or are her) parents thin – what is her family heath history like?

    How much sleep does she get? What are her vitals? (I mean if she wants more women to be like her then she needs to cough up ALL the facts). How often does she eat? How does she relax? What vitamins does she take? Does she meditate?

    If you want someone to emulate you then you need to offer up more. It’s the reason I started 8 Women Dream – to openly talk about what it takes to make your dreams come true – the good, the bad, and the ugly — ALL OF IT — so that women (and men) can have a realistic idea of what it’s like.

    At least Skinny Bitch told you everything you needed to know to live the Skinny Bitch life. You aren’t a professional blogger until you lay all of the truth out there. It’s unfortunate that she didn’t sue her first photo to share with women what her life is really like to look the way she does.

    And I am so tired of mean girls continuing the hate after they have left high school. Come on Maria, we are never going to be the President of the US emotionally bashing our sisters like we are 15-years-old. We are supposed to be grown ups.

    • ImanWoods

      BOOM. I really can’t add anything to that Cath!