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11 months ago
Is fit-shaming real? This mother survived internet bullies who accused her of fat shaming

In the year 2012, former beauty queen and fitness enthusiast Maria Kang broke the internet with a picture of her posing with her three young sons. The picture of her in a sports bra-shorts attire and the accompanying text ‘What’s your excuse?’ have achieved a quasi-iconic status ever since. That’s because it was in the eye of a social media storm that polarised the internet. The mother of three was accused of fat shaming and making working mothers feel bad about their bodies. But all she did was post a picture with a phrase that the internet wasn’t new to. (‘What’s your excuse?’ had been used with numerous inspirational pictures of people overcoming physical limitations.) Anybody could see that the hate and snark she received was grossly disproportionate.

While speaking to The Health Site, Maria recollects, ” Many people said I was bad mother, that my children had different fathers, that I had plastic surgery, that I was genetically predisposed to be ‘skinny’ because I was Asian. The mort hurtful comments was that I was a disgrace to women and that I was narcissist who cared more about her looks than her children.”

The incident snowballed out of proportion and the angry internet hoard tried to force an apology out of her. But Maria hit back harder with a sassy “sorry but not sorry” non-apology, which irked people even further. But she has no regrets. “I think I asked a simple question, ‘What’s Your Excuse’ and I believe since many people struggle with being overweight or obese may have an excuse that they believe are truly the reasons why they are not succeeding. But truth be told, for the majority of those excuses, there is someone out there who was able to overcome it,” she says.

What Maria faced in 2012 was fit shaming, a rather legitimate subtype of body shaming which is as bad as fat or thin shaming. But curiously, it’s considered less offensive of the three. Tell someone you are dieting and watch them roll their eyes at you. Refuse something sweet and they accuse of being vain. Dr Era Dutta, consultant Neuropsychiatrist and Therapist Mind Wellness & Fortis Healthcare points out, “Somehow, over the years, the word ‘dieting’ has become a derogatory term. We’d like to think that people who are fitness freaks spend all their lives in a gym. That’s not true. They may have other interests apart from fitness. But it is easy to think of them as vain and superficial.”

But why is it that we tiptoe around the feelings of the overweight for the sake of propriety but forget our manners when it comes to fit people? Are we reminded of our own limitations and feel jealous of their discipline? Dr Dutta says, “Absolutely! We all want to be a little bit taller, leaner, and fitter than we are. So when we see people who are supposedly better than us, we do get bothered by their discipline. Also, fit people are not in the majority. And as human beings, have a tendency to pick on the ones who are different.”

Maria’s opinion also resonates with Dr Dutta’s own: “I think people attack ‘fit people’ because while we are the minority. We are outwardly the ‘stronger’ group of people because people still aspire to be healthy and strong. Since we are seemingly higher categorically, it’s easier to pull us and put us down than pull someone else (who is overweight) down.”

As bitter as the experience was, she has emerged stronger than before. Today, she is an advocate for fitness and thumbs her nose at detractors by branding herself as the “No excuse mom,” an allusion to her controversial image. “The experience helped me evolve into a better person. With a public platform, I was given great responsibility cause change and encourage movement. With my viral voice, I was able to create an incredible organization of No Excuse Moms who workout in the park for frees. We currently have over 350 free No Excuse Mom groups in 30 countries,” Maria adds.

Like other forms of body shaming, fit shaming affects women more than it does men. That explains why so many people were quick to accuse Maria of neglecting her maternal duties. Because people still believe that one can’t be a good mother unless you are selfless and self-sacrificing. But the truth was something different altogether. As someone who had grown up seeing her own mother suffer from poor health, Maria didn’t want to see history repeat itself with her and her sons. “I have unrelenting convictions regarding my views on health as my mother struggles with several health-related diseases due to her poor diet and inactivity. It’s important that people prioritize the only vehicle (their body) that will take them through this world,” she says. Here’s how you can handle body shamers

Although not in the majority, many people felt that Maria’s plight hit close to home. The incident struck a chord with thousands of people who’ve been rebuked or shamed before for being fit. A 24-year-old social media executive who has been in a similar situation before says, “Once a friend tried to sabotage my weight loss goals by telling me that something was sugar-free when it wasn’t. When I told him that I was on a strict diet, he and my other friends made fun of me and said that I had an eating disorder.”

“They told me that my muscles made me look masculine and that no man would want to touch me because I looked ‘gross,'” says a 32-year-old fitness enthusiast. Even female celebs like Bipasha Basu and bodybuilder Bani Judge are not spared and are routinely trolled for their fit bodies. Here’s why it’s not OK to body shame anyone!

If you too have been at the receiving end from friends and family for your fitness goals, remember that the fault lies with the bullies and not with yourself. Forget all the name-calling, scorns and pooh-pooing, you don’t have to compromise on your fitness ideals because they make someone else uncomfortable about their own lack of discipline. Maria believes that it is important for people who want to lose weight to figure out WHY they want to be healthy first. “When they figure out their ‘why’, the ‘how’ part will become not easy. Not only will you find ways to overcome challenges and be persistent when times get tough, but you will also discover all the people who are complacent and complaining about their lot in life. When you succeed in anything you draw a line in the sand with the people around you. Do not be scared to stand out, those who truly love, support and encourage you — are those who will not shame you for wanting to do what’s best for you,” Maria concludes.

Image source: Maria Kang

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