Body-shaming new mums

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Kasey Edwards

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Mother bashing has just entered a new whole era of snark. Mother of three and fitness blogger Maria Kang has posted a photo on Facebook showing off her sculpted abs in front of her kids with the caption, "What’s your excuse?"

It would seem that if you don’t have a six-pack by the time your baby is crawling then you’re a slovenly disgrace and you owe the world — or Ms Kang at least — an explanation.

According to Jezebel, the picture of Kang and her kids has been viewed 16 million times and the reaction to the fat shaming has been overwhelmingly negative.  It warms the cockles of my heart to see how the world has told Ms Kang to go and get stuffed. 

Citing her provocation as ‘arrogant’ and labeling her a ‘bully’, commenters offered a whole range of ‘excuses’ for why their post-baby bodies don’t look like hers, such as: genetics, maternal age, wealth, priorities and even cancer.

Mother-of-two Sarah responded, "First: many of us end up with stretch marks after kids…. A LOT OF THEM!...Second: I am an avid runner. I run my two kids in a double jogger. Do I look like a runner? Nope. As a matter of fact, unless people know me, they don't believe me. I do half and full marathons… People like you who post pictures like this make people like me cry because I know that without surgery to lose the extra skin I will never look like you."

She added, "I hope you realise why some people are not just offended, but also hurt by your post as well."

Kang’s empathy is not nearly as well exercised as her biceps. In the time-honoured tradition of people who preach personal accountability to the rest of us, while blithely ignoring how it might apply to them, Kang flatly refused to take responsibility for her own incredibly insensitive words. Instead she responded to criticisms of her own lapse of judgment by pretending that it was everyone else's failing.

"What you interpret is not MY fault. It’s Yours," she wrote. "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."

Psychologists have a word for this. It goes by the name ‘narcissism’ and it’s characterised, in part, by an absence of the kind of self-insight that enables people to understand how their words and actions affect others.

Those who have rushed to Kang’s defense play the only tune they know how, claiming that people who have taken offense are just ‘jealous fatties’.   

As one Facebook commenter wrote, "Hard work pays off!!! While we are at the gym the haters are going through McDonalds drive thru!!!"

I’m all for health and fitness. And I fully support mothers prioritising their own well-being. But this isn’t about going to the gym a couple of times a week and eating more vegies to stay healthy.

Despite Kang’s claims that she’s not naturally skinny and that she’s busy running two businesses, body sculpting is at best a full time job and at worst an obsession or a mental illness.

If people think that achieving visible abs is the ultimate life goal, then good on them. But a recipe for a whole and meaningful life? Um, no.

Think about any long-standing philosophy or vision of the good life, and it’s a fair bet that a single-digit body fat percentage doesn’t feature prominently — or at all.  

Kang’s post is arrogant and misguided, but she’s not operating in a vacuum. As Shari L. Dworkin and Faye Linda Wachs note in a 2004 article in Gender & Societyabout the messages directed at pregnant women by fitness magazines, ‘there are clear warnings that “letting the body go” constitutes failed womanhood and motherhood.’

Rather than trusting and respecting post-partum bodies, they are viewed as out of control and shameful; something that women must battle with to control and whip into shape. 

More broadly, Kang is a product of a culture that judges women’s worth by how closely they conform to the prescribed definition of beauty. Good mothers are skinny mothers and the faster they lose their baby weight the more superior they are considered to be.

For most women this standard of beauty is unattainable. For others, achieving it comes at an enormous cost to their lives.

But while Kang’s post was no doubt a victory for her self-promotion, the greater victory belongs to the thousands of women who reject the idea that their bodies need excusing.

 

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com

 

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