When I first saw this photo of Maria Kang, I had just slipped into a brand-new pair of jeans, a size larger than I wore last season, and was in the process of ordering Chinese food because the healthy dinner I had made for my family is currently immolating on the bottom of the crock pot. Needless to say, I was not in the mood for Judgey McJudgerpants, aka fitness professional Maria Kang, a 32-year old former beauty pageant queen, fitness model, business woman, fitness blogger, awesome mom, and presumably Nobel prize winner.
By now you’ve probably seen the outcry from (seriously) millions of women from every corner of the internet. So piercing were the wails of protest that Kang was “forced” to take the photo down and to issue the standard non-apology apology.
“I’m sorry you took an image and resonated with it in such a negative way. I won’t go into details that I struggled with my genetics, had an eating disorder, work full time owning two businesses, have no nanny, am not naturally skinny and do not work as a personal trainer,” she wrote, in part. “What I WILL say is this. 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.”
Surprisingly, Kang isn’t as good at apologizing as she apparently is at everything else. Who knew? As one of my friends said, “This must be her first day on the internet.” And how does one struggle with her genetics, anyway?
There are a thousand things I could say regarding Kang’s awesome set of genes, her career as a fitness professional, and the copious amount of airbrushing a photographer friend assures me went into this photo. But that’s not what bothers me so much about what Kang’s post.
What really yanks my cord about this advertisement (and make no mistake, Kang is a fitness blogger and this photo is an ad for her brand), his how obviously it plays on the deep dark corner of the female psyche. There isn’t a woman alive (or at least none that I know) that doesn’t feel the need to be better at something, whether it’s the house, the kids, her job, her body. It’s the “superwoman” ideal we’ve all struggled with since the days of our youth. Perhaps it was all those hours watching Claire Huxtable wrangle her sitcom-perfect family: She was equal parts Martha Stewart in the kitchen, June Cleaver with the kids, F. Lee Bailey at work, and Marilyn Monroe in the bedroom. Oh, and I did I mention she was gorgeous and beautifully dressed at all times? She even wore satin pajamas!
To be honest, this photo would have bugged me just as much if Kang had shown herself with an immaculately clean house, a perfectly healthy and balanced dinner, and three children under three in khakis and french cuffs sitting at the table. Or earning $500k a year at her “real” job while making Martha Steart-worthy crafts for her child’s birthday party. It’s the “look at everything I can do!” coupled with the “what’s your excuse, you lazy slob ?” (okay, I made that last part up), that is making women everywhere see red. Even Kang’s non-apology apology makes mention of all the multiude of things she does so very well. I run two businesses! I take care of my children MYSELF! I always interpret internet photos the right way! I do it all and I STILL look like this!
Well yes. It would appear that’s your job. I work in new media. If my digital skills translated into personal appearance, I would be one slammin’ community manager (rocking jeans at least TWO SIZES smaller than the ones I’m wearing).
But perhaps the worst thing about this post is that it’s a continuation of the multitude of ways women ______ -shame each other each and every day. Fat-shaming. Breast-is-best-shaming. My-kids-have-NEVER-eaten-at-McDonald’s-shaming. We-only-get-PBS-in-our-house-shaming. I-just-woke-up-looking-this-way-shaming. Why? What is it all for?
Couldn’t Kang have just as easily have said “If I can do it, so can you!” or “I worked my ass off for decades to look like this, and while it’s a fantasy for most women to look like me, I can help you feel better about yourself”? Isn’t that what we want our daughters to learn? That no woman can do it all, but we’re all really good at something? For Kang, she’s good at having the body of a 21-year old. That’s amazing–let’s celebrate that. My body doesn’t look like hers, but I’m smart and curious. My friend Jamie is the most amazing crafty mom EVER. Kate gives the most ridiculously terrific parenting advice. Deana Marie can look on the bright side of anything and practically oozes fun from her pores. Shannon has a wicked sense of humor and never fails to make me laugh. Libby is athletic and sporty and had the courage to learn to play hockey at our advanced age. Tiffini is wicked smart and has a sarcastic streak that keeps me in stitches. Teri is always there with a hug and kind words for her friends. Kirsten manages to balance an amazing career and still make it to all her kids’ sporting events.
We’re all so good at something. Why focus on what we’re not? Can’t we celebrate each other instead of pointing out each other’s flaws?
If you can’t do that, what’s your excuse?