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.
“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.
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.
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 Woods is an American artist who specializes in pin-up photography. Through a unique and therapeutic process, she’s spent over a decade in perfecting, Iman helps women undo the damage from a negative self-image and unrealistic beauty industry expectations. She helps women embrace their own style of beauty and see themselves in a new light. You can find her on her website, ImanWoods[dot]com.
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