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The line between fitspo and fat shaming?


Posted by Cags R under General on 22 October 2013 at 11:00 PM

This week, there's been a lot of controversy around an image posted by Maria Kang - mother of 3 and founder of a non-profit Fitness Without Borders - which has raised the question: where is the line between fitspo and fat shaming?

First off, we should make it clear that this article is not an attack on Maria Kang or her right to post pictures of herself on her own Facebook fan page - she's had a pretty rubbish week, so let's not kick her while she's down!

Maria Kang

The image (right) was first posted in September 2012 and shows off Maria's pretty epic fit-not-skinny body alongside her 3 sons aged between 8 months and 3 years old. 

The issue? The caption of the the photo "What's your excuse?" has caused uproar for 'fat shaming' other mothers and overweight women.

What is fat shaming?

"Like any prejudice, fat shaming manifests in both explicit or very obvious and implicit or more covert ways.  Identifying the explicit examples of fat shaming that are all too common in our society is easy.   For example, fat people are rarely shown in the media, and when they are it is often in a negative light.  Fat characters on TV or in movies often are the jokesters or the bullies. [...]

In many ways fat shaming is one of the last socially acceptable forms of discrimination.  For some reason we generally as a society think it permissible for fat people to be the target of jokes, judgement, and “health” interventions.  It is not OK." Jenna Brady - dietician and PhD student.

The interesting point about the Maria Kang uproar is that her image doesn't address being fat - it addresses being fit. As the Jenna Brady quote states "fat people are rarely shown in the media, and when they are it is often in a negative light" - how many images showing over weight and obese people in a negative light get passed around the internet on a daily basis* that don't cause an uproar - and yet a physically healthy mother is slated for sharing an image on the basis of it being online bullying? How does this image differ from the thousands of images which portray physically fit women which surround us in the modern media?

*It wouldn't take much to find images to support this point but that's not the purpose of this article.

What is fitspo?

Short for "fitspiration", fitspo is popular on sites like Pinterest and Tumblr (and let's be honest, we enjoy the odd fitspo pic on Tribesports too!) which promotes fit bodies for people to aspire to.

In her Frequently Asked Comments section, Maria Kang specifically states that:

"For those of you who have legitimate excuse then that’s your excuse! I’m not saying there isn’t one. I’m saying that for the majority of people out there who use multiple kids (or just one), a job, lack of time, lack of support - as an excuse, then maybe you can take my story and my image and use that as a source of inspiration"

It seems clear that the intentions of the original post was to work as a piece of fitspo (and judging by the reaction the image has had, this is now possibly the most talked about piece of fitspo out there!).

So, when does inspiration turn into fat shaming? 

Comments on Maria Kang's photo and subsequent blog articles about the image have been mixed - ranging from "you made me cry" to "Because of your picture, Now I'm taking little steps to becoming a healthier person!". Clearly one person's fitspo is another person's fat shaming.

There are plenty of Fitspo images shared in Tribes and Challenges across Tribesports, and within the community there are thousands of active mothers (and fathers for that matter!) who make time for exercise in their routines - fitness doesn't need to come in the form of an expensive gym membership or dedicating half your time to training. The majority of our awesome users here on Tribesports live totally hectic lives with jobs, families and other commitments but you make the active choice to include exercise in your day.

"It's never a case of TRYING to find time to workout... You either MAKE time or you don't."

- Quote from former User of the Week Malachy K. 

But what do you think? Do you find images like this inspire you to train or do they demotivate you?

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    Okay, I am going to jump in the deep end. I find the image of Maria Kang inspiring; I admire her, and think she looks like a happy, healthy individual and Mum. Clearly she is trying to act as a role model to inspire and motivate others. Criticism aimed at her may well be an example of what we call "Tall Poppy Syndrome", Australian slang for the tendency to criticise highly successful people (i.e., tall poppies), and 'cut them down'. Similarly, I admire lots of people for all different reasons: intellect, scientific and medical discoveries, acts of kindness and generosity, overcoming extreme adversity; having a healthy and fit body is only one aspect of the complexities of being the best person you can be.


    I think she looks amazing and I have deep respect for her. I don't understand why this is a problem for some people. She has worked hard, and found a lot of time to work out despite having 3 kids, and I find that very inspiring. I don't have kids (and don't want them!) but I am a Director of our own business and have 27 staff to look after, and a lot of responsibility there - takes up a lot of my time! I find time to work out by getting up at 6am weekdays or 7am at weekends, or run late at night, because I love doing it and I want to be fit and healthy! I certainly do not find images like that demotivating.


    I agree with the fact that it is the title that could be taken as abrasive by some people. I love inspiring stories and pictures and am proud of making health and fitness a priority in my life along with a busy schedule and 3 kids, however I found the "What's your excuse?" put me off the pic immediately. No matter how hard I work I will never look like her but I am normally happy with what I do have, this made me feel bad about my efforts. That probably says more about me than the pic and I admire how amazing she looks and how hard she must have worked to get there but can see why people don't like it. That's my novel :D


    I agree with the fact that it is the title that could be taken as abrasive by some people. I love inspiring stories and pictures and am proud of making health and fitness a priority in my life along with a busy schedule and 3 kids, however I found the "What's your excuse?" put me off the pic immediately. No matter how hard I work I will never look like her but I am normally happy with what I do have, this made me feel bad about my efforts. That probably says more about me than the pic and I admire how amazing she looks and how hard she must have worked to get there but can see why people don't like it. That's my novel :D


    @runningmum - I agree with your point, I don't even have kids and I think "damn, I have no excuse" but at the same time, I think everyone has parts of their lives they can identify and say "I would be fitter if I didn't have [X]" - for me, it's a matter of actively making the decision to say "what is more important to me, [X] or getting into better shape" - if it's [X] then keeping doing it, if you'd rather improve your fitness/health, then it's time to cut down or cut out [X].


    good on her. Obese people should have nowhere to hide, and it proves how ridiculously PC our world has become when someone standing up for the fitness industry and showing what is possible is attacked. Yeah overweight people have feelings, but they should also stop eating. I'm sorry but obesity really pisses me off, and I don't care what people say, there is no excuse for how society at large looks


    I was pretty shocked at the attacks launched at Maria via various articles. There are a lot of people out there who secretly or not so secretly would love to be fit and in shape but find excuses for why they aren't. I believe Marias message was meant for those people, to show that if she can do it - there's no reason that you can't. Even if some people think the message was abrasive, a lot of people need tough love to find motivation. To all of the people who say "I can never achieve this", you are setting out with a defeatist attitude, don't worry about looking exactly like someone else but take inspiration from what they have achieved. Stay disciplined and work hard and you can be the best version of yourself.


    Thanks for posting! I was going to post on her in the Pregnancy tribe, and then didnt for fear of a negative backlash. I think she´s inspiring and setting a great example of staying fit and healthy for her kids. For me personally I loved the photo, and follow her on Facebook. She posted this photo on her personal page for those who follow her and was hoping to inspire. Someone else caused this picture to go viral and into the mainstream media. If you read her personal story, one can understand a lot more why for her being fit, slim and healthy is important (her parents weren´t at her wedding due to por health, and she was always the "fat" sister - to name two things). A lot of the negative reaction I think comes from "Tall Poppy Syndrome" or peoples personal body issues and are reflecting that back on her. I personally get negative reactions from other woman who see me and find out I´m 7 months pregnant and can still hide the tummy. (Without me saying anything or even bringing up the topic it seems to affect their self-esteem.) We have a much larger societal problem if women feel insecure, threatened and/or judged by how our bodies are supposed to look or what other women look like, and we seem to have little concept of different body shapes and the beauty in each. I´ll never look like Maria Kang - I have a different body shape. But she sure as h**l inspires me to make the time to stay as fit and healthy as I can for my kid(s).


    Mmm, this post has really got me thinking. I have a few girlfriends who have become quite distant since I started upping the ante and become fitter over recent years. One of them lives in my court and did not even acknowledge the first marathon I ran two weeks ago. I am first to congratulate and encourage her when she is out exercising (she is overweight and is always bemoaning about her appearance). She is always criticising me for being 'too skinny'. I have tried not to take it personally and I am putting it down to envy or jealousy. I wonder if anyone else has encountered this?


    @janeh yep. I've seen this before. The only people who ever encourage my achievements / competitions are other people who are achieving things themselves. Whether they are doing things in lifting, running, boxing, MMA, or triathlon - those are usually the people who acknowledge my progress / results - most un-athletic people who are also some of my longest friends never say or encourage anything I do as an athlete - or for example only make very flippant comments. There's something there for sure - whether they just don't care or are subconsciously envious I'm not sure yet.


    "Who cares what other people think" ......... um..... we do.. we pretty much all do, which is crazy but human nature. Even when they are 100% WRONG, it still affects us in some way. It's easy to say, "shrug it off" but not so easy to do.... [Preach Mode = on] So - think on about that the very next time you (yes me too) say ANYTHING NEGATIVE to ANYONE[/Preach mode]


    Adrian/Jane yes I have often found the same thing. People say 'Oh that is mad' or 'that is stupid' when you get up early and go for a run in the pouring rain, and the next thing they say is 'Oh I wish I could lose weight, I have tried everything!'. Hmmm well give running a try then! I always say thing like 'I love running, I love running in the rain and I love being fitter healthier and a size 12 (UK) because I work hard to achieve that. It isn't mad. It is what I do for fun. I am proud of what I have achieved - go for it, you can do it too! It is a shame though that people will try and knock you down - I wonder sometimes if it is because they know deep down they should be doing it and a bit of jealousy or anger or guilt or something creeps in. I was a fat person - I fixed it by eating less and moving more and I love it! I would not go back to being that fat person just because someone posted a picture online of themselves looking amazing!


    I remember when I was fit coming out of uni and looking for a job whilst getting stronger and making progress, working out regularly. Some of my friends laughed about it and said to me, "you'll give it up when you have a full time job because you won't have the time", like it was inevitable that I would become just like them. Well, instead I ended up kicking on, joining a club and squad and now I train to compete as well whilst working full time, playing football, socialising regularly and commuting much further than any of them. Their excuse was invalid.


    She looks amazing! I would probably have used "What's stopping you" instead of "excuse", though. I could easily pack on pounds, sit on my butt, smoke, drink, eat and watch TV! I know I could, cause I have (in a past life). I got sick of feeling crappy, and did something about it. Not always easy, but being unhappy with how you look and feel is much harder. It makes me sad when I see people ruining their health and quality of life with food and inactivity, and especially children. And it makes me mad when people snicker and make nasty comments when obese people are trying to exercise. I always try to encourage people to make changes, and I don't make fun or lecture, because that is not going to help anybody!


    @janeh @adrian I totally agree, your biggest supporters and encouragers are always people who are out there working hard for things themselves!! I think that when people are dismissive of what you do it speaks only of how they are feeling about themselves and they probably wish they could feel happy for you.

    Murray S and Rick P encouraged this.


    @mariag1 @cags I so agree with people making negative comments about people beginning to exercise. A lot of us here were that person, never done anything sporty before, self-conscious but doing it anyway, support at that time boosts you so much! I'm always so proud of my husband's admiring comments if we pass someone who is obese out for a walk or a run and love the message that it sends our kids, that being healthy and taking care f yourself is important and to be celebrated!!


    I'm obese and I had mixed feelings when I first saw this - initially going back to the fact that I now have full custody of my two boys (5 & 6) and the fact that I found it hard to adjust to my new life. I had three years of the absolute freedom to get up, run, workout, get to work, whatever...when I took on the responsibility of my children, I was shattered. I struggled to get stuff done. Very recently I have started to come back to working on my fitness and health, thankfully due to a very supportive partner. So, when I saw Maria's image in the news, my initial thoughts and gut instinct was to ask, who the hell are you to tell people how to live their lives? People have kids, jobs, responsibilities....but then I stopped and looked at what I had JUST started doing myself and realised, she's right. My excuses WERE invalid and I had left it way too long to get back into my health and fitness. It's going to take a long time before I am not obese, but at least I can make a start and at least I know I can do it while I have my kids!


    I saw the image on facebook and found it inspiring. I had no idea there was any controversy about it till now! @danielh4 Your comment that overweight people should stop eating is, in my professional opinion, both unhelpful and over simplistic. Certainly, in many cases overeating is a problem, but in almost 30% of my weight loss clients, the biggest problem has been undereating. Restricting calories too much, and believing its the correct thing to do. This kind of conditioning (eat less = lose weight) can totally sabotage efforts at health improvement, potentially tieing into very harmful psychological conditions. It's about balance, not less. Support, education and encouragement are much more effective. That being said, someone comes to me and says they didn't have time to exercise or carry out an assignment i've given them, I'll tear them a fu€kin' new one! Tried it and failed to complete? Fantastic, lets see what caused the failure so they can get beyond that sticking point, and do better next time. My Take on the debate? Those who have a problem with the image and/or tagline could do with taking a leaf from Cap'n Jack ;-)

    encouraged this.


    I am neither inspired nor feeling demotivated. This is the first time I have ever heard of Maria Kang so I don’t have an opinion of her prior. I have to say she does look fantastic and is quite beautiful. The only problem I have with the ad is the same issue I have with almost any ad that is out there – it is not the average or realistic. I could work out until the cows come home and my body will never look like hers and neither will the majority of the population. And I think that is the crux right there, it is not obtainable. For me, when I am fit, I look good and feel fantastic… but I still always be short with girly hips and large thighs, because that is my genetic makeup and I am okay with that. But on the flip side if I was obese and looking for a place to start I might be intimidated by that picture thinking I can never get that so why would I start. In my opinion it is more motivational for people who are already fit. But for the people who are just starting out not so much. As well I agree with @mariag1 I would have used what’s stopping you… because the real fact is that not all people are making excuses… life happens, s**t happens and sometimes people just don’t know where to start.


    “ I think people generally, tend to find fault, or give negative feedback... for all that you may say or do....especially if your actions were with good intentions. I think Ms. Kang, was genuinely trying to promote fitness, good health & well-being, despite having multiple children @ such tender ages. Many mothers struggle, to find that kind of balance in their lives. She'll soon realize, that the haters would be the least of her worries. Most of the critics are likely to be the overweight & obese anyway. As Bob Marley would have sang : Who the cap fits.....let them wear it! "


    There is a societal division that exists that this touches on. The healthy vs non healthy 'divide'. I refuse to use the term that society uses to single out those who have a body weight that is significantly higher than what society deems as 'good' or 'normal' (another discussion sometime). The divide exists because of society to start with. Society created the world that has fast foods and processed foods, corn syrup, extensive list coupled with lazy entertainment in TV and computers etc, where people will sit for hours while their body decides what to do with the extra nutrient deprived calories they just over consumed!?! On the other side of this divide we have the fitness industry, another equally rich business as the other side. People push themselves to find/create the perfect body, run the fastest marathon, go the farthest, be the best. They buy fitness club memberships, fitness clothing, fitness devices!?! Where does it end??? Throw a picture of an uber healthy post natal mother into the mix and we expect everyone to be thrilled at the caption of 'What's your excuse'? Not going to happen. Have you never had an excuse/reason for NOT doing something? If you answered no, then you're in denial. Yes you!!! 'I don't have time'- 'I have to help my child with their homework' - 'I have to get up early' - 'I'm too tired' - 'I have to make dinner'. We all have them. We're human and have basic needs to meet. We all have other needs, that may not be all that healthy for us. After all, none of us are perfect. I know? That came as a surprise!!! I hope not =P Someone on the fitness side of the divide might look at that and think "awesome, amazing body, you rock!!!" On the other side of the divide....."thats photo-shopped, she has all the time and money, I could never be like that". They are all valid and real. If you think or feel a certain way about the picture and caption, then that's real....for you!!! We can't know what another person is feeling or thinking. But we CAN accept that they think or feel the way they do. They're entitled to those thoughts and feelings, as much as you or I. Personally? It's the internet. The concept of reality goes out the door once you step into this realm. Is the picture real? Did she do this all on her own without endorsements, expensive equipment or memberships? Does she have a nanny who looks after her childrens needs? I'm a doubter. It's who I am. Not a good or bad thing. It's what I do. It's what I perceive some people as thinking. I'm on the fitness side of the divide. I'm here on Tribesports. I do my fitness things. I enjoy how they make me feel. I even track my food....daily. What is that all about? (issues??? =P) But I know that not everyone can follow that path. There are reasons...physical, emotional, financial. And fitness in only one aspect of life. We all have issues that hold us back or divert our energies in ways that may not be perceived as being healthy. But they exist! So yes, she's got a great body. There's a small degree of motivation, mostly to do with where she was and where she has gotten to. I enjoy the story behind the person. The achievement is secondary, as it depends on the motivation behind it. And yes, I know what my reasons are (as opposed to excuses, which will always be perceived as negative). And they're not all about being healthy!!! How about you?


    I think she looks terrific, inspirational and stands up for fit mums, there's a BUT coming! She obviously had three straightforward pregnancies and being fit would certainly have aided that cause, however if she had health problems or like me a baby who was perfect and wrote the book, while the second never slept until she was 3 years old, without a ton of support or nanny behind her there is no chance that level of fitness is going to happen. New mums have an immense amount of pressure on them including looking after themselves to support their new baby but throwing in added pressures to be ultra fit by the time your baby is 8 months old is a real toughie! I was told by my doctor after putting a joint out in my back riding that I should never have been exercising until at least six months after the baby was born as your body is still in baby mode! I will say though that if they are physically able to they should be out there, pram walking at least and maybe the odd fitness class as being among other mums is a good tension release! I remember having a chat with @runningmum one late night last winter when one of her little ones was down with earache and she hadn't had a good nights sleep for a couple of days and boy did it bring the memories back. To end this sermon though lol, there is absolutely no excuse for being obese just because you had a baby or at any other time.

    Rick P encouraged this.


    she looks amazing! as a guy and a husband, my first reaction can she maintain it??? but she's right, there's no excuse for being out of shape. I'm one of those who used to struggle on how to trim my tummy but with discipline and determination...the struggle turned into fun when I started putting off negative thoughts and excuses.

    Rick P encouraged this.

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