Intent vs Impact: My Letter to “No excuses” Fitness Mom Maria Kang

Over the weekend, a woman named Maria Kang posted a photo of her lean, toned body with her three kids with the caption “what’s your excuse”. The photo set off a firestorm of controversy from people calling her an inspiration to others saying she is a typical fat shaming skinny *word that rhymes with witch*. As many of you know, I have been on a journey of health myself over the past year, so I saw the spirit of what she was trying to say, but how it was lost in translation. Here is my response to her:


                Can I call you Maria? You seem to have had a very busy past few days as of late. I am-like many other people-writing in response to the photo you posted showing off your post baby body (which is fabulous by the way, job well done) and the now infamous caption, “what’s your excuse?”. At the end of the day, the point you made by the photo and your subsequent “apology” (you didn’t apologize, you just told people to look at the person in the mirror for some self-examination if they are so bothered by you, which is ok.) is that the like anything in life, health is something we can make a choice to have, with some effort, time management and blood sweat and tears. That’s the difficult part, our instantaneous society wants quick results, with no thought to the process it takes to get there. We all want gold medals, but don’t want the hours of practice and pain to get it. So for some people, your success is a glaring example of their failure, but again, that’s a them thing, not a you thing. But if I may, I would like to tell you a story about someone I know, and maybe give you a lesson on intent vs impact. Your intent was to show people that nothing should stand in their way to achieve a healthy body, and if they want to achieve it, they can. Your intent was to show people the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, one that might have saved your mother’s  life if she had adopted it, instead of dying of a stroke in her 50’s. (I am so sorry for your loss by the way). You intended to show girls who struggle with eating disorders that a healthy balance can be achieved. And that was a wonderful intent. For many, that intent was made as there have been women who have come to your aid saying that you have motivated them to go to the gym.  But there is another segment of women who you had a different impact on. They saw your photo, and the subsequent caption as a thumb to the nose (or even a middle finger)to them. They’re women who work hard either in their career or as mothers full time, and when they can they work out, and eat right, and have seen some progress, but then see your photo, and can’t help but feel like they can’t measure up. They want to be healthier, they want to lose weight, but between the job, the family, or the job and family, they just aren’t sure how to manage time.  I know one of those girls, let me tell you about her.

                I have a friend I’ve known for a while. Intelligent, pretty, driven and hard working, but she has struggled with her weight all her life. She was an overweight child, teen and adult. Wanting to do something about it, but not really because she wasn’t quite willing to put the dedication in, and she wasn’t sure where to start. But then in 2011 she noticed people at work making concerned comments, she noticed that she could hardly stand for a 45 minute class and teach her students because her knees hurt her too much. She was short of breath all the time, snoring loudly, and had no clothes. She hated going out because she always felt like people were staring at her. She ordered in when she wanted restaurant food because she couldn’t fit in booths. She sat on the end pews at church so people wouldn’t have to step over her wide body. And then she saw a picture of herself holding her newborn niece taking up half the couch, and knew something had to be done. She just didn’t know what to do or how to even start. She knew some people who had success with Weight Loss Surgery and looked into that, and had planned to use her health insurance to cover it. Then she found out the coverage was vetoed in the last legislative session and she was back at square 1. But then her parents recommended a popular weight loss program to her, one that would give her tips on eating right, gradually modifying her portions, increase exercise into her life. One that would give her tools to change her lifestyle. At this point, she figured why not, and went. And found out that she was 410.8 pounds. Now that number would be enough to cause most people to throw up their hands in defeat, give up, and just accept the inevitable consequences of morbid obesity. The diabetes, the reduced mobility, the cane, the hovercraft, the oxygen mask, disability because she couldn’t work anymore, the death due to heart failure, the supersize casket. But something in her decided that she didn’t want to give up, she didn’t want to just throw her life away. She wanted more. So she stayed. She modified her portions, she ate cleaner, she began to exercise. And a funny thing happened along the way. She fell in love with a healthy lifestyle. She now goes to the gym 4 days a week, is an avid fan of Zumba, and hoping to get certified to teach it next summer. She has people tell her all the time what an inspiration she is, and she doesn’t let that go to her head, because she is an ordinary girl who just decided to make a few small changes that led to major ones. And she tells people all the time, that if she can do it, then so can they. She knows she can’t look like you, and has no aspirations for that. She wants to be at a healthy weight for herself, and her family. And she is well on her way to doing that now. And I think if you had used the caption “I did it, so can you”, the truth of your message would not have been lost in translation. Well, I know you would probably rather be exercising than reading this long e-mail so I will close here. But I want to tell you that you are an inspiration, and someone will see your photo, and ask themselves, “what is my excuse” and begin to make those changes. Blessings to you and your beautiful family.


                                                                 Ebony L. Thornton

Ps: That “friend” I was talking about, it’s me. Under this post is my before and “in progress” photo, down 122 pounds since June of last year.