You may have heard that "Fit Mom" Maria Kang attacked the recent Curvy Girl Lingerie campaign that took a stand against fat shaming online by showcasing selfies of "normal women" with "lumps, bumps, scars and stretch marks."
When Facebook responded to her post by banning Kang temporarily for hate speech she told Yahoo! that she felt like she'd been "sent to the principal's office" and characterized the backlash as an over reaction to "this weight issue."
From a November 25 Yahoo! Shine article:
“We’ve become so sensitive to this weight issue that people who speak out against it are vilified... It’s so backwards to me.”
In this statement, Kang attempts to position herself as a victim of those fighting to end size-based discrimination - characterizing legitimate concern and critique as an issue of sensitivity rather than one of social justice. Furthermore, Kang uses the language of victimization to position her views as a minority opinion when in fact there is compelling evidence that the bigotry she voiced is far more in line with cultural norms than the message that the Curvy Girl campaign was attempting to convey.
Negative body image - and some of its attendant disorders - is a pervasive cultural concern. Proactive campaigns - like that of Curvy Girl Lingerie - that feature countervailing images and messages are integral to changing the discussion about the significance of body diversity and creating space for women to heal from the pervasive thincentric ideal presented by mass media.
Though Kang's statement seems to dismiss the fight against fat discrimination, it is worth re-centering this discussion as one firmly based in civil rights and ending discrimination. As a fat activist, I am not engaged in a "weight issue," and in my opinion neither is Curvy Girl owner, Chrystal Bougon.
I am part of a movement seeking to eradicate social and institutional fatphobia.
I am part of a movement that advocates for the end of discrimination based on size.
I am part of a movement that promotes the belief that women don't need to have an "excuse" if their bodies do not adhere to social expectations of fitness.
One of the issues I feel none of the articles on this debacle have addressed is the role that gender, race and class play in Maria Kang's messaging.
When I look at Maria Kang I see a woman of color. When I read what she has to say I see ideas that are deeply impacted by the stifling pressures of a fatphobic, sexist and racist culture. Her "What's Your Excuse?" image truly asks the viewer to justify not only her body but her very existence. In this question lies a challenge, and moreso, an accusation.
To me, Kang's question echos longstanding US narratives (like bootstrapping) that simplistically reduce things like employment and class ascendency to "hard work." Fitness ideals fall perfectly in line with the rigid individualism that characterizes so many of the impossible standards to which Americans are subject.
I see her dogged defense of an ideology that does not actually benefit or humanize her (or really anyone) as the internalization of rhetoric that has long been used against people of color, women and working class people. I absolutely do not seek to absolve Maria Kang of autonomy or responsibility, but do wonder about her (and others') investment in this type of self-defeating ideology.
The attention and overwhelmingly supportive response that the Curvy Girl campaign has received indicates the growing fortitude of a movement to end size discrimination. This work is more than a bunch of sensitive fat girls sending the Maria Kangs of the world to the principal's office.
The simple truth is this: I'm not fighting for the right to lord my amazing jiggly thighs over others in a jpeg. I'm not fighting for the right to give people boners. I'm not fighting for the right to be a hot mom.
I'm fighting for a life that feels like it belongs to me. I'm fighting for all the people who have been taught that hating themselves is normal. I'm fighting for every fat girl who perpetually has the word sorry half-formed on her lips.
I'm fighting for liberation.
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.