I’m going to get right into this, last night before going to bed (which meant I was up for at least an hour thinking about it and not sleeping), I came across the following photograph on Facebook:
The photo on the right spark a lot of outrage. This particular comparison sparked a lot of outrage. I, too, was outraged. A huge amount of commentators make major assumptions as to the “discipline” and “work ethic” of the mom on the right, scrambling to the defense of the one on the left saying the photo/question is being taken out of context, that she is only trying to be motivating and inspirational, if people are bothered it’s because THEY have issues and it isn’t her fault…
The woman in the photo on the left, one Maria Kang, made a public comment about the backlash to her photo (she didn’t have anything to do with the comparison of the two, I am certain); in the comments I read this (by a woman called Erica):
“The only way you can answer her question is to admit to your failure and thereby praise her achievement. [emphasis mine] ‘What’s my excuse for not looking like a fitness model? Well, I’m busy/I have health problems/I have other goals in life’ – all of those things can be torn down by someone who highly values looking fit as ‘excuses’ – even when they are perfectly valid ones. It’s perfectly understandable that a lot of people have responded badly to her.”
Yes, that. Exactly that. Maria’s question of “What’s your excuse?” is absolutely the worst part of the photo– as for the photo itself: who cares? She looks great even for someone with zero kids. Good for her. If that’s someone’s priority, if that’s what they need to feel sane, if fitness is their business (as it is certainly Maria Kang’s), I get it. That isn’t the point. The point is that pregnancy and childbirth wreck your body, that point is that people are different, not everyone is meant to look certain ways, the point is that socioeconomic status is a huge factor in health outcomes, the point is that women face enough pressure without growing people inside of them and then trying to sustain them for 6+ months with only their breasts (do you have any idea how exhausting it is?!).
But, what really got me, that I felt compelled to write about, is that, of all the comments I mistakenly read, I didn’t see anyone point out some very major differences:
- The photo on the left is professionally taken, which means: there’s excellent lighting, a hundred takes for every published one, and some degree of editing– obviously she looks good no matter what, but it elevates her from looking good to perfect.
- The BABY on the left is significantly older than the baby on the right (On her site, she says he is 8 months– I’m guess the baby on the right is under 2 months, given the amount of support the mother needed to provide for the photo).
- On that note, the fact that the mother on the right needed to support her baby means she is in a much less flattering, sort of hunched over pose (in addition to not being in a well-lit studio with a professional photographer)
- The woman on the right has massive boobs and I would bet my first-born son that she is nursing, whereas Maria nursed a maximum of 6 months (but possibly only 3). One of the touted benefits of breastfeeding is that it accelerates weight loss, but at least one study disputes that. My OB basically advised me not to expect to lose the last of the baby weight until I was done nursing, and a simple Google search verifies that many women have a very difficult time with weight loss whilst nursing.
I want to be very clear that my main problem is primarily with the overwhelmingly negative, body-shaming responses by commentators. Maria Kang may be a bit self-involved and oblivious, but she is not the problem here; another commentator described her as “a rather thoughtless player in a bigger social game.” A pretty sound analysis in my opinion.
And, yeah, this struck a chord with me. Apart from everything above, it’s totally personal. I struggle with my postpartum body and body image. As a person who has historically been lean and athletic, I feel like I’ve been run over by a mack truck.