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OpEd: Being a mom doesn’t mean giving up on yourself

Should being a mom mean getting a free-pass for being fat? One mother of three in California doesn't think so and now she's very unpopular with Mom Inc.
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Rita Silvan, October 17, 2013 11:34:43 AM

Australians have a term for it: Tall Poppy Syndrome. It’s a social habit where we knock down people of accomplishment, (the “tall poppies”), cutting them down to the size of lumpen proles, like the rest of us. Maria Kang, a California businesswoman and mother, got the Tall Poppy treatment for posting a photo of herself and her three young children on her Facebook page. Along with the photo of herself looking buff in workout gear, ran the caption: “What’s Your Excuse?”

An online furor erupted—yes, another one, don’t people have off-line lives anymore?—accusing her of shaming fat moms. Online metrics for her Facebook page showed it received 20,000 shares and 31,000 comments, most of them hateful. Think about it: If each mean-spirited commenter used a minute to compose and post, that’s 16,000 minutes, or almost 267 hours of collective work-out time! Good-bye muffin tops!

Kang says her post was intended to be inspirational, not judgmental. Her pleas for understanding fell mostly on deaf ears. Obviously the tagline poked a lot of moms in a sensitive spot. And that can only mean one thing: Kang’s message is bang-on: A lot of women give up on themselves, including their appearance, after they become moms.

Being the primary caretaker is a high-pressure job, even when it’s your only job. Add a paying job into the mix and personal time becomes scarcer than water in the Sahara. Hard choices have to be made and, often, women bail on themselves first. Years ago, a friend of mine who has three children admitted that she could either read a book or go for a jog, but not both. She chose jogging and figured she could catch up on her reading in a couple of decades after the kids were in college. (Today, the kids are out of the house. She’s still a size 4. And she’s completing her Ph.D.)

Fitness pep talkers love statements like, “We all have the same 24 hours!” If someone says this to you in order to motivate you to work out, feel free to slug them. (Calories used: 25) Unless you are self-employed (like Kang), or have a great deal of autonomy on how you spend your time, finding the time to work out is difficult. Those “same 24 hours” feel a lot different depending on the degree of autonomy you enjoy.

But time is not the biggest hurdle. As a society we still have this lingering, often unspoken, belief that a mom should always put her family’s needs first. Except for the very affluent, we expect mothers to direct their limited family resources of time and money toward their children, not visits to day spas and sessions with personal trainers.

I know we’re sick of hearing about the French. But in France you don’t see that same kind of sacrificial behaviour from moms that seems to be the norm on this side of the pond. After giving birth, French women still keep up with current events, see their friends, and wear skinny jeans. While they don’t go to the gym (this is France, after all), they wouldn’t dare miss their monthly massage. And their kids seem fine.

The virulent response to Kang’s photo is not about fatness versus fitness because, c’mon, that’s a no-brainer. Rather, it’s her challenge to the pervasive belief that being a mother means being a Mother Teresa and taking a vow of self-sacrifice.

Last time I checked, going to the gym is not an act of blasphemy. And letting your body fall apart is not proof of maternal love.

Image credit: Maria Kang/Facebook

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