The P-word: What's Your Excuse?

What's Your Excuse?

A few weeks ago, stories started popping up on my feed about a fitness buff, Maria Kang, who'd posted the pic (to the right) on her facebook page, which elicited angry comments from women who felt that Ms. Kang's "in-your-face" question was demeaning to women who did not look like her. Let me state up front right now that (aside from us both being Asian) I do not look anything like Maria Kang, and I don't have children as an "excuse."  Nevertheless, I didn't care about the story one way or another.  She neither hurt my feelings nor did she goad me into hitting the gym three times a week.  Days passed and I saw more women posting things critical of her, and I still did not comment. But then I saw this story, On Maria Kang, Fitsperation, and The Problem With Fitness Privilege, and yeah, I just had to respond.  Because the author had used the P-word.

Of course, almost any kind of success comes with a certain amount of privilege.  I agree.  Those of us who can boast advanced degrees or successful carreers or recognition for some kind of achievement or another, usually came from upbringings that allow access to the resources that facilitate such successes.  Even in the rare cases of people who started with no wealth and access and got to the top by talent, if you think about it from the Buddhist perspective, it's a fluke that we have whatever talents that we have - we could just as easily have been born without them.  So that too is a kind of privilege in that it's not something that was "earned." 

So I'm not disagreeing with women who say that there was privilege involved in Ms. Kang's fitness success.  My question is: Had she been bragging about some other kind of success, a profitable real estate business, a degree in physical chemistry, an invention of some semi-needed gadget, would the reaction have been as angry as it has been?  There would have been just the same amount of privilege involved regardless of the type of success, but would folks have felt the need to point that out?

My guess is no.  Because her sucess as a real estate agent doesn't make you feel bad if you're not a successful real estate agent and you don't want to be.  It's only because the critics on some level wish they could look like her that they accuse her of lording it over them. 

I don't look anything like Maria Kang, and I don't have children as an "excuse."  But I don't need an "excuse."  It isn't that I lack the resources to get into better shape.  It's that out of the resources at my disposal, I have different priorities. I can see that she spends hours a day maintaining her body and in the number of hours a day that I have, there are other things that take a much higher priority. However, I don't see the point in being offended by her pride in her fit body. She had a goal to maintain her fitness. She devoted time and energy in pursuit of that goal and has achieved it. Good for her!  I have different goals, some of which I've achieved, others not (yet).  I feel bad about the goals I have that I've not achieved yet due to my not putting sufficient effort into them.  But I don't feel bad about not having achieved goals that weren't a priority in the first place. 

More importantly...

When we talk of privilege we need to be moderate in our use of that word lest it come to mean nothing.  There is a difference between the privilege that gives you access to the resources to help you succeed at whatever you set out to do, and "privilege" being thrown as a weapon against someone who has succeeded at something.  When people blame others for the latter's marginalization, and especially when they try to shape public policy around denying access to resources that can help folks get out of the margins, then we need to talk about privilege.  But when folks are bragging about their success in something, anything, us talking about "privilege" just makes us sound bitter.  (Especially when that talk of "privilege" is coming from fellow middle-class folks.)  Privilege isn't something that only occurs when we don't like what the other person has achieved.  If we use the word in what way, we cheapen it to mean nothing more than spite and envy.  A little mudita (happiness for the success of others) is in order.  Be happy for Ms. Kang's success, decide what you want to be successful in (with whatever amount of privilege you do or do not have) and go for it.

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