Words: Beth Greenfield
A fitness influencer who has been making waves on social media for years has just offered perhaps her most vulnerable post yet.
It discusses her years-ago choice to have breast augmentation and her recent decision to have those implants removed because of breast implant illness symptoms — plus, an apology, for “unconsciously normalizing an unnatural body standard” (sic) over the years.
“I’m sorry,” began Maria Kang’s Tuesday post, addressing her 300,000-plus Facebook followers, as well as her 75,000-plus followers on Instagram. “I don’t like regrets, but I have a few in life. As I look at my scarred, numb and deflated breasts today, I regret ever thinking they weren’t good enough. I fell into the insecurity trap.”
She continued, “I remember the day I made the decision to augment my breasts clearly. I didn’t research. I never thought about needing or wanting it before. But, when I was told it was something I ‘had’ to do to win — I did it. Without question. A part of me died that day.”
Kang, who has been making body-image waves on social media for many years now, had her first big exposure when her “What’s Your Excuse?” Facebook post, about being a busy mom who still found time to work out, stoked enough anger to go viral in 2013. Subsequent attention continued over the years, with posts on everything from her struggles with eating disorders and her marriage, to becoming a fitness guru through her international network of No Excuse Mom workout groups.
The mother of three’s constant visibility has resulted in her being called everything from a “fat-shamer” and “obnoxious” to an “inspiration” and a “role model.” But this latest post, which comes on the heels of international breast implant news — including how UK surgeons want to warn patients about the risk of breast implant illness, as well as a worldwide recall of Allergan textured implants because of their link to a cancer called Breast Implant Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) — seems to be resonating with her followers in the same empowering, appreciative way across the board.
“You encourage me to never give up and to always appreciate the way I was made,” wrote one Facebook fan. Another chimed in, “I'm with you. Awaiting the day I finish nursing school and can afford to remove mine. Thank you for sharing, you give me hope!”
Her post drew similar responses on Instagram, where responses included, “I have always wanted implants, but was never brave enough to do it. Thank you for sharing this. I don’t want implants anymore. I’m learning to love myself for who I am and be thankful for my blessings.” Another wrote, “This post is beautiful, but you don't owe anyone besides yourself an apology!”
Kang chose to have her breast augmentation in 2003, she tells Yahoo Lifestyle, when she was competing in beauty pageants.
“My director encouraged me to enhance, as I was very lean and flat-chested from losing so much body fat. I had just won a national pageant [Miss Philippines USA] and I would be representing the U.S. in a pageant in Manila,” she explains.
Further, she recalls. “I always dreamed of becoming a fitness model in my 20s, and saw that 80 percent of magazines had a lean model with augmented breasts on their cover. The only difference between my body and theirs were the boobs, and it was ‘the missing link’ for me.”
Rather than the surgery making her happier and more self-confident, Kang explains in her post, “For years after I struggled with binge-eating, bulimia, body dysmorphia and depression. I felt disconnected in the objectification of my body. While uncomfortable, it took years to remove them ... I became pregnant multiple times, built businesses and traveled often. Those are all Excuses, though. The truth is, I was still scared and insecure. I was stuck in the social media world, where fake physiques are rewarded, ‘liked’ and valued. I feared my husband’s opinion. I liked how I looked in clothes and swimsuits. I was vain. And I own that.”
Much of the pressure came from within the fitness industry itself, she says. As a Vice story noted in 2015, “In her 1998 book Women of Steel, sociologist Maria R. Lowe estimates that 80 percent of female fitness and bodybuilding competitors have undergone breast augmentation. Many observers believe that number is now even higher.” Further, the story notes, “American culture already holds women to absurd physical standards, and in the competitive female fitness subculture, where judging criteria is focused not only on physique but also femininity, those standards are even more extreme.”
But eventually, the range of physical symptoms Kang was experiencing — including intense chest pains, heart palpitations and exhaustion so extreme that she could not keep her eyes open during the day — pushed her to investigate the idea of breast implant illness. She found the popular Facebook support group, Breast Implant Illness and Healing by Nicole, which she says helped her “link the dots.” And then she made the decision to explant — having surgery which removed the implants in June and documenting the journey on social media, including what she calls her “horrific recovery” with “emergency hematoma surgery.”
Other Kang posts leading up to Tuesday’s included one from July 26, with a video of her smiling hugely and an explanation that she “decided to do a photo shoot with my new itty-bitty boobs.” Then, on Monday, she posted images of herself from a photo shoot she did with three other women who also recently explanted, all holding implants in front of their now back-to-natural breasts. One of the images can be seen above.
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While Kang simply explanted, leaving her with a pair of 3-inch scars under her breasts, Sandra Augustin — who dealt with chronic pain and a 30-pound weight gain and lost 12 pounds immediately after the removal of her now-recalled textured implants — also had a lift and a fat transfer, Kang says. The third woman, Denyse, also opted to have a lift when she explanted.
“I explanted one month ago and since then my fatigue immediately went away. My eyes don’t feel heavy. My inflammation has declined and most of all — I feel FREE. I feel ME,” Kang wrote on that post. “I feel like I’m finally leaving the young, insecure and impressionable girl I once was and am coming into the strong and confident woman I am today. When you know better, you do better.”