A California fitness enthusiast and mother of three is defending a controversial photo of herself that has prompted a cavalcade of Facebook critics to accuse her of fat shaming women.
In the photo, 32-year-old Maria Kang poses in a workout bra and matching micro shorts — revealing an incredibly toned figure with washboard abs — while surrounded by her three young sons, now 1, 3 and 4. Floating above her head is the question, “What’s your excuse?”
The picture has gone viral, with more than 16 million views on Facebook, and has generated more than 12,000 comments. And while much of the input has been of the supportive “you go, girl” variety, plenty of it has been made up of angry, offended personal attacks on the photo subject, calling her everything from “obnoxious” and “fake” to a bad mom and a bully.
But Kang, in an exclusive interview with Yahoo Shine, says that making other women feel bad about themselves is the opposite of what she was going for.
“I wanted to inspire people,” she explains, adding that the “What’s your excuse?” part was simply a borrowed, popular phrase that’s been used in various “fitspiration” campaigns. “I wanted to say, ‘I know you think you don’t have time if you have kids. But if I can do it, you can do it, too.’”
Kang, of Sacramento, California, is a former pageant queen and fitness competitor who founded the nonprofit Fitness Without Borders in 2007. She's also a recovering bulimic. Kang says she understands why some people reacted so defensively. “I think people struggle with their weight,” she notes.
“When you add on being a mother — and the pressures we face to have it all and be everything, including fit — the expectations are so high. I think some moms saw the picture and just said, ‘This is ridiculous.’” But still, she says, “I felt really frustrated. Being called a bad mother and a bad person definitely hurts.”
Though she first posted the photo to her Facebook page a year ago, Kang noticed it was being shared a lot more recently and that it was generating a swell of negative comments toward her. So she reposted it to her own 72,000-plus followers, tacking on an apology — which, she admits, is really a “non-apology.”
“I'm sorry you took an image and resonated with it in such a negative way. I won't go into details that I struggled with my genetics, had an eating disorder, work full time owning two businesses, have no nanny, am not naturally skinny and do not work as a personal trainer,” she wrote, in part.
“What I WILL say is this. What you interpret is not MY fault. It's yours. The first step in owning your life, your body and your destiny is to OWN the thoughts that come out of your own head. I didn't create them. You created them. So if you want to continue ‘hating’ this image, get used to hating many other things for the rest of your life.”
That post brought a frenzy of negative responses, including, “Those precious little things need their mommy more than they need you to have glamour muscles,” “Not that I *NEED* an excuse for not working out, but here's mine you self-righteous idiot … fibromyalgia,” “You are part of the body shaming problem that is going on in North America and other parts of the world,” and “You are a bully with a super inflated sense of your own self.”
Many others, though, rallied in defense of Kang, with “Never apologize,” “Get a life and leave this woman alone,” and “Well done!”
Because of the barrage, Kang has put together a FAQ page about her personal life, with responses to many of the criticisms and accusations she’s become accustomed to hearing. For example: “Do you work?” (Yes. She owns two small residential care facilities for the elderly.) “Do you have a nanny?” (No.)
“Are those your kids? They all look different.” (“I have to say this is the funniest comment I’ve read. Of course, my children look like both the mother and father,” she writes. “I am half Malaysian Chinese and Filipina. My husband is a Caucasian mix of German, French, Norwegian and Spanish. They are all my kids.”)
Kang says she works out five to six days a week, about an hour at a time, doing a half-hour of strength training and a half-hour of cardio — running, the stair climber, or a spin or Zumba class. She adds that, while it might seem amazing that she can fit in regular exercise while raising three kids and working, she structures her time in ways that make it all work.
She watches no TV, for example, wakes up at 6 a.m., and, while she’s at the park with her children, “I’m working out. I’m not sitting there on my iPhone.” And she gets plenty of help from her husband, David Casler.
Casler, who suffered a traumatic brain injury during a bomb attack in Iraq, where he worked as a private security contractor, is no longer able to work. He volunteers, though, with the Team Rubicon disaster-relief organization.
It's not the first time a fitness-oriented mom has caused an online uproar. Just last month, a stay-at-home mom in Los Angeles received a barrage of criticism after posting a photo of herself lifting weights during a CrossFit workout.
Kang concludes that much in life is mind over matter — whether it’s recovering from an attack like her husband’s or staying in slamming shape while raising a brood of boys. “It’s really where your mind is,” she says, referring to the different ways that people might interpret her photo.
“I just hope that the person who feels completely overwhelmed can see they can control their own destiny. To know that there’s no excuse for not making time for yourself.”