Elk Grove mother and fitness buff Maria Kang has ignited a firestorm in cyberspace with her “what’s your excuse?” Facebook photo, which shows her in a sports bra and short shorts, posing with her three young sons. Some call it flattering and inspiring, others call it insulting and overly revealing, but Kang’s photo has gone viral – and global – as media outlets from California to London have covered the controversy.
Posters and bloggers have accused Kang, 32, of “fat shaming,” claiming her photo suggests that all women can look like her if they just work hard enough. On her blog about motherhood, Theinklingsoflife.com, Morgan Moss declared: “You, as a woman, should be ashamed that you are furthering the downward spiral of how society views women, and how we women view ourselves. ... Most REAL moms don’t look like you, sweetheart.”
Kang has been called a hurtful, hateful bully. One online commenter said, “People like you who post pictures like this make me cry because without surgery I will never look like you.”
By Thursday morning, Kang’s Facebook photo had generated 236,756 “likes,” 20,655 “shares” and 31,650 comments, and Kang said the international exposure, ranging from CNN to Good Morning America, The New York Daily News and The Daily Mail in Great Britain, has pushed her page views to 1 million. Kang recently told her critics: “I’m sorry you took an image and resonated with it in such a negative way. I ... 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.”
Kang said her Facebook photo, posted to promote her free fitness classes, meant to send the message that women should “make no excuses not to follow through on your fitness action plan.”
Kang, who runs two board-and-care homes for the elderly, says she doesn’t profit from fitness and just wants to help people get healthy. She runs an unpaid nonprofit, Fitness Without Borders, a free Mom-Me Fit Club that meets in public parks three times a week and free 12-week family fitness boot camps.
“I discovered fitness was my passion because my mom was very sick, had diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure and a stroke at a young age because of her eating habits and lack of exercises,” shesaid.
Kang said she has battled her weight and, from ages 23 to 27, struggled with bulimia. “I was binging and purging three times a day, five times a week for four years straight,” she said. Kang, a Catholic, said she turned to prayer and moved from San Francisco back home to Elk Grove to help her mother, who needed dialysis three times a week.
A graduate of Laguna Creek High School and UC Davis, Kang has been a cheerleader, kickboxer, personal trainer and beauty pageant winner, but gained 35 to 40 pounds with each pregnancy. Her sons Christian, Nicholas and Gabriel are now 4, 3 and 1.
She said she started the Mom-Me Fit Club in 2009, using a grant from First Five Sacramento. She said 15 to 20 moms bring their kids to each outdoor session to work out. “We do ab exercises, circuit training, lunges – it’s really inspirational,” said Kang, who first posted the “What’s your excuse?” photo in September 2012 to launch her fitness Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/MariaMKang, and reposted it a few weeks ago.
Asked to describe her fitness regimen: Kang said she wakes up at 6 a.m., tries to run 3 miles on her treadmill, and serves her kids raisin bran, sweet potato pancakes, fruit or eggs for breakfast – “no pop tarts, no sugar cereals.” She squeezes in an hour of strength-training at California Family Fitness by taking her children to the gym’s child-care center.
Getting in shape “only takes 30 minutes a day” and doesn’t require a gym, Kang said. “Wake up an hour earlier, do it at lunch time or after dinner instead of watching TV. Eating is 80percent of your results.”
Kang said she thinks walking is the best exercise, and she encourages moms who work out with her in the park to do 20 pushups, squats, crunches and jumping jacks five times in a row without stopping. “You’ll get a pretty good workout without any gym,” she said.
At least one Northern California blogger offers Kang grudging respect on her Facebook page. Janelle Hanchett of Renegademothering.com declares: “Maria Kang, I hate you. But you’re right. And now I hate you more. ... I am currently 40 pounds overweight. Why? Because I use food for emotional comfort. Because I’m lazy. Because I put things before my health. ... I don’t like the woman because she’s done what I’m not doing. ... I’m tired of feeling like (obscenity) and I’m tired of my own excuses.”
Call The Bee’s Stephen Magagnini, (916)321-1072. The Bee’s Pete Basofin contributed to this report.