Name: Maria Kang
Occupation(s): Wife, mother, business owner, fitness advocate, author
One evening in September 2012, Maria Kang, a 32-year-old wife and mother in Sacramento, published a loaded Facebook post. It read, “What’s your excuse?” a message made knife-sharp by its juxtaposition with a grinning, super-fit mom and her three toddler boys—a handful for anyone. The response was overwhelming; overnight, her Facebook page blew up with thousands of likes and plenty of vehement criticism. Kang found herself the subject of wide discussion as “the Facebook fit mom.”
“I was in shock,” she says of the initial outpouring, good and bad. Kang believes her Facebook post became a Rorschach test of sorts. Some folks embraced her as an inspiring role model; others saw her as a poster child for social media “fitspiration” taken to an obnoxious extreme.
Fast-forward to the first anniversary of the post, and Kang reposted the image along with what she called a “non-apology” lobbed at the haters who had dogged her over the preceding year. “What you interpret is not my fault,” she wrote. “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.”
This post, once again, went viral, skyrocketing her Facebook audience from 78,000 to 288,000. She began frequenting national media platforms, including CNN, Yahoo!, Nightline, and Time. She was interviewed on morning shows in Australia, Britain, Germany, Brazil, and the Philippines. The fit mom became a global fitness phenomenon.
The exercise provocateur recently chatted about her newfound celebrity and her longstanding fit-mom movement with Bodybuilding.com, the site where she got her start as a fitness writer in 2004.
Q Do you remember when and how you got the idea for that first Facebook post?
It came from that popular catchphrase “no excuses,” which you see a lot in the fitness world—especially when people like paraplegics and the elderly overcome incredible odds to be in great shape. I thought, Wow, I’ve had three kids in three years—born in 2009, 2010 and 2011—and I’m in pretty good shape.
When I posted that photo my son was 8 months old; it’s not like I was posting it eight days after giving birth. I gained my pregnancy weight, and I took the same amount of time to get the pregnancy weight off. So I felt like it was a realistic portrayal.
Originally, I took the photo to update my Facebook page. I’ve been a writer and a fitness person for a number of years, but I’ve never been a paid fitness model; I just have an abiding passion for fitness. I hadn’t taken any professional pictures of myself for 10 years, because I had gone through a lot of stages in my body. I gained 30 pounds before I was even pregnant with my first child, because I had an eating disorder. So I wanted to use this image to update my profile picture.
Some people might think you have social media consultants recommending what will go viral, but it sounds to me like this just sprang unfiltered from the mind of Maria Kang.
Whenever I post a picture, I never think it is going to go viral, first off. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about me. I don’t have a team of people, I don’t have an agent, I don’t have a PR agency—I don’t have anyone. This is just an example of following your passion and your gut and living and breathing fitness. It comes from a good place.
What triggered that second, bigger wave of popularity—or notoriety, depending on your perspective?
I was approaching the anniversary of the photo first being posted, and I started getting a lot of hate mail again. I seldom respond to people who say negative or hateful things, but one particular email read: “You should be ashamed of yourself. You’re a bad example to women. You are a poor representation of a woman and a bad mother.” I thought: This is ridiculous. I’m tired of people using me as a scapegoat, and frankly, I’m a little bit pissed off.
It took me all of about five minutes, but that morning I wrote a “non-apology,” which basically said, “Whatever you perceive this picture to be, it’s your fault. If you hate this image, then get used to hating many things in your life because I have no control over that. Let’s focus instead on the bigger issue, which is obesity in America.” That message, coupled with the photo, made it go viral.
Some of the public critiques you’ve received have been strident, which makes me wonder if the private messages have been downright nasty.
There were some who were really quite mean to me, but the majority of people have been supportive. You often hear the loudest voices, and a few boos can drown out a lot of cheers if you let them. I’m showing people the possibilities. I’m trying to be an inspiration, and I have been an inspiration.
Any regrets about being the catalyst for this controversy?
It sounds so cliche, but I believe in living your life without regrets and owning every action you take. It hasn’t been an easy journey, though; let’s say that. This touches something deep within my personal history.
“I believe in living your life without regrets and owning every action you take. It hasn’t been an easy journey, though.”
In my mid-20s I battled an eating disorder. My mother struggled with obesity. She had type-2 diabetes in her 20s, strokes in her 30s, heart attacks in her 40s, and a kidney transplant before turning 50. She’s still alive, but she didn’t make it to my wedding because she was taken to the emergency room.
She can’t blame her genetics, either. She didn’t work out, still doesn’t work out, and she doesn’t watch what she eats. I feel strongly that you need to take care of your body, your temple, your vessel—whatever you want to call it—because that’s the only thing you own in this world.
My telling people that there aren’t a lot of excuses; that being overweight is, more often than not, your own doing—that’s what pissed a lot of people off. I’m trying to empower the overweight by letting them know they can change, but it’s really tough for many of them to wake up and take accountability.
Readers may not realize that you actually got your start in fitness writing on Bodybuilding.com.
10 Things Fitness Teaches You About Life
By Maria Kang
- Develop good habits
- Consistency is the key
- Prioritize your life
- Quality not quantity
- Care for yourself first
- For every action, there is a consequence
- If you plan fail to plan, plan to fail
- Be open-minded
- Focus on the travel, not the destination
I was a new fitness manager in San Francisco and so inspired by fitness that I wrote this piece about 10 universal life principles as embodied by fitness. I sent it to Bodybuilding.com because I used to read that website when I was on the exercise bicycle.
That was my favorite website. It’s where I got a lot of information, so I was excited when it was posted. I continued writing for the site.
Your involvement in the intersection of motherhood and fitness well predates the Facebook controversy, right?
Since 2012, I’ve been running a private Facebook group page where thousands of moms connect daily to talk about fitness. I noticed that these women wanted to connect, and they wanted answers, and they wanted to do what I did. Farther back, in 2009, after the birth of my first child, I started a mom group in the park. We worked out together without sacrificing time with our kids.
I took this concept and replicated it. I created an official guide, put it out there, and within two weeks, I had 200 group leaders. Now we have more than 700 leaders in 24 countries ranging from Aruba to Canada to Columbia.
There is a large movement of moms who want to make a difference. They want to be a hero in their community and a healthy role model to their children. To change the obesity crisis in America, we have to start at home. You can’t raise a healthy child if you’re an unhealthy parent, and I think that’s where we are all getting it wrong.
I know this from personal experience. Through my nonprofit, I supported programs in elementary, middle, and high schools that focused on the kid, and they were largely unsuccessful. I grew so discouraged and frustrated. Then I realized that the programs that work are those which incorporate the parent and the child. So that’s what I’m focused on.
What would you say to people who would argue that it’s none of your business whether they are fit, fat, or somewhere in between?
“I’m really trying to guide and inspire and lead.”
I’m the type who will say to somebody, “You are beautiful, but you are unhealthy, and I’m saying this because I care about you.” I’m not afraid to tell people about something I’m passionate about.
And while health is an individual matter, I believe our national healthcare system represents a collective responsibility. We pay for each other’s care, and it’s really important for us to not condemn each other or insult each other, but rather try to lead or guide each other. That’s what I’m trying to do.
Some of your critics contend that you’re shaming the overweight, and that your tone is punishing rather than encouraging. How do you respond?
I’m not insulting, condemning, or shaming anyone. I hate that word, “shame.” Shame and guilt are internal feelings that must be already present in someone’s mind in order for them to sense it. If they react negatively to my image and the word “excuse,” then they must be feeling they aren’t doing something they know they should be doing.
We all know exercise and eating healthy are important, but the vast majority don’t practice it. I’m really trying to guide and inspire and lead. Being healthy is a lot better than being unhealthy, and that’s just the truth.
What do your children and husband think about all of the attention you now receive?
My kids don’t think anything about it, and my husband knows that I’ve been doing local media on health and fitness for years, and that this was my path. So he’s like, “I didn’t know it was going to go that fast,” while I’m thinking, “It took me a long time to get here!” [laughs] I started writing about fitness in 2003, and finally someone is noticing me.
How do you manage healthy meals for yourself and your three boys?
I make regular food that other moms make; it’s just that mine is a healthier version. My kids love my turkey meatballs, sweet potato fries, and they love the spaghetti I make. We make pizza together all the time. They love it. My kids eat a lot of fruit and other whole foods.
“The biggest thing is that I try to control my kids’ palates, so they don’t crave unhealthy, addictive foods.”
The biggest thing is that I try to control my kids’ palates, so they don’t crave unhealthy, addictive foods. I’ve noticed that when they go to a lot of parties [at their friends' homes], they don’t want to eat my dinners as much; it doesn’t taste as rich as what they’ve just been fed.
You talk a lot about the need to work out. So how do you train?
I train intensely 5-6 days each week, and my workouts haven’t changed much in 10 years. Three or four of those workout days revolve around resistance training. For each body part, I usually do at least three exercises, 3 sets per exercise, 10-15 reps per set, resting 30 seconds between each set. I try not to waste a lot of time because I don’t have a lot of time, so you will often see me supersetting [movements].
I do at least 30 minutes of cardio on all five or six training days. Most of my cardio is high-intensity interval training using running, stair-climbing, or spin class.
I suggest a lot of the same things you guys suggest. A lot of women ask me, “How do I get a really lean midsection?” and “How do I build my backside?” Obviously there’s no such thing as spot training. In order to attain a certain level of leanness, you need to be lean all over. That means you have to weight-train your entire body over the course of the week.
Hit The Gym With The Facebook Fit Mom
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