Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Fit mom brings out the bullies

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
October 24, 2013 -- Updated 1204 GMT (2004 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Maria Kang has been criticized for posting photo of herself in bra and shorts with her sons
  • Ruben Navarrette: Kang makes a good point about being healthy and staying fit
  • He says Americans need to talk to each other instead of getting personal and ugly
  • Navarrette: Kang isn't guilty of being a bully, but some of her critics are

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter @rubennavarrette.

Watch: Maria Kang talks about her controversial Facebook post, 10:45 a.m. ET Saturday on CNN Newsroom.

(CNN) -- Maria Kang likes a good workout. And she is getting one after a bunch of angry women turned her into a punching bag.

The 32-year-old Californian fitness enthusiast is under attack for posing for a cheeky photo and posting it on Facebook. The picture shows Kang -- who works out for 30 to 60 minutes per day, six days a week -- dressed in a workout bra and shorts that reveal an extremely toned body. She's surrounded by her three young sons -- now 1, 3 and 4. Plastered overhead is a simple but loaded question: "What's your excuse?"

The photo went viral. It has more than 16 million views on Facebook and more than 12,000 comments. Most of the reaction has been positive; Kang estimates that the negative comments are outnumbered by the positive ones by a ratio of 7-to-1.

Ruben Navarrette
Ruben Navarrette

The photo is provocative. And it was meant to be.

But a lot of women out there were absolutely furious with Kang.

"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," scolded one blogger.

Some call her obnoxious, a showoff, a bully shaming other women and worse.

'Fit Mom': Backlash has been unfair

What's worse? How about getting accused of being a "bad mother"? That's right. Some women had the nerve to insist that no one gets into this kind of shape without neglecting their children.

Oh, don't go there. The last thing we need is another skirmish in the "mommy wars" where women compete to see whose maternal instincts are stronger.

"I did it because I knew it would wake people up," Kang told me in an interview while her sons clamored for their mom's attention in the background. "My intention was to inspire and motivate people to get healthy."

Her point: If a mom with three children can work out, eat healthy and stay fit, what excuse is there for the rest of us?

"It takes a lot of time to raise kids, but you have to also make time to take care of yourself," she said.

That isn't easy with Kang's schedule. She said she cares for her three boys without a nanny in addition to creating and running a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people get fit.

She wants Americans to lead a healthier lifestyle. Her crusade is personal. She saw her mother -- whom she describes as a 52-year-old saddled with the body of a 70-year-old -- battle diabetes in her 20s, a stroke in her 30s, and a heart attack and kidney transplant in her 40s. Her mom's health problems got Maria's attention, and the daughter -- who admits to being a chocolate lover and "sugarholic" -- aims to set a different example for her children.

Kang said she saw a column I'd written for CNN.com recently about so-called "fat letters" -- missives that schools send home to parents informing them their children are overweight.

I thought the letters were a bad idea. Kang disagrees.

"Parents play such an important role in teaching their kids to be active, to eat good food and stay fit," she said. "Not to diet. But to be healthy."

The "fat letters" got my attention for several reasons. As the father of two young girls, I worry that someday other girls -- what Hollywood has dubbed "Mean Girls" -- will lash out at them for their physical appearance.

As someone who is attacked by the left and the right, I worry that Americans have forgotten how to talk to one another without treating every annoyance or disagreement like a seek-and-destroy mission. And as someone who is in a profession that is supposed to be about defending the little guy, I worry that bullying has become the new normal and that everyone is so eager to play the victim that they miss the irony when they start victimizing others.

All these worries come together in the exasperating and yet empowering story of Maria Kang. It appears that the young mother was coming from a good place and that she wasn't out to pick on anyone.

Kang believes she is being a good mother, and she's not backing down. I asked her what this experience has taught her. For one thing, she said, she had no idea that mothers could be so competitive about mothering. She recalls the woman who wrote her an angry letter trying to one-up her, asking if she had ever started a business, gotten a Ph.D. or learned another language.

"There are a lot of people who don't take responsibility, who make excuses, who like to blame others," she said.

She's right about that. But enough about Washington.

After the government shutdown, a lot of Americans are talking about how Congress is broken.

True enough. But do you know what could really stand some repair? How Americans talk to each other, especially when they disagree. Our public dialogue has gotten personal and ugly.

Maybe it's the anonymity afforded by Twitter and other sites, where people can rip into one another in hurtful ways without revealing their identities. Or maybe it's just more evidence of what has been, over the last few decades, a gradual coarsening of the culture.

Whatever caused it, this much we know: Many Americans have forgotten their grandma's admonition that if they can't say anything nice about someone, they shouldn't say anything at all.

In the case of Kang, her critics should have said nothing at all.

Follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join Us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT