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 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT