Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Fit mom brings out the bullies

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 8:04 AM EDT, Thu October 24, 2013
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
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 8:52 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT