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 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT