When one Californian fitness fanatic gained notoriety thanks to a controversial Facebook post in 2012, she divided her followers. Although the diet-and-exercise advocate definitely had her haters, she could also boast a healthy amount of fans. But when the woman seemed to change her views five years later, it came as a surprise to many people.
San Francisco-born Maria Kang is a resident of Elk Grove near Sacramento in California. The 37-year-old lives in the city with her husband, David Casler, and their three boys. And when she isn’t playing mom, Kang also owns and runs several care homes for the elderly and oversees a non-profit organization, Fitness Without Borders.
Founded in 2007, this charity encourages community leaders in low-income areas to learn about the importance of health and fitness. Participants then return to their communities and pass on the knowledge to local kids. This is a subject matter close to Kang’s heart. In her younger days, she had competed in fitness competitions. In 2003, the then 23-year-old even bagged herself first place at the Miss Bikini California figure and fitness pageant.
Despite her busy schedule educating others, Kang always made sure that she found the time to workout herself. The entrepreneur felt this was especially important after she gave birth to her boys in 2009, 2010 and 2011. “I’m not a model or celebrity. I am your next-door neighbor, but I am making it work,” Kang told ABC News in December 2013. The mom added, “Being fit isn’t always my first priority but it is a priority.”
It is safe to say that Kang felt a sense of self-empowerment through the actions and results of staying in shape. And she was keen that others should experience the same feeling. In 2009, the health and fitness devotee established a free workout workshop for women in her home town. And, following the arrival of her third child, Kang decided to conduct a motivational photo shoot that was bound to get people talking.
In the professionally taken photograph, Kang is shown highlighting her toned body in some skimpy sportswear. The proud mom is knelt on a parquet floor, smiling and revealing taut abdominal muscles. Meanwhile, her three little boys – then aged three years, two years and eight months old, are posed in front of her.
At first glance, the photograph seemed a bit artful but fairly inoffensive. It appeared that Kang was simply proud of her children and her honed body and isn’t shy about showing off either. Nothing really for anyone to get too upset about. However, the text that the mom-of-three wrote to go alongside the image when she posted it on Facebook in August 2012 caused quite a stir.
The Kang-penned caption provocatively asked its viewers, “What’s your excuse?” The post also directed its audience to the business woman’s personal website. Speaking after the event, the self-described “fit-mom” justified her actions, saying she had merely wanted to motivate her online followers to exercise. However, not everyone saw it that way and exercised their right to free speech by saying so.
Thousands of internet users took exception to the “What’s your excuse?” line. Commenters accused Kang of body shaming other moms who did not look the way she did. Others were quick to label the fitness fanatic a “narcissist,” “bully” and even a “bad mother.” However, a cussed Kang refused to back down or apologize for any offense she may have caused.
In fact, a little over a year later in October 2013, Kang reposted the original controversial image with an even more shocking caption. The sorry-not sorry update said it was time to cease “tiptoeing around people’s feelings and get to the point” when combating obesity. Unsurprisingly, the re-posted picture once again provoked up a heated debate.
Many social media users accused the fitness guru of fat shaming once more. However, others praised the busy mom and entrepreneur’s dedication. This time, however, the picture post went viral and then the wider media got wind of it. After just a few weeks, the update had been shared, liked and commented on thousands of times. In addition, Kang had made appearances on top television shows, such as Good Morning America, USA Today and Inside Edition.
In the end, Kang’s post proved the old adage that there really is no such thing as bad publicity. Thanks to the extra online and media attention she received, the business woman’s Facebook followers rose by 50,000 to more than 70,000 in a matter of weeks. And in the years that followed the “What’s your excuse?” controversy, Kang consolidated a career for herself in the fitness world.
In early 2014, Kang founded another non-profit fitness promoting venture and brazenly called it No Excuse Mom. She set up the organization to provide free workouts for the general public, with an emphasis on her fellow busy moms. Kang also began to sell related fitness products through a dedicated website. The following year, she became a published author with her first book, The No More Excuses Diet.
However, Kang’s rise in the health and fitness industry was not without further controversy. In November 2013 she locked horns with Chrystal Bougon, a San Jose lingerie shop owner, over some provocative, plus-size promotional photographs. The images in question had been placed in Bougon’s Curvy Girl Lingerie shop, showing larger women posing in underwear.
On her Facebook page, Kang claimed that the images promoted an unhealthy body image, maintaining, “I think we should all accept how any healthy body through good nutrition and exercise manifests.” Defending her opinions to ABC News, she later added, “All of the women they showed were obese and I said that was not healthy.”
When Bougon learned of the comments she reported them to Facebook’s administration officers. Bougon claimed that what Kang had said amounted to “hate speech.” As a result, Kang was automatically blocked from the social media site for two days. But, once again, the No Excuse Mom boss was able to use the publicity to her advantage, boosting her Facebook following to 320,000.
So it seemed that Kang’s no-nonsense approach to body image and fitness had earned her many fans as it had haters. Consequently, eyebrows were raised in both camps half a decade later when her story took another twist. It appeared to social media users that Kang had experienced a slight change of heart when she made a New-Year post in January 2018.
It was a timely move, the start of the year is popular for diets and self-improvement activity after the holiday season. Kang, it seems, certainly knows her market. Exactly five years after her controversial “What’s your excuse?” post, Kang returned to Facebook to re-enact the exact same photograph with her three kids. However, this time around her caption asked, “What’s your reason?”
Writing alongside the new, updated image, Kang explained, “After you address your excuse, you need to find your reason.” She then expanded on her theme, “In a country where you are the healthy minority you must #DoDifferent. You need to find your reason, your WHY for prioritizing your health. You know what’s right. Just don’t follow the habits and lifestyle of the majority of overweight/obese people who do it wrong”
Perhaps Kang’s post signaled a new, more understanding approach to her diet-and-exercise fitness cause. Whatever the reason behind her new spin, the updated post proved very popular. In a matter of days it had attracted more than 100 shares and 77 comments. So maybe Kang will now opt for a gentler manner of persuasion, and adopt a message that is fit for purpose.