Maria Kang is just a mom—a mom gone viral, that is, when her ab-flaunting “What’s your excuse?” captioned photo sparked controversy and media scrutiny. Things had just died down for the Californian fitness enthusiast when she hit another nerve last week with a Facebook rant about plus-size women in lingerie.
Kang issued a warning about what she had to say, then vented her disapproval for those who encourage overweight women to be proud of their bodies. The mother of three urged her nearly 230,000 followers to change the mentality that's sweeping the nation (sourcing multiple statistics), noting that she was not knocking those who are proud and heavy...but instead simply trying to empower healthy role models in society. Three hours later, Facebook removed her post and she was temporarily blocked from the site altogether.
“I think that everyone should love and accept their bodies,” Kang told FITNESS yesterday. “I don’t think that anyone can progress when they have a foundation of shame, so I didn’t want to seem like I was bashing them. No one should be ashamed of who they are. But there is a fine line that we’re walking, and that’s what I was talking about: When you say you love and accept yourself versus love and progress yourself.”
With two-thirds of our nation obese, $3 trillion being spent on health care, and childhood obesity on the rise, Kang believes there are multiple contributing factors tipping the scales, all in which stem from family. “Economically, it’s tougher to get good food when you’re poor," she says. "Socially, if people around you are eating like crap and it’s normal, then it’s normalized. And culturally, if people are saying you’re okay being overweight, they keep on reinforcing this outlook." The root of the problem, in her eyes, lies in leadership. “If the parents are healthy and they are healthy role models, then they can raise healthy kids. That’s just how it goes. It’s so simple but so hard when we live in such a blameful culture.”
So is she at fault for fat-shaming? Is the criticism warranted? According to Kang, she’s simply telling the truth and would never intend on hurting anyone's feelings. “If you have excess body fat, especially around your midsection where your organs are, that’s not healthy for you,” she said in response to the recent backlash. “I think we should never shame anybody to lose weight. We should motivate them in a positive way, but when you say love and accept yourself, you’re creating not only a normalization, but a sedentary, complacent society.”
Although some have deemed Kang a pudge-loathing personal trainer, that’s not exactly the case. "I'm average...and nowhere near a size zero," the former NASM-certified instructor said. She doesn't work out for a living -- her day job revolves around overseeing the ownership of two residential care homes for the elderly -- but she loves volunteering her time to mommy exercise groups every Tuesday night. “I think your job is to be healthy if you’re a mom,” she added, a concept that provoked her founding of Fitness Without Borders, a community education and motivation non-profit.
So, why so passionate about the obesity epidemic? Kang, a former bulimic, witnessed first-hand the debilitating repercussions of the medical condition with her own mother. “She’s 52 years-old and has so many health issues. I work with people who are overweight by choice. I think that’s the reason why people are so pissed off; I’m telling them that they have a choice when they really want to have an excuse.”
Is it a choice? We at FITNESS believe someone can be fat but fit, and you can't tell what's going on with a person's body just by the way they look. Regardless, Kang certainly knows how to stir the pot, and one thing we can totally get behind is her belief that small steps in the right direction can lead to major gains, which doesn't happen over night. According to Kang, you have to be uncomfortable with where you are to desire change. “It’s not an all or nothing thing,” she said. “You have to take it one step at a time.”
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