Fitspiration or Fat Shaming: The Fit Mom Controversy

What's your excuse?If you’ve watched the news or been on social media lately, you likely heard the story of fit model and mother of three, Maria Kang. Kang posted a photo to her Facebook page showing her svelte figure and toned abs with the caption, “What’s your excuse?” Intended to inspire others, the photo ignited a media firestorm and a barrage of comments. With more than 16 million views, the majority of the comments are encouraging, “You go girl! You’re an inspiration!” However, many are negative, calling Kang “a bully,” “fake,” and a slew of curse words I would prefer not to mention.

Kang fired back, stating on her Facebook page“I’m sorry you took an image and resonated with it in such a negative way. I won’t go into details that I struggled with my genetics, had an eating disorder, work full time owning two business’, have no nanny, am not naturally skinny and do not work as a personal trainer. What I WILL say is this. What you interpret is not MY fault. It’s Yours. The first step in owning your life, your body and your destiny is to OWN the thoughts that come out of your own head. I didn’t create them. With that said, obesity and those who struggle with health-related diseases is literally a ‘bigger’ issue than this photo. Maybe it’s time we stop tip-toeing around people’s feelings and get to the point.”

When I first saw the photo, my first thought was not negative. Probably more jealous than anything. As an Anytime Fitness owner, I am very familiar with the tagline she used. The Anytime Fitness slogan is “No More Excuses,” referring to the fact that our clubs are open 24/7, always allowing you to find time for a workout. However, I can see how people took it the wrong way. One commenter said “Fibromyalgia is my excuse, you have no idea.” I suffer with degenerative disc disease and, as a result, cannot exercise at the level I once did. I’ve modified my routine to lighter cardio and weights, pilates, yoga and barre. The likelihood that I could work out to the degree that Kang does and obtain a body such as hers is slim. I can stay fit though. I think the photo itself is inspiring; it’s the message that didn’t resonate with your average female. Just the photo alone could have shown her point.

Cross Fit mama

Exercise and Pregnancy

Just the week prior, Lee-Ann Ellison, a 35-year-old stay at home mom ignited a controversy of her own when CrossFit posted a photo of her lifting weights. People called it “risky behavior” and “a good way to lose your baby.” As someone who worked out my entire pregnancy, I don’t see a major problem with her routine. My OB/GYN told me I could continue everything I was doing prior to my pregnancy. Ellison said she isn’t lifting as heavy as normal and performed this way in her previous two pregnancies. “I used to take CrossFit classes five days a week, but lately, I’ve scaled back to three times,” says Ellison, who has gained  23 pounds of pregnancy weight. “What bothers me most about all this backlash is that there are so many pregnant women who eat poorly and don’t exercise at all during their pregnancies. There is an obesity epidemic in this country. What about that?”

While some women have high risk pregnancies, severe nausea, etc. and struggle to exercise during pregnancy, many don’t and lose the benefits it provides. I’ve had a number of pregnant gym members call me to cancel their membership. When I ask, “are you a high risk pregnancy? Did your doctor advise against it?” Only one has ever said yes. While I did cheat on my diet more than normal while pregnant, I worked hard to eat healthy and stay fit. I truly believe it made a huge difference in my laboring process and recovery. My doctor praised my blood pressure, weight gain and overall pregnancy. I agree with Ellison that some women see pregnancy as an excuse to gain weight and eat whatever they want. If the pregnancy is without complications and you do it properly, exercise is very beneficial.  You don’t need to do CrossFit or work out to the extreme, but moderate cardio, weights, yoga and more are great.

Aiming for fitspiration

I’ve posted my own share of exercise photos to my Instagram account, and they have all been positive. A friend of mine from high school, Stacey, has created quite a following with her fitspiration photos on Instagram, even with one very similar to Kang’s. photo-1.PNGIt’s led her to creating her own apparel line for women, Strong Mom Fitness Apparel. I love the posts and find them very motivational. At the end of the day, to each their own. I do think Kang could have handled her post differently, but if she wanted press, she certainly accomplished that. Some people love exercise and others just don’t. I’ve definitely learned that after four years of owning a gym. Some need more of a push and ongoing encouragement, and it’s ok if they don’t strive for flat abs but simply focus on health.

What do you think of Kang’s photo? Are fit moms an inspiration?



  1. I think Maria Kang’s response to the backlash was spot-on. If you took her post personally, then that says something about YOU. Her intention was to motivate those who WANT to get in better shape and live a healthier lifestyle, yet they use their children as an excuse.
    If that doesn’t apply to you, then that doesn’t apply to you. Move on.

    It seems that our lives are lived so publicly now. Some more than others, but if you’re on social media, then you are at some point sucked into the instant-celeb frenzy as well. Even within your own social circle. I, for one, am tired of it. It’s cyber-bullying.
    If it’s not about Maria’s message then it’s something else. Everyone is so quick to attack instead of first seeking to understand. It’s time to get over ourselves.

    • I agree that social media has definitely changed the game, making everyone’s lives more public. I do agree that sometimes people are too easily offended.

  2. I love this post. I don’t know that there is ANYTHING wrong with a mom posting a picture of herself looking fabulous to try to serve as inspiration, to say “hey, it CAN be done!” I agree with you that the words probably were not necessary … but she sure made a point. We should all do our best to get in better shape, myself included!

  3. Angelina, I love your post today! I applaud these women who are courageous to take these photographs and serve as an example to motivate others to not use excuses. And, being healthy for our kids should serve as our motivation as well. Even on snowy Chicago days, stuck indoors with two under two, I would pop in a DVD and the kids would exercise along with me. And, now that fall has arrived, I’ll take the kids to the zoo and fit in a couple of mile run pushing their stroller to and from. I want to make sure I am around as long as I can for my family and I want to teach them to incorporate exercise in their daily routine as well. Exercise is great not only for the body but mind as well!

  4. This was a great post. Pregnancy and exercise should definitely go hand in hand – what more important time than to be taking the best care of yourself!

  5. I COMPLETELY agree with Maria Kang, and Cher. As was said above, if you take offense to the wording Maria used, then it says something about how you feel about yourself. If you have extenuating circumstances that prevent you from exercising, or even performing to the best of your abilities this obviously doesn’t apply to you. I can say it out loud! Here goes…You know why I am not any closer to being “in shape” now than a year ago when I gave birth? News flash, it’s because I don’t put forth the effort. I won’t deny that, but at the same time I don’t sit here and cry woe is me because my body is not where I would like it to be. Ms.Ellison was correct. There is outrage at her as a mother, for participating in exercise that is deemed by others “risky” during pregnancy. If she modified her routine for her pregnancy and her doctor was aware then she is being as safe as possible. However, it is considered absolutely unacceptable to make a comment about an obese woman who is pregnant? There is a serious disconnect here. My doctor told me that any exercise was ok during pregnancy, as long as it was contingent with what I was doing before I became pregnant. Of course there are exceptions. On the other hand, there are so many KNOWN RISKS attributed to obesity and being obese and pregnant. I did not exercise during my pregnancy, but I at least tried to eat healthy meals at the correct serving size. Bottom line is, the picture was meant to be a motivation for mother’s who feel as if they cannot mesh exercise and motherhood to achieve their goals, NOT as a condemnation for mother’s who do not exercise.

    • I agree, Shannon. I think each person needs to do what’s best for the. I don’t think she meant to offend anyone but to motivate. We really do need to stop condemning each other and support each other.

  6. I didn’t really take exception to her but as someone who has struggled with her weight (and not just 20-30 pounds either) all my life that has been made worse by medical conditions, I find peoples response to it disheartening. Mom’s slam each other for many things, do we have to include other peoples bodies in this as well

    And Maria Kang’s faux apology was just that. That I found more offensive than the first post. But I wonder if anyone not seriously overweight will ever see it how those of us who are do.

    If you can get back in shape, great! If you can’t or your struggling and trying, that’s great too! If you don’t want to, more power to you!! But as a single mom struggling to find time with my child and pay for living, I don’t have the time. Struggling with medical issues makes it that much more frustrating.

    And yes, her words, outside of this “fitspiration” life or whatever, are provoking in a negative way. Like it or not, they are in a psychological context

    • @Lisa: I really agree with you! The phrasing “What’s your excuse” is needlessly combative and judgmental. People have plenty of *reasons* for not looking like Kang. Overweight people aren’t just lazy, and I feel like pointedly asking for someone’s “excuse” implies laziness. And then instead of apologizing for hurting people, she hypocritically makes excuses for offending them. Bottom line: she said something inflammatory that offended people. If she doesn’t want to apologize for that, that’s her prerogative. But the fault doesn’t lie with those who were insulted, the fault lies with her for insulting them.

      Angelina, you said it best and most simply: Just the photo alone could have shown her point.

    • I understand how her response even more so than the photo was seen poorly. I think her response was fueled by some really ugly comments to the photo. I don’t think it was aimed at people who have conditions that prohibit them from exercise, weight loss, etc. On the up side, it opened a discussion about exercise and pregnancy, which in previous years wasn’t always encouraged when possible.

  7. Her workout results are impressive. I think if she had simply posted the picture without the caption (and included some specifics about her fitness activities), she would have been perceived better.

  8. I personally didn’t take offense to it especially since I don’t know her story. I can understand how those who struggle with weight would have been discouraged but I wish they would have took it for what it was and it was her way of jump starting someone’s lack of exercise.

    My decision to get fit started when I decided I wanted to have a baby. I made the commitment to start bootcamp 3-4 times a week to prepare my body for the change it was going to go thru. Because of that I was able to workout up until the day I went into labor since I was already doing it. I think being fit and active made all the difference in my pregnancy being enjoyable. I slept good, my weight gain was minimal, and my doctor even complemented me on my stoamch muscles during my c-section cause it made his job so much easier.

    Getting fit is a very personally journey and you can’t do it until you are ready and motivated. All they were trying to do was motivate someone. These post may have inspired someone which was the point in both of those post.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here