Maria Kang, AKA "Fit Mom," posted a controversial photo on her Facebook page back in September, baring her toned abs, with her three young kids by her side. The 33-year-old created a firestorm of attention by asking, "What's your excuse?"
Many interpreted the post as fat shaming. Kang seemed to be saying, if you don't look like me, you're just not trying hard enough.
Subsequent Facebook posts, blogs and media interviews have only given her detractors more reasons to call her out as a judgmental fat shamer. Meanwhile, her supporters continue to cheer her on as the voice of reason in a world that promotes fat acceptance despite the unhealthy effects of obesity.
Now that Kang has an international spotlight, she says she's not backing down. She's willing to take on anyone who says that obesity looks OK. Here's what she had to say to ABC News about her views on the impact of size on health.
Earlier this week, Caroline Berg Eriksen, a Norwegian soccer player's wife, came under fire for posting an Instagram selfie featuring her flat, chiseled stomach just four days after giving birth. What do you think about that?
I say, good for her! I've never seen anyone look like that after four days, but every woman's body is different. We shouldn't feel bad about ourselves if we don't look like her but we shouldn't bash her for it either.
My body certainly didn't look like that after having a baby. I posted pictures to my Facebook page and anyone who looks at them will see I am like everyone else. I had to work to get it back.
You recently scuffled with the owner of Curvy Girl Lingerie, Chrystal Bougon, on CNN. Bougon encouraged "regular women" to bare-it-all online, stripping down to their lingerie to prove that real women are beautiful. Do you object to that?
All of the women they showed were obese and I said that was not healthy. Maybe that particular obese woman really is healthy. If so, then she's just like the Norwegian who can have flat abs four days after giving birth – an anomaly.
I said you can just tell by looking at someone if they are fit or not. I know this from being in the fitness world and working with people. It's instinct. You can tell if someone is sick and unhealthy by how they look. When someone has a poor waist-to-hip ratio, that's a huge indicator. Studies show that you are more susceptible to heart disease and other types of illness based on that. Anyone can tell this with a bare naked eye looking at a bare naked stomach.
You can tell if someone is obese and that's the word I am using here. Your body is not meant to carry this much weight. You can tell when they expose all their goodies to you they are not healthy. And can I just say I am tired of everyone posing in their lingerie?
So, can someone who is overweight but who works out and eats right ever be considered healthy?
You can base a lot off of visual results. If someone is working out and eating healthy, however their body manifests, you have to respect that.
I don't look like an athlete or someone who could be on the cover of Vogue. I won't ever look like Heidi Klum and I don't beat myself up over it. No one can get the same results – everyone is built differently and has different genetics.
I never said anyone should look like me or anyone else. I am talking about health not looks. But if you exercise and eat healthy you can be healthy. That is my message.
You've been accused of being a fat shamer. Do you think you are being fit shamed?
I hate the word shame. It has a connotation of guilt. I don't feel any guilt and I don't feel any doubt. Anyone who does feel shame is probably feeling negative about themselves already.
But in a sense I really was fit shamed by a lot of people. People really put me down for being healthy. I was seriously attacked.
And here these women on CNN are showing the same amount of skin as I did in my Facebook post and being proud. Everyone is saying to them, "You go girl." People don't look at these photos and ask about what message they're sending. And then someone like me who is in shape, they are saying how dare you put yourself out there? You are the reason for eating disorders. You are the reason women feel bad about their bodies.
What about this woman who is overweight in lingerie? What message she is sending? In a way, we have the same message.
The problem is, we are normalizing what people should look like; overweight and obese. We can't normalize this and that's my problem with it. You are sending the message that being obese is OK.
We are seeing extreme sizes of the spectrum in the media, people who are very thin and very obese. There are a small percentage of people we see who are average. We need real role models like me. People in everyday life – somewhere in the middle of fat and thin, we're not seeing them. I am the minority here.
In retrospect, do you wish you had used words other than, "What's your excuse?" and perhaps toned down some of the remarks that got you banned from Facebook for three days?
All I've tried to imply is that my body is representative of what health looks like. Of course there are different ways to look healthy. I have flat and toned abs but I don't have a six pack. People are focusing too much on the body image aspects versus what my body defines, which is healthy.
I'm not a model or celebrity. I am your next-door neighbor but I am making it work. Being fit isn't always my first priority but it is a priority. It makes them madder because I broke their glass house. I can overcome my challenges and so can you. I am showing them what's possible and creating a discussion.
I can see that people would hate me because I am closer to the ideal. But I have stretch marks and I struggle with being larger on the bottom. I am genetically susceptible to being overweight.
I've always been inspired by overcoming excuses and challenges. I could have said something that was perhaps more supportive but then I wouldn't have started an international dialog about all of this now. If I said something softer it wouldn't have had such an impact. It woke people up.
You're young now. It may get harder for you to maintain your weight and figure as you age. Any thoughts on that?
When I had a baby, people told me watch out your body will change. But my body really didn't change that much. I started doing my homework and changing my habits. I weight train and I exercise and I eat right.
Of course I understand life will change and it will get harder. But I am getting it done because I know how important it is. I think I will still be able to make it work even as I age.
Remember, your body is the only thing you own in this life. And I can't wait until I am 70 taking a picture with my boys and asking, "What's your excuse?"