'Hot mom' recreates controversial photo 5 years later — with a surprising twist

Five years after stirring controversy with her “What’s Your Excuse?” meme, “Hot Mom” Maria Kang is back with a softer, more empathetic message for moms: “What’s your reason?

We first met the 37-year-old mother-of-three from Sacramento, California in 2013 when she posted a Facebook photo of herself posing with her young children and showcasing her enviable abs, with the caption, “What’s Your Excuse?”

“Hot mom” Maria Kang, seen here in her original viral image, is back with a new message. (Photo: Mike Byerly Photography)

The image went absolutely viral, evoking widespread rage from people who claimed that Kang was body-shaming women with her “unattainable” body type.

At the time, Kang insisted her message was about health, not beauty, and that she was being “fit shamed” in response to the photo by size-acceptance advocates. “People really put me down for being healthy. I was seriously attacked,” Kang told ABC News.

Maria Kang, then and now. (Photos: L: Maria Kang, R: Beth Baugher)
Maria Kang, then and now. (Photos: L: Maria Kang, R: Beth Baugher)

She also updated the photo with a lengthy “apology” to her detractors, writing, “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. You created them. So, if you want to continue ‘hating’ this image, get used to hating many other things for the rest of your life. You can either blame, complain or obtain a new level of thought by challenging the negative words that come out of your own brain.”

Kang went onto to launch the “No Excuse Mom Movement,” a project funded under the non-profit Fitness Without Borders that offers workout clubs and online support systems.

And in 2016, after gaining 10 pounds, Kang posted an un-retouched bikini photo. “It’s been over a year since I could get in front of a professional camera because I never felt ‘ready enough,’” Kang wrote on the Instagram image with more than 3K likes. “There were constantly events, children, stress and even some depression, that prevented me from following through on my quarterly goals. Despite how ‘unready’ I felt, I thought about all the women I encourage to be proud of how far they’ve come and to celebrate their body at every stage of progression. I am in no way out of shape, but I am definitely and admittedly hard on myself because I rarely see extra skin, cellulite, muscles or a size greater than a 2 on a magazine cover.”

Maria Kang posted an unretouched bikini photo after gaining 10 lbs. in 2016. Photo: Maria Kang/<a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BK8qB88gd4v/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Instagram" class="link ">Instagram</a>
Maria Kang posted an unretouched bikini photo after gaining 10 lbs. in 2016. Photo: Maria Kang/Instagram

Kang added, “This is a raw photo with absolutely no retouching, no preparation and no shame. I’m finding my beauty again, I’m discovering my strength again and I’m relearning what it means to be brave, bold and unapologetic about where I am in my life’s journey.”

She also published The No More Excuses Diet book, debuted a “No excuses calendar” filled with images of fit moms with diverse bodies, and disclosed on her website that she suffered from an eating disorder throughout her twenties.

Still, Kang remained controversial. In August, when curvy model Tess Holliday pointed out a hypocrisy in the size-acceptance movement after an Instagram post from a man who professed his love for his plus-size wife went viral, Kang fired back on Facebook.

“Did anyone read this story about a husband loving his wife regardless of size?” she wrote. “I thought it was a sweet tribute of someone loving their spouse despite any standard. When I see someone like Tess Holliday criticize this, it’s disheartening. Tess is an obese model (not thick, plus size or curvy) who has popularized the term #effyourbeautystandards and should promote positivity in all forms.”

On Wednesday, Kang decided to tweak her infamous message from “What’s Your Excuse?” to “What’s your Reason?” She unveiled the new platform on Facebook with a new photo of herself and her children, split-screened with the original image that caused so much controversy.

“I still love the word ‘excuse’ — it’s part of who I am — but it creates a barrier for people who aren’t ready to address health problems and feel shame for them,” Kang tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We all have excuses for why we’re not healthy, but once we identify them, we need reasons to stay healthy.”

Admitting that she’s evolved since becoming internet-famous, Kang says, “My kids have grown, my priorities have changed, and I understand more the real health challenges women face.”

She adds, “I’m more empathetic and careful with my language.”

However, Kang is still a workout buff. “I have anxiety and exercise is how I self-medicate. Between work and my three children, I need to take time for me.”

And she still has complicated feelings about the body-positive movement. “I recently asked a friend to exercise with me and she said, ‘I don’t want to work out because I don’t hate my body.’ I replied, ‘You should work out because you love your body.’ Loving your body isn’t wearing a bikini and using a hashtag — it’s treating your body well.”

Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for nonstop inspiration delivered fresh to your feed, every day.