Jillian Michaels appears to be the latest so-called victim of 21st-century cancel culture, and I have to say I’m here for it.
Michaels is drawing criticism for comments made on Buzzfeed’s morning news show, AM 2 DM, about Lizzo. If you haven’t been following pop culture for the last couple of years, Lizzo is a body-positive, unapologetically fat, black woman who is insanely talented with a flute and quite adept at twerking while she plays it. While her music resonates with millions, it’s her genuine form of self-love and appreciation that further endears her to so many people.
It’s blatantly obvious, however, that Jillian Michaels isn’t one of them.
Let’s back up just a little bit. Previously, Michaels was interviewed by Women’s Health U.K. and shared her thoughts on why the show that catapulted her to fame would never make it nowadays.
Over 12 years, season after season of NBC’s The Biggest Loser featured Michaels and her signature tough-love, in-your-face training style. Today, she thinks political correctness would prevent a show like that from gaining traction. In her interview, she states:
“I think we’re politically correct to the point of endangering people. Yes, we want to be inclusive of everyone [and respect that] everyone comes in all different shapes and sizes.
That nobody should ever be body shamed or fat shamed or excluded and that everyone is equally deserving and should feel equally valuable.”
However, in her subsequent Buzzfeed interview, her criticism of Lizzo is exactly that: fat shaming. While she attempts to draw focus to Lizzo’s music, she puts the qualifier on it that her body shouldn’t be celebrated. Her exact words: “It isn’t gonna be awesome if she gets diabetes.”
She goes on to ask a rhetorical question. “Why is it my job to care about her weight?”
Well, Jillian, great question. The answer is: it’s not your job to care about her weight, or anyone else’s. But by speaking about it with such disdain, you prove that you actually care quite a bit.
Here’s Why It Matters
Michaels and other fitness superstars, wellness gurus, and proponents of fad diets capitalize on a few things to maintain their success and public persona.
- Our intense fear of becoming fat
- Our desperate desire to become or remain thin
- Our discomfort with our inevitable demise
If any one of these three factors ceased to matter, their world (and financial stability) would come crashing down like a three-legged stool with one leg missing.
Luckily for them (for now), we’re willing to do just about anything, no matter the cost. Thousands of dollars on a gym membership, fitness studio, or personal trainer? No problem. Celebrity-endorsed laxatives disguised as supplements? Hand ’em over. Voluntarily amputating parts of our digestive tracts (AKA, bariatric surgery) to induce self-imposed malnutrition? People are lining up for it.
And let’s not forget the public humiliation endured by The Biggest Loser contestants on national television. It can be downright unsettling to see the lengths people go to in order to lose weight or avoid becoming fat.
NOTE: I use the word “fat” as a neutral descriptor. While it is typically used as an insult, some choose to use it as part of their preferred language to describe their bodies.
Michaels stands to lose quite a bit if we stop drinking her sports drink-flavored Kool-Aid and wake up to realize there’s more to life than chasing her version of health. While she tries to portray a body-positive attitude, it’s abundantly clear that her brand of body positivity is only extended to those who still fit within her narrow mold of acceptable lifestyles and appearances.
Due to the unfortunate way our thin-obsessed culture elevates those who epitomize wellness through thinness (regardless of their actual health status), we tend to award a louder megaphone to those who may not deserve it.
But the tide is changing and a small, but steady, backlash is building. Intuitive eating, a non-diet approach, and Health at Every Size (HAES) are all gaining momentum and beginning to trend on social media. Interest is also growing among health care practitioners, with physicians, dietitians, therapists, personal trainers, and more becoming certified to provide evidence-based counseling and support that doesn’t focus on weight loss. It runs completely counter to the cultural norm.
What would Michaels and others do if we dug deep and found the ability to accept and love our flawed, imperfect selves? What would they peddle if we took our wellbeing into our own hands and trusted that we alone are the experts in taking care of our bodies? Who could they indoctrinate in self-objectification and self-loathing if we instead turned to more qualified, compassionate partners in health?
There Is Not One Disease That Only Afflicts Fat People
Michaels seems to forget her co-star, Bob Harper, suffered a heart attack in 2017 at the age of 52. The media called it “shocking” and cautioned that it “could happen to anyone”. What often goes unmentioned is that weight stigma means patients in large or fat bodies are often discredited when describing their symptoms, denied treatment for serious conditions, or prescribed weight loss instead of receiving effective, potentially life-saving treatment.
Small or thin bodies are not immune to chronic diseases, joint pain, infertility, sleep disorders, metabolic disturbances, cancer, or any other malady blamed on weight. What they are perhaps immune to is the degree of weight stigma, judgment, and unsolicited advice forced upon those in larger bodies.
Likewise, living in a fat body does not sentence you to a lifetime of poor health or future disease.
As someone who carries an immense amount of thin privilege, I’m fully aware I am not the most qualified voice to speak on this issue. Many are speaking out on these topics and sharing first-hand experiences and I encourage you to check out their work. Your Fat Friend, Rachael Hope, Shannon Ashley, and Roxane Gay are just a few you can find here on Medium.
This Is Bigger Than Jillian Michaels
Call it cancel culture, call it being overly sensitive. I don’t care one bit if this article rubs you the wrong way. The last time I spoke out about the media perpetuating a thin ideal, there were some people with some, uh, feelings about it.
But here’s the thing.
There has always been diversity in body shape, size, and color. There will always be diversity in body shape, size, and color. And there is absolutely nothing wrong or bad about bodies of any shape, size, or color. Health is a much more complex issue than we like to believe.
We cannot inherently assume thin people are healthy or fat people are unhealthy. The only thing you can tell by looking at someone is the shape and size of their body, along with your own degree of personal bias towards a culturally-enforced thin ideal.
Body positivity isn’t positive if it’s only reserved for certain bodies.
We are desperately in need of more diverse representation in the media. Without examples of happy, successful people in bodies that look like our own, it’s difficult to envision a future where we, too, can be happy and successful.
If anything needs to be canceled in the new year, it’s concern trolling and overt efforts to body police others. Operating under the guise of “but what about their health?” is an old, tired argument that’s yet to be proven effective for improving anyone’s health. If that were the case, don’t you think we’d have solved the mystery by now?
To Jillian Michaels and anyone else who feels this way, you’d be well-served to keep fat phobic, stigmatizing comments to yourself and leave more room for the people sharing body positive messages instead.
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