Jillian Michaels Co-opts Body Love Messaging (This is why we can’t have nice things…)

Body love courtesy of Jillian Michaels.

In an epic moment of facepalm, my facebook feed threw up this little fact:  Jillian Michaels has published her “Top 3 Guidelines for Improving Body Image” at EverydayHealth.com.  (No, I’m not gonna link to that ish.  Nope.)  This seems in line with her recent move to distance herself from Biggest Loser after she made untold millions from screaming at fatties on the show.

Now the irony of Jillian Michaels would be really funny if it weren’t so very sad.  This woman styled her entire career on being the queen of mean.  She came into our living room every week screaming at the fatties–about how ugly we were and how we were killing ourselves.  And some might suggest that Jillian Michaels might be making a genuine change or shift in attitude.  And I might even consider believing her if she started pulling products like her “6-week Six Pack” or her “Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism” or her “No More Problem Zones” off the shelves.  Nope, no, nopety nope.  You don’t get to give advice like “Be realistic about your body type.” when you are actively marketing a product called “1 Week Shred”.  And you don’t get to advise people to “Stop negative self talk.” while marketing a product called “No More Problem Zones.”

And if that didn’t tickle my sarcasm zones quite enough, this little gem is posted on EveryDayHealth.com with the tagline, “Always choose well.”  Seriously?  You put the queen of scream in charge of body image on your site?  For REALZ?  Is that choosing well?  Look, I’m sorry guys.  Just because Jillian is wearing a nice soft stripy sweater, and you’ve got her on a white set with a soft filter, it doesn’t make her nice.  And it certainly doesn’t make her qualified to talk to women about body image.

But can we talk here?  This is really a bigger issue than the Biggest of the Biggest Loser Meanies trying to change her image.  The real issue is the co-opting of important messaging in the body acceptance movement by people who just see it as the latest way to add market share to their products.  And I think as we go forward, and we start to gain traction, this is likely to become a bigger and bigger issue.

Let me take a moment and disclose some facts about me.  First, I acknowledge that even as “The Fat Chick”, I have an awful lot of privilege.  I’m white, middle class, and heterosexual.  That makes a lot of things in this society a lot easier for me.  Also, in terms of my size, I’m what you might call a mid-size fatty.  I’m certainly “plus-sized”.  But my size and my shape make certain things a lot easier for me than for many other fat people.  I face discrimination, but nowhere near as much or as intensely as many of my brothers and sisters in the movement.  I don’t receive these privileges as a result of anything virtuous I’ve done.  I was born with them.  And thus, while I can sympathize with people of all sizes, I can’t say that my experience is the same as all other fat people.  It just isn’t true.

I also have to admit that, having been in this space for many years, some messages are easier to sell.  Some messages are more palatable for the general public and as such, are more fun to say.  I get a lot more rewards for telling people to love themselves than I get for saying that society is brutalizing entire segments of the population, and that it is not okay and it has to stop.  A lot of people look at my midsized status and nudge me and say, “Well you’re okay, you’re not THAT fat.”  To which I usually respond, “ALL bodies are good bodies.  And people thinner than me are okay and people fatter than me are okay.  You don’t get to decide what sized body is acceptable for the general population.”  I say usually.  Because sometimes I just don’t have the spoons to deal with it and I just walk away.  I am not a persona.  I am not perfect.  I’m just a person.

But I think it’s important going forward to acknowledge that it’s not really okay to co-opt body diversity, size acceptance and body love language just to soften a campaign of ongoing body hatred.  It’s not really okay to call yourself an activist against weight bias or weight stigma if you still adhere to the “fat but not that fat” ideal.  It’s pretty easy to accept that nobody looks like a supermodel.  “Not a supermodel” is a pretty safe position to take.  Only a few of us in the world look like that, and even those few are Photoshopped beyond recognition.  But true work against weight bias and weight stigma includes recognizing that weight stigma and weight bias are institutionalized, rampant and ubiquitous.  It includes recognizing that even if most of us hate our bodies, that stigma and bias are likely to be different at size 12, size 22, and size 32.  And that weight stigma is not allowed once you are beyond a certain size.  Body acceptance is not just loving your body, unless you are, you know, really fat.  Body acceptance is for EVERY BODY.  And this work demands that you accept that you can’t simply solve the problems of weight stigma and weight bias with a poster and a little boost to your self confidence.  Working on your own feelings and confidence are important first steps to coping with weight stigma and weight bias in your own life.  But they are only first steps.  If you really want to fight these problems, you have to move on to finding these oppressions out in the world and making things better–no matter how uncomfortable or unpalatable these messages might be.

And for those of you who want to feel better about your  body, here are three pieces of advice:

1.  Don’t listen to Jillian Michaels.

2.  Don’t listen to Jillian Michaels.

3.  Don’t listen to Jillian Michaels.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. Want to hire me to speak about size acceptance, weight bias and weight stigma? CLICK HERE.

Want to join me in making the world a safer place for bodies of ALL sizes?  Click here and join me!

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12 thoughts on “Jillian Michaels Co-opts Body Love Messaging (This is why we can’t have nice things…)

  1. ukeedays

    Her job isn’t to make you love your body the way it is, it is to change your body – she’s a fitness instructor, and makes you work to become fit. What’s your objective as a fitness instructor? For people to stay the same size and just accept their bodies? That’s not why I go to a fitness class.

    Reply
    1. fatchicksings Post author

      Ukeedays, My job is to help people move their bodies in joyful ways that will help improve their health, strength, range of motion and quality of life. Some of them will lose weight. Some of them will not. Some of them will look different afterwards. Some will not. But they can experience health benefits regardless of whether or not they lose weight or look different. My goal is also to ensure that the way they exercise is safe, healthy and sustainable. And my goal is to make sure they have fun.

      Thanks for asking,
      Jeanette

      Reply
  2. Vivi Ennui

    The article/video in question are over a year old.
    Last Updated: 10/15/2013
    This blog is from two weeks ago. How on earth did Facebook just notify you of an article that happened over a year ago!?

    Your perspective is entirely valid. Your rage is part of your process towards self-acceptance and personal healing, and I don’t want to deny you your right to self expression.
    I do wish that you had focused more on what Jillian had said in her article rather than avoiding it (focusing on your own privilege within the fat community) and railing on perceived villainous behavior.

    At what point is something like Jillian’s article/video evidence that the signal is boosting and we are being heard? When will something, like this, be evidence of change? Will this always be a case of someone taking advantage of the movement?
    Are we supposed to vilify Jillian instead of understanding how she is a symptom of the status quo? Is the goal of this post just to trigger me and make me angry?

    I agree that the Biggest Loser is absolutely the most damaging show to have ever happened to fat people in the history of Hollywood. But… if… tomorrow… we had full body acceptance and love… would we be happy? Or, is the struggle what we love? Is inciting my rage making fat acceptance celebrities more money?
    And since you are profiting from the body love movement (as a fitness instructor, yourself)… how am I supposed to support your vilification of someone else appearing to do the same?

    These are all rhetorical questions that popped into my head while reading this today (I got here from The Militant Baker, by the way).

    Reply
    1. fatchicksings Post author

      Hi Vivi,
      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I just talk about things as I come to them. Sometimes, I find out about things in weird ways or long after they happened, but I still felt this was a relevant topic. And thank you for taking me to task in a respectful way. I think the signal is boosting. And I think that is a good thing. But I am concerned about the signal being taken up in a way that is confusing and ultimately damaging. And that is what I hope to accomplish with this post. I am suggesting that people think critically about who is sharing the body love message and why. If the body love message is being used by people and companies focused exclusively on body shred and weight loss, I am concerned about that. I do not feel the struggle is what I love. Seeing positive change in people’s lives is what I love. Hearing that they have stopped putting their lives on hold and started doing everything they dreamed of is what I love. And when somebody takes over a message that is so important to making our lives better in a way that potentially mixes it up with a whole lot of weight loss stuff, I am concerned. But in any case I try very hard to balance these angry posts in my blog with others that are not based on a rant.

      I do make money selling fitness related products. However, I don’t think that means I am not allowed to criticize anybody else who does the same. Thanks again for your thoughts.

      Jeanette

      Reply
  3. Samantha Westbrook

    I’m sorry but you have her all wrong. If you ever actually read any of her books or listened to any of her podcast you would know that’s not the way she is at all. And the biggest loser used her to make money, bottom line. They marketed her as the mean screaming trainer. She was there to help those people, motivate and push them further than They could ever push themselves. Sometimes you need that wake up call to realize you are so much stronger that you could ever imagine. They only high lighted her screaming parts to draw in viewers. Just because she writes books about shredding lbs and getting your body in good shape makes her not qualified to promote self love and positive body image? Hello? Being healthy and fit should be what everyone strives for, for themselves. Being healthy and active should be a part of life. I’ve learned that the hard way. At my highest I was almost 400lbs. It’s not about loving my body and being happy with my body. It’s about living a long healthy life. I understand where you are coming from and I love your cause, but you have her all wrong and it shouldn’t be about accepting you’re overweight and loving your body as it is. Love yourself enough to make healthy choices in life so your body is beautiful inside and out.

    Reply
    1. fatchicksings Post author

      Samantha, I respectfully disagree. If she didn’t believe in the practices at The Biggest Loser, she could have simply said no when they asked to renew her contract. After the first season, it was abundantly clear to her that she would be perceived that way, and yet she renewed her contract year after year. She used that to ride her way up to the top of the exercise heap and make millions upon millions of dollars. Forgive me. But if you use all of these techniques to make millions of dollars and build an empire based on humiliating and torturing fat people in a way that is not accepted by medical science, and then you say, but I really want women to love their bodies, I am going to call you a hypocrite. My point is that there are a lot of women out there doing the hard work of promoting body love in a way that is not filled with hate. She signed on to body hate when she endorsed the checks. She had a choice and she made it. Being healthy and active is something I absolutely believe in. But in fact, being healthy and active very often does not come with weight loss. And there is plenty of evidence that the “doing healthy stuff” part is way more important (and sustainable) than the “losing weight part” in achieving the long life you seek. If your “happy and healthy” came with weight loss and that’s something you wanted, then that’s awesome. I just don’t believe everyone’s results will be the same as yours. And that’s okay. THAT’S what body love means to me.

      Sincerely Yours,
      Jeanette

      Reply
    2. Grace A

      I completely agree with you Samantha. Promoting positive health isn’t the opposite of body acceptance. It’s an integral cog in the entire process. Not to mention, women are bombarded with negative influences on their bodies literally everywhere. If they are receiving positive reinforcement about acceptance from somewhere, who the heck are you to say it isn’t “good enough” or that they aren’t “qualified” enough. Last time I checked, literally everyone on the planet has body issues from time to time. If someone can relay helpful information in dealing with it, that’s still a positive thing.

      Reply
      1. fatchicksings Post author

        Grace, Thank you for your comment. I think positive reinforcement is a good thing. I believe that body love and health messaging can totally coexist. But I think in this case, where it’s coming from the mouth of somebody who made millions making women feel horrible about themselves, it is reasonable for me to ask the question of whether or not she is being genuine or just dressing the weight loss wolf up in body love clothing to make a buck. I think it can be very confusing. I blogged in more detail about this today: https://fatchicksings.com/2014/11/20/body-love-is-not-a-pant-size/. Just my $0.02.

        Thanks again for sharing your thoughts,
        Jeanette

  4. fatchicksings Post author

    Yup, had to literally stop shaking from the rage before I could write my post. You made millions making women hate themselves. But now, that you’re super rich, you don’t want to accept that people might think you’re mean. There ain’t enough youtube or soft filters in the world to hide the smell of that poop!

    J

    Reply
  5. sndsfnny

    What Dr. Deah said. Between Jillian Michaels pretending that abusive shrew wasn’t really her, and Special K pretending that their tape measure wasn’t a legal dodge after they stole Marilyn Wann’s Yay! Scale, I am sputtering and seething. How dare they? OUR message. NOT YOURS, FUCKSTERS (sorry about language).

    OURS.

    Yours for living in the body I have right now,

    sndsfnny

    Reply
  6. lusciouswords

    Ugh, my stomach revolts at the thought of Jillian Michaels co-opting body love messaging. She needs to stay out of our sandbox. We deal with enough asshats without adding her to the mix. *sigh*

    Reply
  7. dr deah

    This infuriates me. It’s like the Dove Campaign and Special K. Special K aka Cereal Killer, is now running an ad campaign where the women are being measured by a tape measure similar to Marilyn Wann’s Yay Scale. The whole ad would be a fantastic message of body love and how we can not find happiness in a number or pant’s size…except for the fact that it is brought to you by Special K…a cereal whose very existence is based on weight loss and feeling better if there is “less of you!” It is so hypocritical.

    Reply

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