Over the years, I’ve become conflicted in discussing celebrities. I didn’t want to feel like I was elevating—actively or passively—one kind of body type over another; and I didn’t want to feel like I was inviting people to critique a woman’s body or judge the body she has. There’s no real safe way to do it, I think, so I kind of stopped.
But over the last day or so, I was reminded of exactly why the answer can’t be to just stop talking about the people who contribute to and shape our culture, it really has to be a celebration. It has to be enthusiastic, empathetic encouragement.
“I love her music, yeah, 100%… I don’t know anything about her.. I’m sure she’s a cool, awesome chick…but why are we celebrating her body? Why does it matter? That’s what I’m saying—like, why aren’t we celebrating her music? ‘Cause, it isn’t gonna be awesome if she gets diabetes. I-I-I-I’m just being honest. Like, I love her music. Like, my kid loves her music. But there’s never a moment where I’m like, ‘And I’m so glad that she’s overweight!’ Like, why do I even care? Why is it my job to care about her weight?” [source]
That’s Jillian Michaels, former trainer for hit weight loss competition TV show The Biggest Loser, explaining her feelings about gorgeous pop culture starlet Lizzo—why do we care about her weight?
We don’t—and I don’t think Michaels gets that. In fact, I think there’s a lot here that Michaels just doesn’t get.
Over the years, I’ve consistently complained about the harm that a show like The Biggest Loser was doing to not only fitness, but society at large. There are people in this world who believe that people deserve to suffer—they should suffer, as a penalty for being fat; they should suffer for the prize of being thin. Biggest Loser profited off of turning those people into an audience, and turning their contestants into side shows. The entire ordeal was an exercise in socially acceptable cruelty, both in front of and behind the camera.
Case in point:
“We did one challenge in a stadium in California. It was about 100 degrees that day and the challenge involved running up stairs and then doing the wave all the way around the stadium and then running down the stairs and back across the football field. When we were done, we were obviously covered in sweat, we were all out of shape, and that was a really hard challenge in that heat. They brought us bottles of water that we had packed ourselves in the truck that had been sitting in the heat all day, and they broke out coolers for the trainers, the cameramen, the audio people, and for Caroline Rhea and they had cool water and we drank 90 degree water after we ran the challenge. . . . And actually one of the contestants, Eric, from New York (won my season) lost it at that point and screamed about how we weren’t animals and to please stop treating us like animals and they handled it the way they handled us always, [they] quieted him down, and reminded him how lucky we were to be there, that it was saving his life.“ —Kai Hibbard, former Biggest Loser contestant
Hibbard gave an extensive interview to Golda Poretsky at Body Love Wellness (part 1, part 2, part 3), where she outlined the frankly dangerous and traumatic experience of being a cast member on a show that teaches you to lose weight at all costs. Just make sure that you sweat, bleed, and break for the public. Hibbard talks in-depth about the eating disorder she developed by adopting the “by any mans necessary” attitude; it’s the natural precursor to Rachel Frederickson, winner of the 2014 season of Biggest Loser, who came to the finalists’ stage emaciated to the point of having lost much of the muscle in her face, a sign of someone who perhaps had taken the challenge a bit too far.
All of this was only worsened by the fact that research showed the majority of Biggest Loser contestants gained the weight back, triggering a massive conversation about the damage the show and this degree of training does to human metabolism.
And you can almost smell the hint of guilt on the new iteration of Loser, now airing on USA Network, rebranding itself as addressing weight loss but also “overall well-being.”
Yeah, I definitely trust that.
In other words, the show that created Michaels’ brand—the brand that evolved to sell glorified caffeine pills—created the climate where people believed that this kind of torturous training was necessary in order to lose weight, as if people weren’t allowed to be fat in public unless it was to earn the respect of society through fighting for their thinness. Society rightly responded by trying to, instead, celebrate those who simply choose to exist freely, happily, and joyfully in public—something Lizzo does with high cheekbones and big ol’ ass cheeks on stage and fully glorious women of all shapes and sizes alongside her.
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She’s literally inviting everyone to the party she’s hosting, where the only thing she’s serving is happiness and encouragement. She’s modeling what it looks like to take moments of pleasure and excitement for herself—for yourself. Lizzo is the exact, specific, and precise polar opposite of what plus size women are allowed to be in public. Not dramatic, not somber, not comedic value, not manipulated into crying for a camera, not suffering for your entertainment—just joy. If we had only a slew of Lizzos on screen, Jillian Michaels and the show that created her wouldn’t exist. They wouldn’t be on my screen. Saying this bullshit.
And that’s what makes this so disgusting—Michaels couches her critique in this faux feminist script of “why do we even care about her body?” We care because we’re trying to correct a course that shows like Loser set us on—where we literally watched you put people on scales before an audience like cattle. Like they were something less than human. We are trying to create joy for women in their bodies, all bodies, and here you are now complaining about the very thing that created your career. Why you mad, sis? Because if we have space for a world full of Lizzos, there’d be no space for you to berate them, and then joke about it?
But Michaels gives the game away—perhaps accidentally—when she says, “It’s not going to be awesome if she gets diabetes.”
Ah, there it is.
For the record, the same thing that can cause weight gain can also cause type 2 diabetes, which means the two can exist in one person without the other… which means thin people can develop diabetes too, but we’re never discussing that because we’re only talking about diabetes when we want to beat plus size people into acquiescence.
Fat hatred masked in concern trolling masked in pseudo feminist rhetoric. All delivered with a smug grin.
We have to celebrate everyone, because we now know—with rising suicide rates, rising rates of depression and anxiety, and the side effects of such—the dangers of trying to force people back into the shadows. We have to respond, fervently, when people challenge the space we try to create for everyone, because the margins are where the harm happens. The margins are where the shame grabs people, and refuses to let them go. I know what it’s like there, and I’ll fight tooth and nail to prevent anyone else being forced there.
People like Michaels, and shows like the one that created her, profit from reinforcing the margins… and then exploiting the people desperate to come back to the rest of us. It is the opposite of what we need.
I told y’all a decade ago this show, and many of the people who were a part of producing it, were a hot mess. Y’all gonna listen to me now, or nah?