Jillian Michaels Hates Your Body, Maybe. Or Not. Should You Care?

April 26, 2010

So apparently Jillian Michaels is going to avoid pregnancy and childbirth for the same reasons that she avoids cupcakes and joy: because those things aren’t worth the cost to her perfectly toned, perfectly muscled, perfectly perfect body. Which, whatever. She’s entitled to make whatever cost-benefit analyses she likes about life and love and muscle tone. I’m not going to judge. Not much, anyway.

The thing that got me about her remarks about avoiding pregnancy and childbirth for the sake of her body (I’m not going to address her remarks about adoption, which, ugh. She wants to rescue something? Rescue a puppy, Jillian) wasn’t so much that she was articulating her choice to preserve her body against the ravages of pregnancy – which is ridiculous, really, because she makes a living showing others how to get and keep their preferred physiques after pregnancy and childbirth and cheeseburgers, so she should know that she doesn’t have to choose (I’ll get back to this) (holy longest sentence ever) – but her choice of words in articulating that choice. “I don’t want to do that to my body,” she said. I don’t know what her inflection was, exactly, but in my mind’s ear the ‘that‘ is totally italicized and dripping with icicles of disgust. ‘That.’ Ugh. Why do women do that to themselves? It’s just so, you know, yuck.

Here’s the thing. I don’t think that the ‘that‘ Jillian Michaels was referring to was simply weight gain and boob droopage. She’s a fitness coach. She knows better. Women don’t become irrevocably hippopotamized after they have children. If that were true, Heidi Klum and Gisele Bundchen and Demi Moore and Madonna and Cindy Crawford and Gwyneth Paltrow and countless other celebrity-type women would never have had children. Hollywood and New York would be entirely bereft of children. There would be no Celebrity Baby Blog and no Babble and no ‘bump watch’ and nobody would ever have wondered whether J-Lo really did demand couture delivery gowns. That, or they’d only ever adopt (ADOPT, Jillian, not RESCUE) and there wouldn’t be any kids left over for Angelina, or there’d be some twisted Handmaid’s Tale black market in mother-surrogates who pump out designer babies for celebrities on demand. (There’s not, is there?) Jillian Michaels knows this. Jillian Michaels knows that, if she wanted to, she could lose the 11 pounds she gained in pregnancy in about eight days. So when Jillian Michaels said that she didn’t want to do that to her body, she didn’t mean that she didn’t want to put on a few pounds of baby weight. She meant – I think – something different.

When she said that she didn’t want to do that to her body, Ms. Jillian was, I think (emphasis on ‘I think’ – this is only my opinion), expressing her disgust at the basic idea of becoming – as women do in pregnancy and childbirth and beyond – biological, which is to say, tethered to her body, to her messy, unpredictable, physical femaleness. This is, I think, something that reflects a broader public sentiment – I’m not holding her responsible for it – and it’s a shame, even though it’s rooted in messy fact. When you’re pregnant, you don’t – you can’t – control your body. You cannot control whether you lose or gain weight – no matter what, there’s something growing inside of you, and that thing has mass, and needs – and you cannot perfectly control how your body feels or how it moves. If you have morning sickness, you will vomit. If your feet spread, they spread. If you get night sweats, you get night sweats. If you have a high-risk pregnancy and are put on bed rest, you will be on bed rest. You might crave pickles, and if you crave pickles, you will have to have pickles and you will kill anyone who stands in your way. You will ache and lurch and leak. Your boobs will grow, and also, probably, itch. There is nothing that you can do about that. You are not master of your physiological domain when you are pregnant. You are body, beholden to Nature. And you just have to, for the most part, suck it up.

I was completing my doctoral degree in political philosophy when I was pregnant with Emilia. Before the pregnancy, I lived pretty much entirely in my head, and so it was a shock to be dragged so fully and completely into my body, into my meaty, physical self, and be stuck there. Yes, stuck. I felt stuck. I couldn’t concentrate efficiently and consistently. I had to nap more often, which is to say, always. Some days, I couldn’t make it to campus because I was just so exhausted from the work of being pregnant – the passive but nonetheless utterly fatiguing work of having one’s body devote itself entirely to nurturing a fetus – and if I did make it, I would invariably fall asleep in my office before I’d made it through a single page of my dissertation. My mind wandered constantly, but not upward, toward the pure Platonic Form of wisdom, but to the flutters in my belly, to the heart beating, literally, next to mine, to the tiny foot planted squarely on my bladder. I felt, in a way that I never really had before, physical. Biological. Animal. It was profoundly discomfiting. Also, amazing. It took me a long time to get to ‘amazing’, but I did. It was amazing, and worth every ounce of discomfort and then some. (Mostly.)

Jillian Michaels is not, shall we say, cerebral (redacted – for all I know she could be an avid reader of Tolstoy in between workouts). She makes her living working with sweat and sinew and all those gym-towel-stinky let’s-get-physical things – she makes her living working with bodies – so why should she, of all people, be put off by the messy physicality of pregnancy? Why should she be made uncomfortable by biology, by bodies doing what they were meant to do? Well, duh. She doesn’t help people lose weight and tone their bodies because she loves bodies. She does it because she hates them. Or fears them. Or is freaked out by them. Same-same. Her drive to get people into shape (and by extension, the drive of the entire fitness-diet-body-improvement industry) is, arguably, a drive to control that which terrifies and repels her (and, more critically, most of Western society): the natural, unperfected, unshredded human body. The natural human female body.

At least, that’s what her words – just a handful of words, pulled from a much longer that had nothing to do with pregnancy and childbirth but everything to do with being Jillian Michaels, body guru – tell me. She doesn’t want to ‘do that‘ to her body – by which she means, let her body take a natural course – because she’s fearful of not controlling her body. Fearful, and, I would venture, loathful. The natural body does not have six-pack abs. The natural body could not cut glass with its thighs. The natural body sometimes droops and squooshes and sags. The natural female body – especially the natural female body that is past the first bloom of youth – has all manner of parts that simply do not, on their own, defy gravity. The natural female body is messy and wild and powerful and unpredictable and soft in parts. Jillian Michaels, it seems, does not like this body. Or at least, she does not want it for herself, for any amount of time, and isn’t afraid to say so. That is the telling thing here.

That’s a shame. I’m not going to say that it’s surprising, because, really, like we couldn’t have guessed from her public profile that Jillian Michaels has an aversion to uncut, unchiseled, unperfected bodies. We know that we live in a society in which natural bodies -  the natural female body, in particular, and the natural aging female body and the natural postpartum female body (not to mention the breastfeeding body) – are regarded with something approaching disgust. Her words just underline that, and they point to the shame that is too easily attached to matters concerning the female body, and not just matters of weight. Jillian Michaels reminds us that we live in a society that is not just fat-phobic – although it certainly is that – but one that is gyno-phobic, if we take gyno to refer not to women qua women in all their natural messy glory and not women qua Barbie dolls. She reminds us that everyone likes to look at and talk about and champion women’s bodies – but only if they are, or are in the process of being, sanitized and perfected for proper cultural consumption.

Which, fuck that. Jillian Michaels is free to make whatever choices she likes about her body, and she’s free to proclaim them to the unchiselled, muffin-topped, pregnancy-ravaged masses. But I’m also free to call her proclamations messed up, and to direct my own personal improvement projects in more positive and self-loving directions. So. So long, Thirty-Day Shred; hello, Food Revolution, long walks and bike rides and swimming and soccer with my kids, a good bra and the occasional home-baked cupcake. And hello, loving my body, every droopy-boobed, ravaged-nethers, rumply, imperfect part of it. It’s amazing.

It’s a shame that the Jillian Michaels of the world can’t see that.

*Further comment, in response to comments: I did see that Jillian Michaels had tweeted and Facebook-updated that her remarks were taken out of context, that her aversion to pregnancy is about her own body issues, and that she has no issue with other women’s pregnant bodies. Which is fine and good, but doesn’t change the substance of my argument: that her expression of repugnance toward the condition of pregnancy and what it does to a woman’s body – whether that body be her own, or another woman’s, and whether that repugnance be rooted in her own personal history or in some broader aesthetic concern – has a potentially shaming effect. She’s a celebrity trainer, a woman who has a made a career counseling people about their bodies, a body expert, or someone who is seen as such. If she expresses discomfort with the effect that pregnancy has on women’s bodies, that carries far more weight than if, say, Spencer Pratt expresses such discomfort.

Also, while I’m all for being open and honest about our body issues – I have plenty of them, believe me, and I need to know that I can air them – I think that we need to be careful about how we express them, and that public figures in particular – whose words carry so much weight, deservedly or not – need to be careful. It’s one thing to have issues rooted in being called fat when one was young, and another to tell the world that one can imagine nothing worse than being fat. I’m not blaming Jillian Michaels for the culture of body-hating; I’m suggesting that what she said is both a symptom of that culture and a further contribution to it. She articulated the fear that undergirds so much of the disgust (explicit or implicit) that gets directed toward the unperfected female form, and especially toward the pregnant or postpartum female form, and reinforced it. Because if a super-effective, win-win-win celebrity trainer feels comfortable expressing that fear, and takes it to heart herself, how  can any of us expect to overcome it?

So. I’m all for accepting Jillian Michaels’ clarifications and disclaimers, but the effect of her original statment remains, and it is something worth talking about: why do any of us worry about the aesthetics of pregnancy and the postpartum body? Why do we have these issues to being with? Doesn’t it have something to do with the fact that celebrities say things along the lines of what Michaels said? And that we all understand too well what they mean?

As you were.

**Also! I’ve changed the title of this post (although the snarky original remains immortalized in the url). I was, I fully admit, a touch upset when I started writing this post – I am sensitive! I have body issues! And! I can be bitchy! – and I let the anger guide me and I got a bit snarky. Or a lot snarky. That was unnecessary, and – assuming that Jillian Michaels were to read this – hurtful. Jillian Michaels is people too. I shouldn’t have let my snark get the better of me.

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    { 109 comments }

    andrea April 27, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Wow. lamia, you are not doing anything to make Jillian look good by what you said.
    Anyone who gives birth to a child is butchered and conquered by men? That’s crazy talk. I respect not wanting to have kids, but without childbirth, there’d be no human race. I kinda think it’s a worthwhile activity for at least some of us to be doing and it’s offensive to say that all of us who have kids are somehow victims. Bearing and delivering (and then breastfeeding) a child has been the most empowering thing I’ve ever done in my life.

    Marinka April 27, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    This may be my favorite of all your posts. It’s hard to say, so please don’t Sophie’s Choice me.

    I have no issue (and I don’t think that you do) with women who choose not to get pregnant for whatever reason. And yet, when I hear that reason articulated in terms of extreme vanity, i startles me.
    .-= Marinka´s last blog ..Arranged =-.

    Maris April 27, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    I have to be honest here, I couldn’t even read some of this because it was so far displaced from Jillian’s initial comment.

    Your intellect awes me, as always, but… “she avoids cupcakes and joy…” Really? A person decides not to have children or eat fattening food so you assume there is no joy in her life? Maybe she takes joy in other things, like the greyhounds she rescued or her thriving career…

    Her Bad Mother April 27, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    I’ve already said, repeatedly, that my snark was about me, and my issues, which were provoked by her remark. And I think that I was clear throughout that I was extrapolating and speculating and drawing broad, sweeping conclusions about the larger social and cultural significance of what she said.

    I feel badly that my snark went over the top, but as I’ve also said, I stand by the general argument that her comment contributes to a general body dysmorphia that permeates our entire culture.

    Notaspanker April 27, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    I have to call you out on this…It seems to me that you are very much all for women/mothers supporting one another in this tough job we are doing (i.e. bottle or breast etc), and for that reason I follow your blog. BUT, occasionally it seems that you have no problem in trashing someone who does not believe in the same things that you do. I thought that you of all people (and I am going purely from what you write, as I do not know you) would understand and applaud the honestly of what Jillian Michaels is saying (which you seem to have taken as a personal attack directed straight to you). This is similar to the things you had to say about Kate Goselin. I do very much understand that these people are public personalities and are therefore putting themselves out there for the scrutiny….But, I think you need to check your biases here and really go further into what you support (i.e. is it women making choices, or only choices that mesh with your own?)

    Her Bad Mother April 27, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    I’ve stated pretty clearly, a few times – in the addendum to this post and in the post above – that I was reacting strongly (too strongly) on the basis of my own issues.

    And the issue here isn’t choice, as I also thought I’d made clear. I have no problem with her saying that she doesn’t want to go through pregnancy. *I* don’t want to go through pregnancy (again). It’s the very strong implication in her words (and I am far, far from the only one who took her words this way) that pregnancy is undesirable because it makes bodies undesirable. As a writer at Jezebel put it, her phrasing makes it sound like choosing to bear children is choosing to do injury to your body, and it contributes to the broader social bias against maternal bodies. I got a bit too vitriolic, as I’ve said, but the basic point still stands – I think that it’s damaging to women’s esteem (mothers and women generally) when the culture insists that unperfected bodies are undesirable. Her words contributed to that, intentionally or not.

    Liz April 27, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    I haven’t read all the commets so please forgive if I’m being redundant but as a 4.5 month postpartum body (I do have a head as well but it’s underused these days) I would like to point out that pregnancy, especially this – my second – did ravage my body. And I suspect that all the shredding I will find time to do will not bring it back to it’s pre-pregnancy state. I’m just glad I don’t make my living wearing nothing but short shorts and a sports bra.

    But I would argue that it’s possible to use the apparently meaning-charged word ‘that’ in a neutral way. For example, I would comfortably say that I would run a marathon because I wouldn’t do ‘that’ to my body without fear of insulting the perfected marathon runners out there. Your comments?

    Her Bad Mother April 27, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Sure, it’s possible to use the word neutrally, but I don’t think she did. And given that so many, many others took it as referring specifically to the aesthetics of maternal bodies, I don’t think that I was out of line in taking it that way.

    I was too vitriolic in my approach to the argument – I wrote this in the heat of anger, because of my own body issues. But as I’ve said repeatedly, although I feel badly about that, the fact that I *was* upset – and that so many others were too – is telling, and worth exploring.

    Liz April 27, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Absolutely it’s worth exploring – which is just what we’re doing, yes? But if the argument was based on the number of women who have bodies imperfected by pregnancy that are upset, I’m not sure that they would carry the day. It’s hard to know how many heard of the comments and made nothing of them, as I did (or even said ‘yep, if she doesn’t want the stretch marks/saggy boobs/squishy belly she needs to not go there’ although I’m aware that this would entail a non-neutral reading of ‘that.’)

    I strongly identify as feminist and I have serious concerns with how the female body is valued and judged and although my sons are young still, I’ve
    already given a lot of thought to how I should respond to this Issue in our home. But this example isn’t where I would put my focus.

    But I do agree that the ‘male gaze’ dominates how both men and women look at women. I just don’t think this is a particularly serious example.

    Her Bad Mother April 27, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    This example matters, to me and many other women, because Jillian Michaels is a role model in the area of body issues and the like. I and many other moms (and women and men generally) have diligently applied ourselves to working through her exercise program, and taking inspiration from her work, as a means of addressing our own body issues, or simply to look better. To have *that* person imply, very strongly, that she doesn’t see maternity as something a body can ‘recover from’, aesthetically or otherwise, has a powerful impact.

    Something that I’m having trouble understanding, though, is why some are insistent that because *they* weren’t bothered by the remarks, no-one else should be. You wouldn’t devote energy to this example, but why should that mean that someone else doing so is invalid? Does an issue have to be something that bothers *all* women before we consider it a valid topic for critique and discussion?

    Mary (BarnMaven) April 27, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Its funny. Well, not funny exactly. In fact, not at all funny — Jillian’s comments touched me in two very sensitive parts of my life. I have the same body dysmorphia as so many women do, and it saddens me when the very women in our culture who are supposed to be there to help us become strong and feel better about ourselves end up saying something that makes us feel there is some shamefulness in our post-pregnancy selves. Interestingly, though, the body commentary bothered me a lot less than the other commentary about “rescuing children.”

    As an adoptee, I reacted very negatively to her comment. “Rescue” is to me as an adoptee as the other “R” word is to me as the mom of a special needs child. I’m not a fucking puppy, for God’s sake. My mother didn’t “rescue” me, she wanted to be a parent and adoption was the pathway she had to take to get there. I can’t ever recall feeling like my parents expected me to be grateful to them for adopting me, but I have had scads of ignorant commentary from others in my life about it. “You’re so lucky your parents *took you in*” “They are such wonderful people for wanting to adopt. So many babies need homes.” “Just imagine what would have happened if they didn’t adopt you!” Its demeaning, to me, to my mom and dad, to the whole concept of adoption as a way of becoming a parent. YES, there are plenty of children in this world who are in need. But becoming a parent isn’t about seeking some sort of sainthood by finding the neediest child on the block and saying “Hey, world, look how GREAT I am for giving this POOR, UNDERNOURISHED UNLOVED LITTLE ORPHAN a home!” Its freaking ignorant. Maybe Ms. Michaels didn’t mean to sound the way she did. In fact, I bet she’d eat a box of Jelly Donuts if she could be allowed to take that interview back and not have been on the receiving end of the internet battering she took this week. I hope she thinks long and carefully about the language she uses around adoption and considers her reasons for wanting to adopt in the first place before she ever goes to an agency to start the process. Adoption, like parenting, is not meant to be a self-aggrandizing event.
    .-= Mary (BarnMaven)´s last blog ..Flashback: The first one =-.

    Amber April 27, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    I think that, while you did write in anger, what you said was mostly fair. And it echoes my own sentiments. I already feel highly inadequate in the face of someone like Jillian Michaels. My issue? Yes. However, I think that when you ARE in a position like Jillian Michaels more care is required. I’m not sure it’s fair, but I would be far less triggered if the person making the statement weren’t a perfectly-chiseled celebrity trainer.
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..Women in Tech and Men in Nursing =-.

    Brock April 27, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Whoever wrote this article is delusional!anyone who knows biology,knows that sexually every human is attracted to 0.7 waist hip ratio and thats the key sign of fertility in women and men have signs as well especially height and jaw size etc.Life is not fair or even! somw people are smarter and have better bodies! jillian michaels doesnt hate the body,she hates how most humans breed like animals w/no thought esp to how they will financially care or pay attention to the childs deepest emotional needs for the child beyond “love” and i assure you that your examples of heidi klum,madonna,paltrow etc considered this bc they all were rich when pregnant and pay attention to its deep needs!you gave the example of celebs not me! such losers that get your highest form of status by having a child vs having a child from the true motive of love and care!of course not 1 article is written abt the 400lb losers who cant get pregnant bc they hate the natural body so much theyre too unhealthy to have a child!250lbs as a female and 400lbs as a male is not the natural body and they truely hate the natural body!or the envious mothers who destroy their daughters sexual self esteem who have great natural sexual bodies!the natural biological body is arousing from great skin and whr!jillian is nurturing more people than 1000 moms thru her care for the obese!and since your so proud of your natural AMAZING animal female body form,why dont you put a picture of it w/your article? of course you have your excuse locked and loaded abt this bc you have 1 mil agreeing lying sheep to run to your side abt your fantasy abt how your body is wonderful being flabby! the most hypocritical thing is that all these liars only pay attention to the “un-natural” jillian bodies and celebrities in people magazine etc if you love the natural flabby animal droppy female body than quit looking at or caring abt bodies like jillian! just look at “natural” bodies!people like you will always feel like your winning from so many other like minded losers agreeing w/you but in REALITY your losing in your bank account and in how desirable you are to tall rich good looking smart men like celebrities have! at 3am w/ the lights out your losing and lying abt reality!of course subjects such as money,sex,competition for resources,winning,survival of the fittest are biological issues you spend 99% of your time denying,but you say jillian is avoiding biology? no YOU are!!!!

    Liz April 27, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    For some reason, I couldn’t reply in the thread I started above but just wanted to say that by no means did I mean to imply that *no one* should be bothered by the commet simply because I wasn’t. I just thought we were discussing the nature of the remarks and their implications to society at large. No offense was intended.

    Nik April 29, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Reading this blog reminds me so much of the “Telephone Game” that you play when you’re a kid. The one where one person whispers something into the ear of the person standing next to them and that person then has to whisper the exact words into their neighbours ear and so on and so forth until it reaches the end of the line, by which point the original message has been completely altered. Jillian Michaels did not physically say those words directly to any of us and to assume the tone that she used when saying the word “That” is wrong. If you simply say “I don’t want to do that to my body” without putting emphasis on the word “that” there is nothing terrible about the statement. Her tone and meaning behind those words were assumed which is one of the problems with society today. We are very presumptuous people (I mean no disrespect when I say that. It’s just the way we are, I am including myself in that statement). None of us know her so to assume what is going on inside her heart and mind is not right! Regarding her statement about adoption and it being “rescue” for a child, well it is! Look up the statistics on children in the foster system. Fortunately, I have never been in that position but if I was, being adopted into a good, loving home would in a sense be rescue! Lets not turn something that is just as admirable as bearing your own children into a sin just because of the words she used to describe it.
    I was also struck by the comment “shaming people into weight loss, while probably effective in a lot of cases, is unkind and uncivilized and unnecessary”. If you have ever followed Jillian Michaels you would know how untrue that statement is. Her style of training yes is very “in your face” but that is why it works. People come to her for help, people who are in a sense broken and who want to shed their excess weight. They ask her for help and she delivers 110%. When people say “I can’t” she replies “Why can’t you?” and no one ever has a response because there is no reason why they can’t and she makes people see and believe that THEY CAN! While helping them achieve their weight loss goals she is also re-building them. If I have ever seen someone who actually cares about the people they are getting paid to “help” it is her. I strongly urge those who were offended by her comments yet don’t really know all that much about her to do a little homework. Research her and also watch some youtube videos and I would bet everything I have that many opinions will be changed on who you think Jillian Michaels really is.
    Lastly lets just forget the fact that she is a public figure because as everyday citizens we put such a double standard on celebrities. We don’t want them getting preferential treatment because of their status, we don’t want them viewed any differently than we as “regular” people are viewed yet at the same time when they say or do something that offends even just one person arms go up because they are a celebrity. What is it people? I guarantee we all have said or will at some point say something that would deeply offend another person. That’s the way of life. Quite honestly I respect her truthfulness. It’s nice to see a celebrity who, in my opinion, comes across as very “real”. As has been mentioned several times she is only speaking about herself…NO ONE ELSE. Should she really be spoken about in such an ill manner for having an opinion and a life choice? People make much worse decisions and say much worse things yet we turn a blind eye all the time.
    Point is… Would you like to be judged based your self views and actions? We can’t please everyone and should not be punished for that. She is being true to herself and whether or not we agree with it we have to respect that.

    Eryn May 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I’ve written before about my own body (belly) issues between having had four children and multiple surgeries. It IS hard to do “that” to our bodies. But “That” is also a beautiful amazing thing. Six months ago, I gave birth to an amazing, smooshy baby who grew in my amazing, smooshy belly. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Some people are just too selfish to risk losing control, no matter what the reward. It’s probably better that she doesn’t have kids. I stand by your post 100%.

    Freddy Shorts May 7, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Jillian Michaels is surely the biggest winner in running a business at the moment. She should take care not to showcase garbage goods though as she says that the actual approach to fitness is healthy food and regular exercise.

    Zoey @ Good Goog May 15, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    I agree that while it’s nice that she clarified her comments, it doesn’t really change her core sentiment, which is pretty sad.

    It seems as though her disdain for pregnancy (for herself at the very least) is more to do with associating anything as female as pregnancy as a weakness to be avoided. And more importantly, she talks about it as though a potential baby would be an invader in her perfect body, not a part of it.
    .-= Zoey @ Good Goog´s last blog ..The Good Goog =-.

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