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3 Things to Keep In Mind About Jillian Michaels' Fatphobic Comments About Lizzo

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In an interview on Wednesday, Jillian Michaels interrupted the interviewer — who was trying to explain how it is awesome to see diverse body sizes in the media such as Lizzo — to ask why we are celebrating Lizzo’s body, saying that we should be celebrating her music and that she doesn’t care about Lizzo’s body. Michaels went on to say, “‘Cause it isn’t gonna be awesome if she gets diabetes.”

Michaels has made career off of screaming at fat people, so it doesn’t surprise me that she would say what she did about Lizzo. For those who don’t know, Michaels is a personal trainer who became famous on the show “The Biggest Loser” — a show that has garnered countless controversies for its fatphobic premise and unhealthy treatment of contestants. Michaels was a trainer on the show where she could be seen getting in the faces of the fat contestants and yelling at them to keep exercising beyond their ability, sometimes until they threw up or even collapsed and then ridiculed them for it.

This background is important, because it goes to show what Michaels thinks about fat people: We are unhealthy, lazy and, according to her response to all the backlash, that we don’t love ourselves or our bodies enough because, if we did, then we would “take care” of our bodies. But this type of thinking and behavior is not only incorrect, it’s harmful. So let’s dive into it:

1. Health cannot be determined by someone’s size because it’s not black and white.

It is impossible to look at someone and determine whether they are healthy or not because health is complicated. Millions of people have chronic health conditions and disabilities that will never allow them to have this idealized, often unattainable, version of health. And those trying to chase after it may end up causing harm to themselves and their relationships to food and their bodies. Studies suggest that the majority of dieters will regain their lost weight in one to five years and 35% of normal dieters progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% develop an eating disorder.

Losing weight does not magically make someone healthier because thousands of things affect our health, and health itself looks different to everyone. Our body weight is influenced by many factors, such as our age, gender, environment, life experiences, medications, health conditions, stress levels, sleep patterns, weight stigma and so much more. And to simplify health down to body size is harmful and unhelpful to people’s actual health and well-being, especially those in marginalized bodies. If we really cared about fat people’s health, we would get serious about ending weight stigma and fatphobia, because weight-related discrimination significantly and negatively affects health — and can even increase mortality risk.

2. Diverse representation in media is important and should be celebrated. 

On average, Americans spend over 11 hours per day using media, so it’s important that we pay attention to what it contains and how it affects us. Bodies come in all different sizes for different reasons and our media should reflect that fact. Think of the types of body sizes you see in TV and movies. If there is a fat character, they are often not the protagonist. They usually are deprecating, trying to lose weight or are there to be the “ugly fat friend” or the punchline. So when we do see fat people who aren’t doing any of those things or are even actively challenging those tropes by celebrating their bodies, non-fat people get uncomfortable.

Lizzo herself spoke about how the lack of body diversity in the media took a psychological toll on her and made her feel like there is something wrong with her. Lizzo’s fame is a big step in diverse representation because Lizzo holds three marginalized identities: being black, being fat and being a woman. Yet, in the interview, Michaels tried to separate Lizzo’s body from her music, saying that she and her kid enjoy listening to Lizzo’s music, but in the same breath asking why her body matters. Lizzo’s body matters because her music itself is a celebration of being fat, being black and being a woman. You cannot consume the music Lizzo creates while simultaneously going against everything her music stands for.

3. Body acceptance is important.

The idealization of thinness in our society and culture is a major environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders. Countless studies show how prevalent it is for even children to be preoccupied with weight and appearance, experiencing low self-esteem and engaging in fad diets. That is not healthy. All the weight and appearance obsession keeps us from doing what is really important: living a full life, whatever that means to you, in the body you have right now.

Too many people don’t do the things they want to do in life because of their size. Body acceptance is hard, but doable. You do not have to spend the rest of your life trying to fit into someone else’s idea of how you should be. You are enough as you are, right here and right now, regardless of your health or your size. Health is not a prerequisite for body acceptance or body love, either. Because even if, like Michaels flippantly stated, you have or develop diabetes, you still are a human being who is worthy of love, kindness and celebration.

Lizzo empowers countless people every day to love and accept themselves through her music, her story and her body. She is the role model we need in this fatphobic world. And I’ll always celebrate that.

Image via Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore

Originally published: January 10, 2020
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