The last decade has seen some huge strides for body acceptance and positivity in the health space. The parts of the social contract that long made people (wrongly) believe it was acceptable to make comments about people’s bodies, food habits or claim to know something about their health has, for the most part, evolved enough to make it obvious that it’s aggressively unhelpful, rude and icky behavior. Which is objectively a good thing to keep getting better at since weight stigma and discrimination is still running rampant — causing harm to people’s self-esteem and mental health and making it consistently harder for them to get accurate, useful medical care.
Yet, because diet culture is still out there doing its thing as a billion dollar industry, some conversations need to keep being rehashed over and over. In an interview on BuzzFeed New’s AM2DM on Wednesday, celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels, when asked about body positive role models (including Ashley Graham and, in particular, Lizzo), was quick to add that she’s not about “celebrating” certain kinds of bodies.
“Why are we celebrating her body? Why does it matter? Why aren’t we celebrating her music? ‘Cause it isn’t gonna be awesome if she gets diabetes,” she said, adding that she isn’t going to be “glad that she’s overweight.”
.@JillianMichaels on Lizzo: “Why are we celebrating her body? Why does it matter? Why aren’t we celebrating her music? ‘Cause it isn’t gonna be awesome if she gets diabetes.” pic.twitter.com/FkKBd8J87b
— AM2DM by BuzzFeed News (@AM2DM) January 8, 2020
There’s a lot of complicated issues at play when a celebrity influencer who makes their money in the matrix of diet culture makes a statement claiming to know the health and body of another unrelated celebrity (who recently left Twitter because of trolls). But it’s obvious what side of this debate they’re invested in, for one thing.
But it also calls on a lot of larger questions about what, exactly, it means to celebrate a person’s body? Do we celebrate bodies because they’re healthy? Because they’re beautiful? (Do we equate those things with thinness for inherited reasons pre-dating our grandmothers?) Is simply allowing someone to exist in a fat body and feel any range of emotion about it beyond shame without someone finger-wagging at them really such a dramatic ask?
Previously, in an interview with Women’s Health, Michaels said something similar about “glamorizing” certain kinds of bodies: “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. But obesity in itself is not something that should be glamorized. But we’ve become so politically correct that no one wants to say it.”
That language is used often by fatphobic people who accuse people existing, smiling or daring to love themselves while living in their body as “glamorizing” or “glorifying” obesity (which, like, shut up, isn’t a problem. Let people love their bodies in peace).
While there are health complications that can come from living in any kind of body, it becomes painfully obvious that these statements are less about promoting wellness, health and happiness and more about promoting the pursuit of thinness wholesale. It also doesn’t acknowledge that people with different conditions and lifestyles require different care, will at times have “obese bodies” and that the metrics we have about health and weight are vastly misrepresented and misunderstood in our culture.
“Your body can be healthy across a wide range of weights,” per the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). “When searching for your ideal weight, charts, formulas, and tables may be misleading and should only be used under the guidance of a qualified expert.”
And, let’s be real, our garbage culture celebrates all kinds of bodies that aren’t healthy — we embrace crash diets that are gateways to disordered eating, bizarre social media challenges that promote dangerous body standards and photoshopped images throughout our culture urging people to consistently shrink themselves down to whatever bizarre definition of thinness performs better on instagram. And, if Michaels statements don’t make it obvious — people still feel license to be casually cruel (yes, saying “you deserve to be respected but…”-style statements still count) to people living in larger bodies and can’t fathom being told that their behavior is gross.
If you are really concerned about the health of fat people (and not about being able to police people’s body size and habits without being their goddamn doctor), your concern should be about the way society-wide sizeism leads to them getting inadequate and inaccurate healthcare or avoiding seeing healthcare providers altogether.
Joan Chrisler, PhD, a professor of psychology at Connecticut College, said during a symposium titled “Weapons of Mass Distraction — Confronting Sizeism“ that the prevailing stigma-filled attitudes toward overweight people does far more harm than good for their physical and mental health — especially since there’s not enough research on exactly how much weight is too much weight for any given body.
“Recommending different treatments for patients with the same condition based on their weight is unethical and a form of malpractice,” Chrisler said. “Research has shown that doctors repeatedly advise weight loss for fat patients while recommending CAT scans, blood work or physical therapy for other, average weight patients.”
And, ultimately, we gotta ask: Is going off on one person’s body (and their ability to derive joy from it) as a representative of a larger scale system-wide health issue that intersects with class, economics, culture really about health and wellness — or is it about preserving the socially-approved ability to concern-troll fat people without consequences?