Jillian Michaels on #MeToo, Adoption & Hopes of Training Ruth Bader Ginsburg
You likely know Jillian Michaels as America's Toughest Trainer, but did you know she's also competing for the title of America's Funniest Mom? Fine, not really. But she would totally be in the running. We were psyched to have Michaels join us at SheKnows Media's BlogHer18 Health conference for the #WinningWomen keynote, where she blew the audience away with her no-bullshit approach to business, fitness, parenting and life in general.
In order to find success, Michaels told the BlogHer audience, "You will have to take a stand, have a position and stand by it... It’s fine to be wrong, and I’ve been wrong many times. What is not fine is to be a liar." She added that motherhood has given her a gentle shove down that path to true authenticity. "Being a mom makes me less reckless, more thoughtful. It’s like the Jack Nicholson line with Laura Dern, ‘You make me want to be a better man’ — your kids make you want to be a better person."
We sat down with Michaels in advance of the conference to talk all things parenting, fitness and New York steak. In the interview ahead, she gets real about the beast that is wedding planning, whether she wants to adopt again, her one "desert island" food and the celebs she'd love to train (hint: badass women abound). Read on and be inspired — but just don't make Michaels go to Brooklyn, OK?
SheKnows: We were so excited to have you join us at BlogHer Health. Can you talk a bit about your main messaging for this event?
Jillian Michaels: Well, it’s really more of a conversation and a dialogue asking, "How do we empower women from all generations?" For me personally, what I'm hoping attendees will take away is that we're stronger through collaboration than through competition. With the whole #MeToo movement, the reality is, a lot of these women who are all of a sudden "feminists," they're the ones who sign the paychecks. We as a gender have not necessarily been supportive of one another throughout past decades — or through the history of time. I feel really strongly about this; instead of attacking other generations, other women, other ethnicities, we need to learn from each other and collaborate and put out our best. Also, one of the things I've done best is learning from my mistakes, having humility, appreciating that you don't know it all, you're going to fuck up, and failure is the greatest teacher. There's that stupid meme: "Correct a fool, and they'll be offended. Correct a wise man, and he'll thank you." If you cannot learn from your mistakes, take constructive criticism and get feedback then forget it.
SK: You spoke about being bullied as a kid, and these days, there’s the whole new beast that is cyberbullying. As a parent, have you had to see your kids deal with bullying? How do you guide them from your own experience?
JM: Kids are definitely part nature and part nurture. Both of these kids are growing up in the same house, and they're so different. No one has bullied my daughter, but she's petrified: "People are gonna laugh at me. I'm gonna get in trouble." I never imagined I'd have a kid whom I wanted to get in more trouble! I'm like, "What's the worst that would happen? You'll lose a treat for a day? Mommy and I will still love you." But she has this tremendous concern about what her peers think even though she's only 7. I'm hoping that my repetitive messaging — "Hey, not everybody is going to like you and that's OK." — will get through. The hope is that in time, she'll realize the people that matter don't mind, and the people that mind don't matter. I keep reaffirming that to her. I'm like, "If people don't like you, that comes from their own sense of feeling helpless and insecure; it’s not about you."
SK: You have this beautiful, non-stereotypical family; do you engage your kids in conversations about adoption, same-sex parents and everything else that makes your family unique?
JM: I don’t really believe that. I think it sucks that my kids don’t have a dad. But I remind them that they are loved. It’s like, hey, some people have one mom, some have one dad — I don't think we're special or better than any other family. My kids are loved; that's what I try to make sure they're aware of at all times. I try to surround them with strong male figures — my brother, my business partner, involved men who are interested and with whom they can form strong bonds and [see as] role models. I think that’s important. The kids have asked me questions, especially my son, so I'm not going to be like, “Oh, it’s so special that you have two moms." I get it; it sucks. But a lot of kids don’t have present fathers. My kids are loved by all these uncles.
I do talk about adoption, although it doesn't come up often. I don't bring it up if the kids don't bring it up. My daughter knows she was adopted; we tell her the story of how we asked for a little girl. We say, "You were born in our hearts and it got so big that you exploded out of our hearts and flew all the way to Haiti in your birth mother's tummy until Mommy and I could find you."
SK: I know the adoption process took a few years for you and Heidi. Would you do it again? Are you hoping to?
JM: I do not need more kids. If I did, we would go through [the] foster care system; I’ve learned a lot about foster care that I did not know before adopting my daughter. Of course, I’d never change anything about what we did because it got us our daughter, but if I did it again, I’d foster to adopt. Maybe 10 years from now, when the kids are teenagers and I'm not working as much and have way more time to give. Right now, it wouldn't be fair to anyone.
SK: Also, your proposal video was the most adorable. Is wedding planning in the works at the moment?
JM: You know, I put the ball in her court a year ago, and I said, "Let's go to city hall." She’s like, "No, no, we can't do city hall." I'm like, "I don't have time for this; this is in your court." So she tried wedding planning for a couple months and was like, "I don't have time for this." [Laughs] It turns into all the cake-tasting and the bullshit. I'm like, "Hire someone!" But she's like, "I'm not going to let someone else plan my wedding." You know, she applied for the marriage license three times — we never picked it up. For her, I think it was more about my willingness to get married than actually doing it. As for me, I'm like, "Just tell me where to be and when."
SK: If you were only allowed one form of exercise for a month, what would it be? If you were only allowed one type of food?
JM: One form of exercise, it would be spinning or yoga because I don’t hate them. Honestly, resistance training is super-effective, but God, there's nothing I love about jump squats. One type of food? Clean carbs, whole grains. I’m a carb person; I just eat clean carbs — organic bagels, steel cut oatmeal.
SK: How do you encourage that healthy lifestyle in your kids?
JM: Oh, it's not all that healthy [laughs]. You know, the groceries we have in the fridge, they're organic. Lou has bacon for breakfast; it's organic. But last night, you know, it was pasta and we went out for ice cream. I'm not gonna raise them in a way where it's so strict and super-regimented that they need to go to a friend's house and eat five bags of Oreos. I'm just like, "We're going to eat these cookies that are just as good and have real fat rather than fake fat." It's about balance. I explain to them that we've got to eat the good stuff, not just the bad stuff, and here's why. Plus, they're really active kids. It hasn't been much of an issue. We don't go to McDonald's or drink sodas because that's not food, but they'll have cheeseburgers. They're just grass-fed cheeseburgers. We're fortunate enough to be able to afford high-quality food. If the kids put Reese's Peanut Butter Cups on their ice cream at the ice cream shop, the fucking world's not going to end.
SK: Speaking of a healthy lifestyle, your app is really cool.
JM: Thank you! What I love so much about the app is it brings me back to my roots — my roots of personal training. You know, I was a trainer, not an Instagram personality. I wasn't a girl who put fake shit in my ass and said I did squats. I owned a sports facility. I helped rehab physical therapy patients, and technology allows me to be someone's personal trainer via that app, taking the feedback they give.
SK: If you could train any three people, whom would you choose? (I remember you said Hillary Clinton once; I could definitely see that happening IRL.)
JM: Dream trainees! Hillary — fuck! That would have been great. There's no way I'm training this president. OK, I would pick three people: One who needs the most help but who has the least amount of resources, someone downtrodden who could use help. Next, one tremendous athlete, like a LeBron James. And then one badass like Ruth Bader Ginsburg... I remember reading about her training routine, like, wow. A really strong, inspirational woman whom I could make even stronger and healthier.
SK: What’s been the biggest pleasant surprise about being a mom? The biggest surprise challenge?
JM: The stuff I find most challenging is that your kids are going to be their own people no matter how hard you try to mold them. You really have to get past your fears and your insecurities and embrace their individuality and their personalities. I work hard to overcome that. But the best is they're at such a great age now. It literally is like having cute little buddies. They're like two little dogs — they just are fucking funny. You can just have these great adventures with them and really try to impact their personality and self-worth and their self-esteem. They're fun, and they can go on adventures. I’d rather travel with them than with Heidi now! My son's going to go with me to New York next week, and I have a whole adventure planned. He loves steaks, so we're going to this 100-year-old steakhouse.
SK: Are you taking him to Peter Luger?!
JM: No! It's all the way in fucking Williamsburg. I chose Homestead Steakhouse because I didn't want to go to Brooklyn.