Fitness “guru” and Biggest Loser personality Jillian Michaels appeared on Buzzfeed’s AM 2 DM talk show on January 8th, where the conversation turned to self acceptance. When its host brought up Lizzo as a perfect example of someone shifting the confidence narrative by preaching self-love as a larger woman, Michaels seemed unable to wrap her head around why Lizzo stans are letting the Grammy-nominated artist “get away” with her body positive influence. Some offensive remarks followed.
“Why are we celebrating her body?" Michaels asked during the sit-down. "Why does it matter?” While it’s true that physical appearance should never interfere with a person’s success in life — talent, drive, personality, and determination should always come first — Michaels wasn’t really going down that path in her critique.
“Why aren't we celebrating her music? 'Cause it isn't gonna be awesome if she gets diabetes,” she continued. “I’m just being honest...There’s never a moment where I’m like, ‘I’m so glad she’s overweight!’”
Yikes times a thousand.
Lizzo’s defenders added their two cents to Michaels’ opinion on Twitter — many of them pointing out that weight isn’t always a window into a person’s internal health situation.
Hypable writer Michal Schick tweeted, “More people die from complications of anorexia than any other mental illness, but sure, let's ask for Lizzo's bloodwork.” Another user tweeted, “Nick Jonas and Halle Berry both have diabetes. Fat does not equal diabetes.” Many started pointing out the fact that, in 2017, Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper had a heart attack while exercising in a gym — despite having a muscular physique often associated with healthiness.
The fact is that Lizzo, dubbed TIME’s 2019 Entertainer of the Year, is able to perform two-hour shows consisting of singing, dancing, and flute playing (!) night after night — and that should more accurately allude to her health status than her weight or appearance.
Health and wellness advocate Fiona Gilbert, who is also an American College of Sports Medicine Exercise Physiologist, echoes this sentiment. She tells O.school that although we’ve been taught to associate wellness with a certain physical body type, there is often no correlation between outward appearance and internal health. Just because someone is large doesn’t mean they are not active, strong, and healthy.
“When I first started my career in health and fitness, I worked in a studio where most of the women were over 250 lbs.,” Gilbert says. “I can tell you, most of these women were stronger [and] had better health stats than your average person.”
But perhaps the biggest issue here is that Michaels felt as though she needed to say something — anything — about Lizzo’s weight.
Michaels isn’t privy to Lizzo’s health status, medical conditions, daily activity, etc. — but she still felt entitled to speak. That unnecessary callout is fatphobia at its finest, and these unwarranted comments are what’s actually dangerous for a person’s health.
Fat-positive registered dietitian, trained mental health counselor, and host of the Love Food podcast Julie Dillon tells O.school, “Fatphobia prevents people from feeling safe enough to go to the doctor [and] thus decreases access to health care.” She continues, “Some [think of] ‘concern trolling’ as healthy shaming to motivate change, yet research has shown repeatedly that shame does not promote health. It is detrimental.”
Dillon explains, “Research has shown [fatphobia] is correlated with increased rates of depression and lower self esteem,” adding that weight-based comments can cause problematic behaviors.
“We know the majority of body size is genetically and environmentally determined, yet fatphobic comments erroneously communicate that body size is modifiable and up to the individual,” she says. This misconception puts higher-weight individuals at risk for practicing “pathological eating disorder” behaviors, Dillon explains, such as restricting food, over exercising, taking “risky pharmaceuticals,” and partaking in fad diets and life-altering stomach surgeries just to gain “a seat at the table.”
Michaels later responded to the backlash with a tone-deaf tweet that leaned more toward defensive than apologetic, only exacerbating the issue.
“As I've stated repeatedly, we are all beautiful, worthy, and equally deserving,” Michaels wrote in the January 8th followup tweet. “I also feel strongly that we love ourselves enough to acknowledge there are serious health consequences that come with obesity…”
She continued, “I would never wish these [consequences] for ANYONE and I would hope we prioritize our health because we LOVE ourselves and our bodies,” which implies that Lizzo doesn’t prioritise her health nor love herself. Lots of users replied, letting Michaels know that she was body-shaming folks and had no justification for speaking about another person’s health status — and we couldn’t agree more.
Lizzo, who has been on a social media hiatus since January 5th due to the amount of trolls she’s encountered lately, sadly didn’t remain blissfully unaware of the mayhem occurring online.
However, rather than directly addressing the situation, she decided to share some words of wisdom, kindness, and healing with her followers.
“Today’s mantra is: This is my life. I have done nothing wrong,” Lizzo wrote in the caption of a calming January 8th Instagram video, which shows the view from Lizzo’s apartment. “I forgive myself for thinking I was wrong in the first place. I deserve to be happy.”
Lizzo is the first to admit she’s not made of stone — trolls and their negative energy can hurt just as much as truth does! She took to her Instagram Live later that same day to lay down her truth after seemingly becoming aware of Jillian Michaels’ fat-shaming comments.
“I be waking up feeling bad as hell, I be waking up in my feelings," the “Good As Hell” singer shared with her followers, per BuzzFeed. "And I know that my mental [health], my emotional health, and my social health already affects me in positive and negative ways. But you add the internet to that shit, boy; the internet will have you depressed as fuck.”
She explained that deleting Twitter was hard to do (she hates missing out on all the memes, and we can’t blame her for that), but it was the right decision. “Deleting Twitter was the best,” Lizzo stated. “I don't like it when people are mean to each other. So I shut that off and I'm actually significantly happier.”
"Everybody got their opinions," she went on. "And I think I care more about facts than opinions. I care more about my perspectives than other people's perspectives."
This back and forth isn’t just between Michaels and Lizzo. It’s a glimpse into a larger, societal issue.
Fatphobic comments like the ones Michaels made “contribute to forming a society that is not accessible to all sizes,” Dillon explains. And in that same vein, Gilbert adds that this societal unfairness can bleed into the healthcare industry as well, and many healthcare professionals incorrectly instruct patients with a variety of health-related issues to “just lose some weight and you’ll feel better,” she says. Brushing off a patient’s health concerns because they are larger is downright dangerous, yet it happens constantly.
Lizzo handled the situation as gracefully as possible. She didn’t name names, nor did she counter-attack Michaels with venomous words. Rather, she encouraged herself and her followers to stay true to their own course and not let the perspective of others dull their glow.
Of course, it’s necessary for everyone, regardless of body size, to form a relationship with a healthcare provider who has your best interest in mind. But if strangers, friends, or family members start butting in to your business and shaming you for things they know nothing about, do your best to brush them off.
“If we are truly rooted in promoting health, acknowledging fatphobia as harmful is the start,” Dillon says. “Weight-based bullying or concern trolling needs to stop.”
Health and weight are not synonymous. Large bodies are just as great as small bodies and every body in between. Write it down. Spread the word.