Jillian Michaels, Skinny Bitch, and My Own Good

Jillian Michaels is the trainer from The Biggest Loser.  She bills herself as “America’s Toughest Trainer”.  I just watched a video called “Jillian Michaels best trainer ever” which someone created and put up on YouTube (no power on this Earth will get me to link to it on this blog).  In it she said (mostly screamed, really) the following at the people she was training:

  • I’m bored with the pathetic story!
  • If you quit on me again, you go home and no one is going to chase you!  No one!
  • You’re not getting it here (pointing to her head) that’s for G*#D#@* sure!
  • Get on the F$#&*%$ treadmill!
  • You’re not acting strong, you’re acting pathetic!
  • Anytime you lay down I want you to think Dead Father, that’s what I think!
  • Get on the treadmill now! (Pounding the treadmill to punctuate each word)
  • Get the F*#& up!

Jillian justifies treating people this way because she says that she is saving their lives.  It’s “for their own good” as we fat people so often hear when someone treats us poorly.  Even if we ignore the fact that no science supports this point of view, it seems to me that it’s more about her feeding her ego and feeling superior than it is about helping people.

I also find it interesting that while she preaches “natural weight loss” through “sweat and hard work”, she is currently the subject of at least four lawsuits against weight loss products that she is paid to endorse including a diet pill whose tag line is “America’s Toughest Trainer Makes Losing Weight Easy”.

There is a book on the New York Times Bestseller List called “Skinny Bitch”.  The marketing quote is:  If you can’t take one more day of self-loathing, you’re ready to hear the truth: You cannot keep shoveling the same crap into your mouth every day and expect to lose weight.

One of my roughly two million problems with this is that the marketing blurb assumes that:

  1. The food someone is eating is the cause of their current weight
  2. Weight loss will cure self-loathing
  3. This information that they are giving is true and will work (Spoiler: they are pushing vegetarianism)

Based on the best science available, there is only a miniscule chance that these assumptions are correct.

But that’s not my biggest problem.  My biggest problem occurs on the “Praise” page of the website:

“What makes this diet easy to swallow is the book’s tough-love attitude — part best-friend counsel, part drill-sergeant abuse and a dash of sailor mouth, wrapped in a pretty chick-lit package.” — iVillage, Diet & Fitness

Wait…did you just say that abuse makes the diet easy? Are you freaking kidding me right now?  Gosh, what other “medicine” could abuse help go down? Maybe we should start water boarding people who want to quit smoking and haven’t succeeded. Apparently as long as it’s in a “pretty chick-lit package” we’re all good.

You. Cannot. Be. Serious.  Abuse doesn’t make the diet easy, abuse makes the diet ABUSIVE.  Fat people are not in need of abuse.  Nobody deserves abuse.  Ever.

“This book is an absolutely hilarious read because the authors treat you like they know you well. They yell at you, they insult you and they call you some very nasty names. But since they are giving out their strongly-held beliefs and advice on living a healthy lifestyle — and you know in your heart they’re right — it is refreshingly in-your-face funny.”  — Cathy Mathias, Florida Today

Ummm, F*$# a bunch of that.  Being yelled at, insulted, and called very nasty names isn’t “hilarious” and “refreshing”. It’s abuse.  See my previous comment.

This seems like just another situation where someone’s ego and sense of superiority has run amok all over fat people “for our own good”

I state my strongly-held beliefs and advice on living a healthy lifestyle all the time, and I’ve never had to insult my readers or call them nasty names to get it done.  That’s because I think that health includes mental health, not just physical.  Abused people have to do a lot of work to regain their mental health, and some people never do.  Since there is no reason to abuse us in the first place, there is no reason for us to have to work very hard to regain our mental health, or risk never getting it back.

The domestic abuse project defines abuse as a systematic pattern of behaviors in a relationship that are used to gain and/or maintain control and power over another.

More specifically they go on to say:

Emotional abuse includes:

  • cursing, swearing and/or screaming at you
  • attacks on self-esteem and/or insults to your person (name-calling, put-downs, ridicule)
  • controlling and/or limiting your behavior
  • using the difference in physical size to intimidate you
  • criticizing your thoughts, feelings, opinions, beliefs and actions
  • telling you that you are “sick” and need therapy

Sound familiar?

I submit that being abused is NEVER for someone’s “own good”.  I suggest that if you want to hire someone to help you be healthier, change the size and shape of your body or whatever, you look for someone who doesn’t think that the way to do that is to scream obscenities at you and treat you like crap.  If that’s what you want then of course it’s your choice, but I hope that you are certain that you deserve better than that.

If you don’t have standards for how people treat you, I suggest that now might be a dandy time to create them (see this post for a step by step approach to creating realistic boundaries in your life).  If your standards for how you are treated don’t include “nobody is allowed to abuse me, insult me, scream at me, or call me nasty names under the guise of helping me” that’s absolutely your choice, but I would humbly suggest that you reconsider.

34 thoughts on “Jillian Michaels, Skinny Bitch, and My Own Good

  1. Oh, oh, oh…. did you ever read that Stephen King story about the stop smoking clinic where basically if you snuck a cigarette they would snatch some member of your family and torture them as punishment? There was a movie version too, I think. Oh wait, that was fiction, written by the self proclaimed king of horror. Hmmm, maybe that’s not a great approach after all.

    Jillian’s drill sergeant behavior is obnoxious at best. Even the military has figured out that encouraging drill sergeants to scream at folks is detrimental to the cause and they are not permitted to abuse recruits in that way anymore.

    1. I never read that story but it’s not far off of what Biggest Loser is doing now. I didn’t know that about the military and it certainly makes sense.

    2. Wikipedia says there was a part of the film Cat’s Eye based off the story Quitters Inc. I recall they had the wife strapped to a electric battery backpack and when she stepped on an electric floor with bare feet she’d be shocked. This was inspired by a treatment Dr. Issac Lovass used as a adversive against negative behavior, so it was unfortunately influenced by real horror.

      1. I remember that film. The same method has been used to attempt to “cure” homosexuality. It truly is horrific.

  2. I have a personal trainer who is super motivating and positive. I would never see someone who treated me the way that woman treats her “clients”. Additionally skinny bitch isn’t just vegetarian, I’m pretty sure it’s VEGAN and as a vegetarian I read that book and though it was BATSHIT.

    1. That’s fantastic! I’m so glad that you found someone you like. I’m not against being vegan or vegetarian, just abusing people!

  3. Regan, I just *HAD* to look at the Skinny Bitch website after reading this post. I always like to see the author’s credentials when a book like this becomes a best seller (they met at a talent agency and bonded over their love of food).

    Anywho, I knew you’d be interested to learn that according the website:

    “BTW: A Skinny Bitch is someone who enjoys food, eats well, and loves her body as a result. It has nothing to do with how much you weigh or what size you are! Skinny Bitches come in all beautiful shapes and sizes! ”

    So when they say “skinny” they don’t really mean “skinny”. Don’t you feel better now? I know I do.

    1. Worst. Pandering. EVAR. I feel dirty just for having read it. I can’t believe that they even said that. If you’re going to bill yourself like they do, how about at least having the intestinal fortitude to stand behind your convictions.

  4. Wonderful, as always, Ragen! I stopped watching Biggest Loser a few seasons ago when Jillian screamed at one the the contestants, “You’re my bitch now!” Excuse me?! I was appalled. Haven’t turned it back on again.

    Could you imagine if this abuse was ok for substance abuse or anorexia or depression?! But overweight people have to suck up and take it.

    xo Susie

    1. Wow. I didn’t see that episode and while it doesn’t exactly surprise me it’s still ridiculous. I totally agree with you – in fact I don’t think that people would allow that kind of treatment for ANYTHING else.

  5. I have long said that Jillian Michaels is nothing more than an abusive bully. She does all the things to people that she claims to be helping that bullies do to their victims. And you can see she takes great pleasure from every minute of it.

    1. I think you’ve hit upon exactly what’s so disturbing – not that it’s just ego building, but that she really seems to enjoy making people feel like crap.

    1. Yes, thanks for posting the link here – it’s a fantastic interview and I was so Glad that Golda broke the story – I love her blog.

  6. Oh no, it’s “VEGAN”!

    As a vegan (for ethical reasons) I hate it when veganism is lumped in with weight loss methods like this. Just because someone writes a hateful book about weight loss and happens to advocate veganism doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with veganism.

    1. I totally agree with you. In case I wasn’t clear – I have absolutely no issue with people being vegan or vegetarian (or whatever eating plan they choose, for whatever reason), in this case it’s the abusive nature of the book that I have a problem with. Thanks for saying this, I think it’s an important point to make clear.

      1. I’m also a vegan (environmental reasons above ethical, but yeah) and I also loathe the ‘magic skinnifying veganism’ trope. Their book in particular rubbed me every single wrong way.

        They’re like PETA; they must have fans and supporters SOMEWHERE, but no vegan I know wants to touch them with a ten-foot pole. (Actually, that’s not true – I do know one young woman who loved Skinny Bitch; she has a lot of issues with shame and self-esteem, and has had an unhealthy relationship with food for many years. Not trying to force a causal relationship, but…)

  7. I found you through a link from Facebook. I have to admit that I’ve never been able to watch Biggest Loser because of the hateful way the “losers” are treated. An abusive, in-your-face-for-your-own-good approach is the exact opposite way to encourage or promote change of any,kind! Tears and yelling seem to be what the script is focused on, rather than helping anyone to have a happier, healthier life. It took me years & years to get over my hatred for exercise of any kind because of that military drill style of “coaching.” I am also mystified how anyone thinks calling someone a “bitch” because of her body size “refreshingly funny”…

    1. Welcome to the blog! I totally agree with you. I’m so sorry that you had to deal with that and I’m really glad that you moved through it 🙂

  8. “using the difference in physical size to intimidate you”

    I never thought of that in this context before. Incredible.

    1. That really struck me too when I first read the definition – I had never considered it that way either but it’s certainly happening all over the place.

  9. Hi there,

    Just started reading your blog, I discovered it through beautyschooled and I am really enjoying it. This entry especially resonated for me when you said, “Weight loss will [not] cure self-loathing.” That is so true. Thank you for offering that fact up for discussion. Of course, no one in the diet industry is going to talk about diets not working and not being the answer to unhappiness. They are marketed to be the answer to every problem in the consumer’s life, because being fat is always the cause of every bad thing. . . .We know that’s NOT true.

    I have fluctuated among sizes 18-24 for all of my life and was on a diet, scheming to be on a diet or binge eating from the age of 9-26. I kept waiting for a diet to help me to be happy all the time and love myself. When I did my last diet, in 2006, I realized that there was no relationship between size and happiness. Really. I just never put it into words until you helped me to do that, now in 2011. Thanks for your blog!

  10. I won’t get into Skinny Bitch because I don’t really care about such a pandering, misleading, ridiculously titled book. I also hurt my eyes rolling them too hard when I read the reviews of it.
    I didn’t watch the Biggest Loser for long (although I did stay with it too long and I even *auditioned* for it but that’s a whoooooole ‘nother story), but the one thing I hated about it from the first time I saw it was Jillian.
    I was bullied in school, including for being fat. I developed PTSD and an eating disorder. If I was faced with a bully like Jillian (yes let’s call her what she is, an *abusive BULLY*), I would not be inspired to ‘dig deep and improve myself’ or ‘find my inner strength’ or ‘push back and prove I’m a winner’ and all that other pseudomotivational bullshit. I would suffer a flashback and have a dissociative (sp?) episode and curl into a fetal position. If I didn’t remain catatonic I would probably proceed to compulsively eat until I was sick. That’s what Jillian’s awesome training method would do to me.

    If you want another great example of how this training method works, just watch Vincent D’Onofrio’s Pvt. Lawrence deal with R. Lee Ermey’s Gny. Sgt. Hartman in the movie “Full Metal Jacket.”

    Speaking as a fat girl and a trauma survivor, I would gladly slap Jillian Michaels in the face. And then I’d tell her: “I was just trying to motivate you for your own good!”

  11. Ragen, every point on that emotional abuse list is something I experienced in my family or origin, and it was all supposed to make me a ‘better’ person: read thin, more groomed, less intellectual and opinionated, more obedient, more ‘feminine’. What it made me is someone who’s spent years in self-loathing and guilt, and in slowly recovering my own sense of worth and individuality.

    I have some experience of being shouted at like a drill sergeant, and the result is that when someone raises their voice to me, what they’re actually saying doesn’t register, because I’m just focused on defending myself from the aggression in their voice. I don’t know how common that is, but if it’s a standard reaction, you’d think someone would have worked out by now that using it to motivate people won’t work.

  12. Yeah, Skinny Bitches pushes veganism, combined with all sorts of extra “rules” that don’t make much sense from either a veganism or a weight-loss perspective. For instance, alcohol is bad because it has calories, but organic vegan red wine is the one exception (no organic beer, even if you have quite a small glass, and no mixed drinks of any kind, even if they have fewer calories than a glass of wine). And women shouldn’t take painkillers for menstrual cramps ever, because it’s nature’s way of preparing us for the pain of childbirth, and also your fault for eating wrong (which is both presumptuous and contradictory). It’s not clear if they think pain medication is somehow fattening, or if they just want to punish people.

    And I’m constantly surprised that people still believe the cure for fatness is emotional abuse.

    1. Ow. The menstrual cramps thing, I mean. I used to get horrendous menstrual cramps as a teenager, the kind that nothing except curling up with a hot water bottle seemed to have any effect on. My mother said it was ‘just one of those things that women have to suffer’, and my gym teacher forced me to do extra laps of the gym when I was almost bent double in agony, on the premise that ‘exercise always gets rid of those’.

      What got rid of them, in the end, was me going on the contraceptive pill at age 19. Understandably, I’m not a huge fan of anyone who says period pain is either ‘natural’ or some kind of punishment.

  13. LOL “Maybe we should start water boarding people who want to quit smoking and haven’t succeeded” made me snort/laugh! Sounds crazy but it’s just as crazy as they crap they pull on the biggest loser in the name of ‘health’.

  14. Maybe this has been posted here elsewhere, but supposedly JM refuses to have her own kids because she is terrified of what it will do to her body.

    She strikes me as someone who is so appalled at the idea of gaining any weight whatsoever (especially the dreaded 20 pounds or whatever she once lost) that she uses her position as a “trainer” to ward it off, both by (obvs) exercising herself, and also by sadistically exorcising her demons onto her “clients” as well as all overweight persons, in the form of verbal and emotional abuse. I would hate to think of the masochism that goes on in her world. She probably wears a wool hair thong day and night just to ensure she never stops moving and burning calories.

    There is a lot of sheer hatred and anger out there about people who are large. I have stumbled upon some really incredibly juvenile — borderline frightening – comments focusing on those who are overweight.

    It’s astounding to me how simplistic some people are about gaining weight, as though the only way people become larger is by eating X-large pizzas and sleeping on a couch.

    Here are some of the many other reasons i can think of that contribute to weight gain:

    Hormonal imbalance (e.g., PCOS)
    Toxins in our food/water supply and household products
    Lack of core nutrition
    Pregnancy/Post-partum depression
    Metabolic disorders
    Thyroid/Adrenal issues
    Starvation diets
    Lack of nutritional education
    Lack of access to quality foods
    Emotional issues
    Mental illness
    Developmental disorders
    Sedentary jobs
    Long work/commute hours
    HFCS/skyrocketing sodium
    Chemical additives (e.g., excitotoxins)
    Quitting smoking
    Quitting alcohol or drugs
    Diabetes (l & ll)
    Cortisone, antidepressants or other medications
    Deficient enzymes
    Arthritis/Back or joint pain
    Shame & embarrassment (prevents one from exercising)
    Cravings (due to mineral deficiencies, chronic dieting or food restriction)
    Living in a suburban area (few opportunities to walk)
    Subversive or unsupportive family and friends/roommates
    Temptation (psycho targeted marketing/easy access)
    Lobbyists (cheaper filler ingredients)
    Label lies (misleading verbiage and nutritional info)
    Lack of daily structure
    Being uncoordinated (therefore hesitant to join classes or play sports)
    Lack of knowledge or outdated knowledge about exercise
    High refined carbohydrate/high glycemic diet
    Inability to reach satiation
    Heart conditions
    Diet burnout (eating less, but never losing)
    Eating disorders
    Enormous portions (in prepared foods/beverages and at restaurants – e.g., Big Gulp, babyhead-sized muffins)
    Larger serveware

    And here’s one few even realize; if you are tortured when you’re 10 for being 10 pounds overweight, you never forget it. You can never please anyone, because no matter what you do you are either considered fat, are reminded about it constantly or you might as well be “about to become fat again” as far as your family and many others in your life see it. Since you’re treated like crap anyway, it doesn’t seem to matter if you are 10 or 100 pounds overweight, so what’s the difference?

  15. Who would have thought that the biggest loser of all turned out to be the trainer? ZING! Can I zing my own jokes? Well, I guess I just did… You can tell all that’s wrong with that show by the title. Even the winners can’t win.

  16. Vegan isn’t the best for everybody, and if you don’t get what you need, then you can do your mental health a blow even if there is no abuse. I have bipolar disorder, and I have found that I need to eat red meat every once in a while (I dig pork) or else I can go into an anxiety attack.

    And pills won’t help it; red meat has stuff in it we don’t understand, just like dark green leafy veggies have a lot we don’t understand. Animals and plants are way beyond medicine’s distillations into pharmaceuticals.

    Eggs don’t have much in cholesterol, and they have much more nutrition to offset that little they have. Having an egg in the early morning can help carry you til early afternoon if you have to do that (like heavy work load or stressful school tests).

    And there are plenty of medicines out there people need that make them gain 30-50 pounds or more. Body shape also affects things.

  17. My daughter works out to her video and I hate it. The woman bullies the SKINNY ladies while they’re working out. She is absolutely belligerent and repugnant.

    1. Jillian does treat people pretty badly. I’m not sure why you emphasized “SKINNY” though – I hope you’re not implying that bullying fat people is more acceptable.

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