Jillian Michaels, the in-your-face trainer from NBC’s extreme weight-loss competition “The Biggest Loser,” is facing not one, not two, but three lawsuits over the “Maximum Strength Calorie Control” diet supplement she endorses. Three separate women have filed lawsuits claiming that the pills are ineffective and potentially dangerous.
That the pills don’t work is no surprise—have diet pills ever worked?—but a lot of Michaels’ fans have been expressing disappointment that she would endorse such a product in the first place. Michaels has always claimed to be anti-pill, instead insisting that diet and exercise alone should be enough to make any body into, well, her body.
To those who have lost faith in their fitness hero, I can only say this: if you are surprised, you are not paying attention. Someone who endorses The Biggest Loser’s wildly unhealthy combination of undereating and overexercising (contestants would often intentionally dehydrate themselves to shed pounds) pretty obviously doesn’t have anyone’s best health interests in mind. But because the narrative spun around The Biggest Loser is one of hope and change and reinvention and finally being the person you always wanted to be and blah blah blah, it’s understandable how audiences, especially those with their own body concerns, eventually come to put trust in a figure like Michaels.
So what does it mean when a trusted fitness guru with a culturally ideal body tells you it’s OK to take a pill? Well, you’re probably going to take a pill. And that’s why I have absolutely no sympathy for Michaels in this situation. She’s being irresponsible and she knows it. She’s participating in a cultural exercise that puts a failure to achieve an “ideal” body squarely on the shoulders of an individual. She’s perpetuating an impossible ideal and she’s lying about how to reach it—she’s lying by insisting that it can even be reached by the average person.
What her popularity masks is that fitness is her job. The reason she looks the way she does is that she dedicates her entire life to it. Her world is a gym and a carefully planned menu of appropriate foods designed to give her those arms and those legs and those abs. She doesn’t take those pills and she knows that taking those pills isn’t going to help you, yet she tells you to take them anyway because it’s going to put dollars in her pocket and in the pockets of countless executives in suits whose interests begin and end with how much money they made this quarter.
To the women who took these pills with the hope that they would be the end of a struggle: I feel for you. I hope that you will one day go to the gym because it makes you feel strong and not because it might make you thin. I hope that you find peace in the body that you have been given.
To Jillian Michaels: I hope that one day you realize the influence that you wield, and that you choose to use it for good rather than to sell yet another fruitless, harmful dream.