For the last year or so I’ve listened to Jillian Michael’s weekly podcast. She is by many accounts a derisive figure in the fitness community. I would say that most coaches that I generally associate myself with would be inclined to dislike her and most kettlebell coaches really dislike her or maybe just strongly disagree with her techniques. Even though I was skeptical too, for some reason I decided to listen to one of her podcasts awhile back and I actually kind of appreciated the mindset conversations she does on them, so I continued to tune in many weeks. So, I’m saying this all to be clear from the start: I went into this podcast very much liking Jillian Michaels.
But something really caught me off-guard in her podcast from July 14, 2014, titled “Fat Shaming”, when Michaels was talking about the fat acceptance movement. To be fair, I believe this is an incredibly complicated topic/movement that I am not sure I would ever be able or want to tackle, frankly.
As Michael’s went on to talk about this movement, she was saying that you need to love yourself at all body weights (agree), but that being able to have healthy biometrics (cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.) should always be your baseline measure of health. Great, I’m down with that — it is undoubtedly a challenge to have healthy biometrics when you’re obese, so I see where she is going with that and then…she went on to say that “I’ve seen many healthy girls in…size 8s, maaaaybe size 10s. I don’t generally see it in 12s. 14s. Don’t see that. Have yet to see that.” And my jaw was on the ground!
Because, here I am. A fitness trainer. Someone that helps literally hundreds of people get their workout in every day (about 25 of my own students daily, the rest throughout my company). And I’m, no joke, wearing a size 10 jean as I’m listening to her. Which means that I may or may not be healthy according to Jillian Michael’s standards?!
Let’s be clear: I’m not overweight. My blood pressure is typically in the “athlete” range. I have healthy cholesterol numbers. My body composition is also in the athletic/fit range. I recently had an annual exam and my doctor commented on how “lean” I was (which for this exam, unfortunately made her job more difficult, #irony). I can both squat and deadlift more than my bodyweight and then some. I teach 9 bootcamp classes a week. I recently have been working on Turkish Get-Ups and get a kick out of using a 16KG (35-ish pounds) kettlebell for these. I say none of this to brag — and, frankly, I am still striving to improve on many of my lifts and areas of fitness. But what these are, are facts and effects of a lifestyle that I choose a long time ago. One that I love, I might add and one that is about WAY more than what size of jeans I fit into on a given day.
And yet, Jillian Michaels thinks that I should at least be a size 8 to prove that I’m healthy. I mean, is this real life? Are these things fitness “experts” should be using as a metric for being healthy?
(Embarrassingly, yes, I recently took a #belfie. But at least now you all know what my butt looks like. And that is a butt that will likely never fit in a size 8 pair of jeans.)
Let’s start with the obvious flaw in this metric: clothing companies have wildly different sizing standards. You don’t need to try hard to figure this out: every time I order clothing online, a sizing guide inevitably pops up. Because they all have different sizing standards. And clothing brands know and get this. So is Jillian suggesting that I let Gap and JCrew decide if I’m healthy? Because that is what we are doing if we’re using clothing size as a healthy metric. The bottom line is that even if you don’t like the rest of what I have to say, I think we can all agree that a clothing size is a very arbitrary measure to use for health.
I’m quite confident that your average American woman has a range of sizes in her closet even if her weight has stayed constant in the past 5 years, since most of us buy different brands and even brands are known to change their own sizing standards. I know in my case that besides those size 10 jeans I was wearing the other day, I also have some 12 jeans in my closet right now. I also have small tops, medium tops, size 8 pants, medium-sized pants — I even have a pair of size 14 shorts. THE HORROR! How could I possibly think I was healthy while wearing a pair of shorts with a number 14 on the tag?!
I’m 5’11 and weigh 165 pounds, give or take.
I’m not overweight. And yet, I have a pair of size 14 shorts. Yup, there, I said it! The world knows my awful dirty, little secret. Should I be ashamed, Jillian? Should I crash diet so that I can fit into a “healthier” size 8 short?
My best friend is also 5’11, but she is a long-distance runner and is less muscular than myself. Even at 150 pounds, squeezing her hips into a size 8 pair of jeans would prove challenging and you’d likely consider this woman a beanpole.
Another close friend is 6’2 and was a competitive Division I rower in college. The girl is gorgeous and athletic. If you met her, I doubt you would consider her unhealthy or overweight…you might actually think she’s a badass and possibly wonder if she plays for the WNBA. It is laughable to think wearing a size 8 jean is a metric she should have to worry about.
Do you think Molly is unhealthy? Do you think Molly wears a size 8 jeans? Um, no and no.
I decided to Google a few known tall celebrities and Venus Williams sprung to mind. She’s both athletic and tall and at 6’1 is reported to be between 159 and 165 pounds. I highly doubt she wears anything less than a size 10 jean.
But….look at her. Do you think she cares about fitting into a particular size of jeans while she is winning matches? I doubt it. Do you think she frets that her butt is too big? Maybe. I mean, all women have their body image battles, right? But do I think that Venus Williams loses sleep over the state of her cardiovascular health? I would guess, a resounding: no.
I would actually bet that Venus has her jeans tailored for her, since she spent years building her legs on the tennis court and those of us with legit leg muscles have a really tough time squeezing our glutes and quads into smaller jeans, even if our waists are smaller. Sidebar: this is actually a known problem among lifters, which has caused some people looking to profit from this niche market, such as Barbell Denim that raised $735,000 for start-up costs on Kickstarter this spring.
5. I’d be remiss to not address that working in the fitness industry has made me so keenly aware of the messages we send each other about body image. I believe it has caused me to delve into these issues far more deeply than I ever would have, had I not been a part of it. It made me consider if encouraging people to get shredded for bikini season was something I wanted to be a part of — spoiler alert, it’s not. It made me realize that words matter and that ultimately, if I didn’t walk to the walk, I would never be able to help the clients I work with in the ways that matter to me most: to get and/or keep them healthy, to make sure they know how amazing they are, to help them be stronger, faster and ready to take on the physical and emotional challenges of everyday life.
I suppose if I were able to surgically alter my hip bones to be slighter narrower and stopped exercising in the hope that my glutes could possibly atrophy (though realistically, muscles wouldn’t do this easily), I could fit into smaller jeans. Right? I mean, that sounds reasonable doesn’t it Jillian?
It couldn’t possibly be that if I went to such drastic measures that, in fact it would be a sign of some serious self-loathing and disordered thinking would it Jillian?
Folks, please. We don’t need anyone, not Jillian Michaels, not your co-worker, not a sales clerk in a clothing store, not the folks at the Gap that work on sizing, our mother, our best friend or strangers on the internet telling us what size jeans we need to wear to be healthy. Spoiler alert: your jeans size tell you nothing about your biometrics. So, please, please, please talk to your doctor about whether you’re healthy or not. Get blood work done if it’s been awhile. If you don’t like your doctor, find a new one.
And Jillian? Please find a better metric to help the public determine whether we’re healthy or not. Because frankly, I don’t give a damn what size my jeans are. And neither should you.