Fitness expert and personal trainer Jillian Michaels has a message for fans of Lizzo, a singer whose chart-topping anthems preach self-love: celebrate her music, not her body.
“Why are we celebrating her body? Why does it matter? Why aren’t we celebrating her music?” Michaels asked during a Wednesday appearance on BuzzFeed News’s morning show, “AM to DM.” “‘Cause it isn’t going to be awesome if she gets diabetes.”
Michaels’ comments – part of a larger discussion on health, wellness and body positivity – went viral Wednesday as critics accused the 45-year-old, who rose to fame as a coach on NBC’s controversial weight-loss competition, “The Biggest Loser,” of being “fatphobic.” A 43-second clip of the interview has been watched more than 2.4 million times as of early Thursday.
What a horrible excuse of a human. https://t.co/JFo1k0Rcj2
— Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd) January 8, 2020
By Wednesday night, widespread backlash prompted Michaels to issue a response, clarifying her remarks to stress that while people “are all beautiful, worthy, and equally deserving,” she also strongly believes that “we love ourselves enough to acknowledge there are serious health consequences that come with obesity – heart disease, diabetes, cancer to name only a few.”
“I would never wish these for ANYONE and I would hope we prioritize our health because we LOVE ourselves and our bodies,” Michaels wrote in a statement shared on Twitter.
— Jillian Michaels (@JillianMichaels) January 9, 2020
Michaels’ troubles began Wednesday morning when “AM to DM” co-host Alex Berg brought up the fitness guru’s concerns about “political correctness” in the health world. Michaels has publicly condemned fat-shaming, but has also cautioned against going too far in the opposite direction, telling Women’s Health UK last year, ” … obesity in itself is not something that should be glamourised.”
In Wednesday’s interview, Michaels doubled down on her stance.
“We should always be inclusive, but you cannot glorify obesity. It’s dangerous,” she said. “Now, it’s like, ‘Ah that woman is 250 pounds, good for her!’ … It shouldn’t be one way or the other. It’s really no one’s business to comment. It’s not something you should judge. It’s not something you should celebrate.”
The conversation then turned to Lizzo when Berg mentioned how much she enjoyed seeing plus-size celebrities, such as the 31-year-old singer and model Ashley Graham, preaching body positivity and promoting their images – “bodies that we don’t get to see being celebrated.”
Michaels quickly interjected, cutting Berg off to ask why people don’t just celebrate Lizzo’s music. The singer, born Melissa Viviane Jefferson, has emerged as a vocal body positivity advocate with hit songs featuring lyrics such as, “If I’m shinin’, everybody gonna shine” and “I do my hair toss/ Check my nails/ Baby how you feelin’?/ Feeling good as hell.”
“I’m just being honest,” Michaels said. “I love her music. My kid loves her music. But there’s never a moment where I’m like, ‘I’m so glad that she’s overweight.'”
Michaels later added: “If you said to me, ‘Hey, Lizzo can live to be 90 and motivate people or she can die at 60 and motivate people,’ why wouldn’t I say I hope she’s as healthy as she can be? It’s not about saying that I don’t respect her, I don’t think she’s awesome. I absolutely do. But I also would hate to see her get sick.”
Lizzo’s supporters, however, interpreted Michaels’ comments as an attempt to “fat shame” the singer, who has been candid about overcoming body image issues. Just days before Michaels’ interview aired, Lizzo announced that she would be taking a break from Twitter, citing “too many trolls” as the reason for her hiatus.
“Stop concern-trolling fat people and get in the bin,” actress and activist Jameela Jamil tweeted Wednesday, including an emoji of a person throwing away trash.
Several people highlighted Lizzo’s high-energy performances as evidence of her health, noting that she not only sings, raps and dances but also plays the flute onstage.
“Do let us know when you can twerk and play the flute at the same time, Jillian,” one person tweeted. “Until then, shut your mouth.”
— Ally ????♀️?? (@nametags) January 8, 2020
We celebrate @Lizzo’s body because she inhabits it with love & teaches us to do the same. She holds concerts that involve hours of singing, dancing & athleticism in a body that society has long profited off hating & stereotyping. Every body deserves compassion & celebration. ? https://t.co/aKvSaIw89F
— Sharanya Haridas (@haridassharanya) January 8, 2020
Critics also rushed to lambaste Michaels for her controversial career as a personal trainer, pointing to her time on “The Biggest Loser,” where she became known for her “tough love” motivational style. One 2016 article from the Guardian reported that “Jillian Michaels’s tactics wreaked havoc on show contestants,” adding that she often “verbally threatened” and “hurled insults” at participants on her team. (A reboot of “The Biggest Loser” is slated to premiere later this year on the USA Network. Michaels is not taking part.)
“If I had been exposed to more Lizzo and less Jillian Michaels when I was younger, maybe I wouldn’t have spent half my life hating my body,” one Twitter user wrote.
But others defended Michaels.
Comedian Josh Denny tweeted, “As an overweight fat person, I (100 percent) agree with @JillianMichaels about Lizzo.”
“Accepting being fat is the same as accepting being poor or unsuccessful,” Denny wrote. “Nobody wants it; it’s a matter of how hard we want to change it. But stop disguising ‘giving up’ as ‘acceptance.'”
Jillian Michaels asked why people have to celebrate Lizzo's body instead of her music.
People freaked out.
That was probably the only time I'll ever agree with Jillian Michaels.
Sorry… I don't think we should normalize morbid obesity just to avoid hurt feelings.
Don't @ me
— Mark ? (@sharkthelion) January 8, 2020
“Jillian, you were on a show called ‘The Biggest Loser’ that destroyed the health and mental wellbeing of fat folks, exploiting their suffering – not to mention glamorizing self-destruction and disordered eating for countless others,” one person tweeted. “That is the OPPOSITE of self-love and health.”