For the most part, I am a positive person. I like to like: people, activities, ideas, art, food, just things in general. For me this isn't difficult. I am not critical or skeptical or judgmental by nature.
This is the reason why I picked the latest copy of Shape magazine when I saw Jillian Michaels on the cover. Despite disdaining women's fitness magazines (women's fitness magazines are one of things that bring out my critical side), despite having experienced a palpable feeling of nausea seeing Ms. Michaels work with clients during both of the two occasions I watched The Biggest Loser, I wanted to give them both a second (or third in the case of Michaels and three-millionth in the case of Shape) chance to redeem themselves. I wanted to like them both.
Particularly Jillian Michaels. She is, after all, one of America's most visible personal trainers. My clients know about her and it is her working style that comes to mind for many when they envision the relationship between a personal trainer and a client. I want to look at Ms. Michaels as a role model. I want to believe she offers a positive and helpful perspective on what it means to be a strong, healthy woman.
The results of my read?
I was disappointed.
There were several things about the interview in the May 2011 issue of Shape that made me want to scream, but I will spare you a lengthy rant and write only about the thing that troubled me the most.
This quote from Jillian Michaels:
"There's this one dimple on the back of my butt that's like a cavern. I swear to you it's just un-friggin'-believable! No matter how thin I get, I still have cellulite. I've tried every cream. I've ironed my ass at the plastic surgeon's office with a laser -- nothing worked. I've finally reached a point where I accept my flaw, but that doesn't mean I feel good about it."
First: I'm certain there's no cavern on the back of Jillian Michael's leg. A handful of small dimples? Perhaps. Cavern? No.
Second: Seriously? This is what she chooses to use her fame to discuss? Is she really, truly this self-absorbed, this shallow? Not once did she mention the importance of strength training for maintaining a healthy body composition or for preventing diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and sarcopenia. Not once did she mention the benefits of cardiovascular exercise including (but certainly not limited to) preventing heart disease, managing high blood pressure, reducing stress, boosting sex drive, helping insomnia, improving mood and self-esteem and enhancing cognitive processes and creativity. Not once did Ms. Michaels mention anything that could positively influence the people whose lives she is supposedly trying to help with her work. Instead she chose to discuss the "cavern" on the back of her leg. It is this sort of language, this sort of hateful self-scrutiny that fuels eating disorder epidemics and affirms the unhealthy standards against which women's bodies are judged.
I, too, have cellulite. A fair amount of it. I also have little red spider veins on my legs. And roundness to my belly. And breasts that fall toward my armpits when I lie on my back. I exercise regularly and I eat healthily, but still I have these things.
Does it bother me?
Let me answer this way: If Barbara Eden herself appeared from a golden bottle and offered me 100 wishes, eliminating my cellulite and spider veins, flattening my belly and plumping my breasts would not be among my wishes. What if she offered me 100,000 wishes? Nope. 100,000,000? Again, no.
What would I wish for?
For starters, I'd wish for an end to hundreds of thousands of rapes of women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I'd wish for humane conditions for factory workers in China. I'd wish for an end to the sex slave trade. I'd wish that every living creature on the planet had access to clean drinking water. I'd wish that children in poor neighborhoods of this country were given the same education and opportunities as children in wealthy neighborhoods. I'd wish that humans would stop hurting our planet and our fellow animals with our greedy overconsumption. I'd wish for racism, sexism, agism, homophobia, hatred and ignorance of every sort to vanish entirely, forever.
What does this have to do with exercise, you ask? It doesn't have much to do with exercise itself, but it does have everything to do with our mindsets about exercise. When we focus our precious mental energy toward what is superficial and insignificant ~ for even one moment ~ we condone all that is shallow and trivial. We waste. We miss our opportunity to imprint the world around us in a meaningful and important way.
I believe in my work as fitness professional. I believe in the power of exercise, but not because it helps us fit our bodies perfectly into skinny jeans. Rather, I believe in the power of exercise because it liberates us to become the healthiest and strongest human beings we are capable of becoming so that we can get on with doing the important work, the meaningful work of which we are capable.
Today I wish that the next time Jillian Michaels gets interviewed she says, "Yes I am a strong and healthy woman, and yes I have cellulite, and no I don't give a friggin' damn about it because strong, healthy, real women often have cellulite. Now can we have an intelligent conversation about something that really, truly matters?"
And for you I wish that the next time the evil critic in your mind starts harping on your body's "imperfections," you are able to take a deep breath and, with an exhale, expel the negativity. I wish that you always remember all the good your body does for you, how your eyes see and your legs walk and your fingers touch and your heart beats.
I wish for us all joyful, healthy bodies.
Love your body, lovies.