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Catherine is a mother, writer, recovering academic, the author of Her Bad Mother, and Editor in Chief of Disney Interactive Family.

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Welcome To The Messier Side Of Life, Jillian Michaels

By Catherine Connors |

Jillian Michaels has seen the light, you guys. Just like we hoped she would.

Two years ago, when she body-snarked every mother out there by stating that she hated what pregnancy and childbirth did to a woman’s body, I recoiled. I was angry. I wrote this:

So apparently Jillian Michaels is going to avoid pregnancy and childbirth for the same reasons that she avoids cupcakes and joy: because those things aren’t worth the cost to her perfectly toned, perfectly muscled, perfectly perfect body. Which, whatever. She’s entitled to make whatever cost-benefit analyses she likes about life and love and muscle tone. I’m not going to judge. Not much, anyway.

The thing that got me about her remarks about avoiding pregnancy and childbirth for the sake of her body (I’m not going to address her remarks about adoption, which, ugh. She wants to rescue something? Rescue a puppy, Jillian) wasn’t so much that she was articulating her choice to preserve her body against the ravages of pregnancy – which is ridiculous, really, because she makes a living showing others how to get and keep their preferred physiques after pregnancy and childbirth and cheeseburgers, so she should know that she doesn’t have to choose (I’ll get back to this) (holy longest sentence ever) – but her choice of words in articulating that choice. “I don’t want to do that to my body,” she said. I don’t know what her inflection was, exactly, but in my mind’s ear the ‘that‘ is totally italicized and dripping with icicles of disgust. ‘That.’ Ugh. Why do women do that to themselves? It’s just so, you know, yuck.

Here’s the thing. I don’t think that the ‘that‘ Jillian Michaels was referring to was simply weight gain and boob droopage. She’s a fitness coach. She knows better. Women don’t become irrevocably hippopotamized after they have children. If that were true, Heidi Klum and Gisele Bundchen and Demi Moore and Madonna and Cindy Crawford and Gwyneth Paltrow and countless other celebrity-type women would never have had children. Hollywood and New York would be entirely bereft of children. There would be no Celebrity Baby Blog and no Babble and no ‘bump watch’ and nobody would ever have wondered whether J-Lo really did demand couture delivery gowns. That, or they’d only ever adopt (ADOPT, Jillian, not RESCUE) and there wouldn’t be any kids left over for Angelina, or there’d be some twisted Handmaid’s Tale black market in mother-surrogates who pump out designer babies for celebrities on demand. (There’s not, is there?) Jillian Michaels knows this. Jillian Michaels knows that, if she wanted to, she could lose the 11 pounds she gained in pregnancy in about eight days. So when Jillian Michaels said that she didn’t want to do that to her body, she didn’t mean that she didn’t want to put on a few pounds of baby weight. She meant – I think – something different.

When she said that she didn’t want to do that to her body, Ms. Jillian was, I think (emphasis on ‘I think’ – this is only my opinion), expressing her disgust at the basic idea of becoming – as women do in pregnancy and childbirth and beyond – biological, which is to say, tethered to her body, to her messy, unpredictable, physical femaleness. This is, I think, something that reflects a broader public sentiment – I’m not holding her responsible for it – and it’s a shame, even though it’s rooted in messy fact. When you’re pregnant, you don’t – you can’t – control your body. You cannot control whether you lose or gain weight – no matter what, there’s something growing inside of you, and that thing has mass, and needs – and you cannot perfectly control how your body feels or how it moves. If you have morning sickness, you will vomit. If your feet spread, they spread. If you get night sweats, you get night sweats. If you have a high-risk pregnancy and are put on bed rest, you will be on bed rest. You might crave pickles, and if you crave pickles, you will have to have pickles and you will kill anyone who stands in your way. You will ache and lurch and leak. Your boobs will grow, and also, probably, itch. There is nothing that you can do about that. You are not master of your physiological domain when you are pregnant. You are body, beholden to Nature. And you just have to, for the most part, suck it up.

I was completing my doctoral degree in political philosophy when I was pregnant with Emilia. Before the pregnancy, I lived pretty much entirely in my head, and so it was a shock to be dragged so fully and completely into my body, into my meaty, physical self, and be stuck there. Yes, stuck. I felt stuck. I couldn’t concentrate efficiently and consistently. I had to nap more often, which is to say, always. Some days, I couldn’t make it to campus because I was just so exhausted from the work of being pregnant – the passive but nonetheless utterly fatiguing work of having one’s body devote itself entirely to nurturing a fetus – and if I did make it, I would invariably fall asleep in my office before I’d made it through a single page of my dissertation. My mind wandered constantly, but not upward, toward the pure Platonic Form of wisdom, but to the flutters in my belly, to the heart beating, literally, next to mine, to the tiny foot planted squarely on my bladder. I felt, in a way that I never really had before, physical. Biological. Animal. It was profoundly discomfiting. Also, amazing. It took me a long time to get to ‘amazing’, but I did. It was amazing, and worth every ounce of discomfort and then some. (Mostly.)

Jillian Michaels makes her living working with sweat and sinew and all those gym-towel-stinky let’s-get-physical things – she makes her living working with bodies – so why should she, of all people, be put off by the messy physicality of pregnancy? Why should she be made uncomfortable by biology, by bodies doing what they were meant to do? Well, duh. She doesn’t help people lose weight and tone their bodies because she loves bodies. She does it because she hates them. Or fears them. Or is freaked out by them. Same-same. Her drive to get people into shape (and by extension, the drive of the entire fitness-diet-body-improvement industry) is, arguably, a drive to control that which terrifies and repels her (and, more critically, most of Western society): the natural, unperfected, unshredded human body. The natural human female body.

At least, that’s what her words – just a handful of words, pulled from a much longer that had nothing to do with pregnancy and childbirth but everything to do with being Jillian Michaels, body guru – tell me. She doesn’t want to ‘do that‘ to her body – by which she means, let her body take a natural course – because she’s fearful of not controlling her body. Fearful, and, I would venture, loathful. The natural body does not have six-pack abs. The natural body could not cut glass with its thighs. The natural body sometimes droops and squooshes and sags. The natural female body – especially the natural female body that is past the first bloom of youth – has all manner of parts that simply do not, on their own, defy gravity. The natural female body is messy and wild and powerful and unpredictable and soft in parts. Jillian Michaels, it seems, does not like this body. Or at least, she does not want it for herself, for any amount of time, and isn’t afraid to say so. That is the telling thing here.

That’s a shame. I’m not going to say that it’s surprising, because, really, like we couldn’t have guessed from her public profile that Jillian Michaels has an aversion to uncut, unchiseled, unperfected bodies. We know that we live in a society in which natural bodies -  the natural female body, in particular, and the natural aging female body and the natural postpartum female body (not to mention the breastfeeding body) – are regarded with something approaching disgust. Her words just underline that, and they point to the shame that is too easily attached to matters concerning the female body, and not just matters of weight. Jillian Michaels reminds us that we live in a society that is not just fat-phobic – although it certainly is that – but one that is gyno-phobic, if we take gyno to refer not to women qua women in all their natural messy glory and not women qua Barbie dolls. She reminds us that everyone likes to look at and talk about and champion women’s bodies – but only if they are, or are in the process of being, sanitized and perfected for proper cultural consumption.

Which, eff that. Jillian Michaels is free to make whatever choices she likes about her body, and she’s free to proclaim them to the unchiselled, muffin-topped, pregnancy-ravaged masses. But I’m also free to call her proclamations messed up, and to direct my own personal improvement projects in more positive and self-loving directions. So. So long, Thirty-Day Shred; hello, Food Revolution, long walks and bike rides and swimming and soccer with my kids, a good bra and the occasional home-baked cupcake. And hello, loving my body, every droopy-boobed, ravaged-nethers, rumply, imperfect part of it. It’s amazing.

It’s a shame that the Jillian Michaels of the world can’t see that.

Well, now she has kids. And she gets that it’s hard to even just keep up when you have kids. And it seems that she’s issued an apology of sorts, inasmuch as she’s publicly acknowledging that it’s hard to be a mom, harder than she ever imagined. I don’t know whether she’s gotten over her body issues, but it’s just as likely that what I perceived to be her body issues were just MY body issues, aggravated by her maddening comments. It kind of doesn’t matter – she’s here now, on our side, and she gets it, and she says so. Which is as much as we can expect, I guess. And maybe it’s all that we need – the acknowledgement that a mom can only ever do what a mom can only ever do, and that the world of the mom is messier and wilder and more chaotic and richer than most people ever acknowledge.

It’s all that I need. Welcome to the messy side of life, Jillian. It’s kind of awesome here.

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About Catherine Connors

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Catherine Connors

Catherine is a mother, writer, recovering academic, the author of Her Bad Mother, and Editor in Chief of Disney Interactive Family. Read bio and latest posts → Read Catherine's latest posts →

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12 thoughts on “Welcome To The Messier Side Of Life, Jillian Michaels

  1. Kelly says:

    I won’t be satisfied until I see a pooch develop on her lower stomach. I don’t want her to get all fat and out of shape..just a little “I’m sleep deprived & ate some sugar to cope” pooch. Is that too much to ask?

  2. Kim Z Dale (@observacious) says:

    She did manage to have kids without getting pregnant. (She adopted one and her partner gave birth to the other.)

  3. anonymous says:

    Jillian makes money off her body. This is not about anyone’s insecurity or about cupcakes or about moms being fat or about anyone’s projections; this is about her financial independence and her decision to do with her body what she wants. If we are going to support women’s rights to be stay at home moms and working moms and their right to terminate their pregnancies, then we have to support their rights NOT to get pregnant. Why is this is so difficult to understand? She did it HER way. She did not want to get physically pregnant for whatever reason; maybe she had PCOS and couldn’t. Maybe she had an eating disorder and is not fully recovered. Frankly, it’s no one’s business. She is now a mother to two gorgeous children and will give them a great life. How she got there is not the point.

  4. Lyra says:

    “Anonymous,” this wasn’t about her decision itself not to bear children. It was about her comments a few years back. These comments could be interpreted in more than one way, but not as compliments.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I wrote about this two years ago as well. Her comment was just so… ugh. My point of view at the time was that if you are not willing to sacrifice your body to have kids then you really aren’t ready for kids. They take EVERYTHING you have, and you need to be ready to give that up.

  6. Debbie says:

    Although I guess it didn’t get very well publicized, I heard JM explain that all she ever said about pregnancy was that she “couldn’t do that to her body” and she was referring to her endometriosis. She has endo (as do I, which may be why I saw her explanation) plus polycystic ovaries, so getting pregnant would require surgery to treat the endo and that’s what she didn’t think her body could handle. Not the pregnancy itself. And nothing similar to why she avoids cupcakes. Here’s a link. http://www.parentdish.com/2010/05/13/jillian-michaels-explains-pregnancy-misquote-endometriosis/

  7. Karen says:

    She also made some comments while she was a co-host on The Doctors early this year stating that feeding your kids fast food or processed sugar is like giving then crack or heroine. I agree that all that stuff is bad but as a mommy (or daddy), u have a million things to do, so if u go through the drive through once in a while or hand ur kid a piece a candy when he finally uses the potty… u shouldn’t be made to feel like you’ve given your kids drugs! I heard her make these comments months ago and haven’t quite been able to shake it!!! I don’t think it’s fair or right for her to make such extreme comparisons/accusations. I may get my son a happy meal or a Popsicle once in a while but he also knows the importance of being active and eating fruits and vegatables. And I definitely don’t want to be compared to a parent that gives his/her kids drugs!! I hope she gets photgraphed giving her screaming toddler a cookie!

  8. June says:

    If you read the entire interview she did when she said this, you would have seen that as a child, Jillian was overweight. Many people who used to be overweight and then become fit are afraid of being overweight again. It’s just something in your brain. At 21 I became pregnant and I hated just being large because I had always controlled my weight and been “skinny”. Shortly after giving birth my husband said he wanted another child and I said I needed to get back to the old me. It took 3 weeks to get back to my previous weight because I wanted to so badly. Breast feeding helped a lot and has helped me maintain my weight now that my son is one. I just found out I am pregnant again an I’m dealing with the same conflicts as I did before, I just hate being big even if it’s because I’m pregnant.

  9. Jennifer says:

    Just to add a nicer note; she recently came out as a lesbian and has admitted she has endometriosis so the road to motherhood would have been harder than she was willing to endure. Kudos for adopting Jillian I am sure you will have great Kids and a beautiful family. Not everyone can become a mom the natural way and I myself had a long hard road to my family. I still think about adopting and I loved being pregnant. We all have our issues with our body, and becoming a mom.

  10. JP says:

    I dont understand why someone would write an essay about someone else saying they did not want to ever become pregnant because of what it does to their body. Give me a break. The world does not revolve around moms. I am a mom of a 15 month old by the way and I saw nothing wrong with what she said 2 years ago. To dwell on it and write this long ass essay is really weird and strange and maybe you need to get out more and not be offended by famous people you don’t know. Its just her opinion. Who cares, seriously.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I have a few children and I saw nothing wrong with Jillian’s comments…and I wish we could all stop judging each other so much…if she doesn’t want to get pregnant…that’s her. That is what she wants. Why isn’t that okay? Regardless of societies norms..I don’t like what pregnancy has done to my body and it isn’t just a few soft spots and a couple of stretch marks..and I am guessing that this is the case for a lot of mom’s. No one ever told me how pregnancy could truly destroy your body–and it did, for me. I am left with a condition that I can not ever get rid of and will have to constantly take medication for. I also have so much sagging skin on my stomach that it is physically uncomfortable–and I am in super shape, thanks to the motivation of Jillian Michaels–but that skin will never go away without surgery. And guess what, I WANT surgery-because I want to be comfortable! And I don’t think that makes me a bad person or a slave to the media image of women. It’s just plain uncomfortable. Pregnancy is really, really, really hard on a body and I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to do it to theirs.

  12. Dayle Arra says:

    Labor of love. Building a home for books. Thank you for these great pictures. I love the Vanderbilt library too.

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