Behind every toxic diet and exercise culture, there are the equally problematic people who perpetuate it for personal gain. Early ’00s fitness star and TV personality Jillian Michaels is certainly no exception.
From verbal assault to injurious training methods, Michaels has a long history of fitness-related transgressions. Despite being out of the TV spotlight for some time, Michaels still utilizes every platform she can to spout body-shaming nonsense.
Most recently, it was a short Instagram video in which she managed to promote unhealthy body standards in mere seconds.
‘Am I A Hero?’ (She Isn’t)
In her video, a voiceover asks, “Am I a hero?”
A caption over the video reads, “Showing women everywhere…” as Michaels lifts her shirt to reveal her signature flat torso, “that abs are possible in your 40s.”
“I really can’t say,” the voiceover continues, “but yes.”
“…And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!” the post caption reads. This, of course, poses a more prominent question: Who are we supposed to be ignoring? Biology? Medicine? Reality?
The 48-year-old’s claim that all women over 40 can (read: should) have flat abs is problematic for multiple reasons. So, let’s break down all of the reasons why this notion is not only unrealistic—but pretty absurd, too.
Because It’s In Your Genes
Visceral fat is the fat around the abdomen and intestines that make bellies soft, not flat. Michaels’ claim completely ignores the reality that this type of fat distribution is largely based on genetics.
Further, a larger midsection is sometimes due to hypothyroidism. This condition makes it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it. Oh, and it also runs in the family.
Because Your Gut Health Is Out Of Whack
Michaels loves to tout healthy eating practices, even if they aren’t always right. In fact, she’s even told her young daughter that her favorite pop star “loves kale and hates pizza” to encourage healthy eating. (Because, you know, that’s healthy.)
What she doesn’t seem to mention is our diet’s effect on our GI tract. Food sensitivities and an off-balance gut microbiome can cause chronic bloating and fat retention. Unsurprisingly, both of these things affect our ability to flatten our stomachs.
Because You’re On Medication
Several medications often result in weight gain. Medications that directly affect insulin levels—injectable insulin for diabetics, for example—can cause the body’s cells to absorb too much glucose. The body then turns this glucose into fat.
Antidepressants and antipsychotics also affect the body’s insulin levels. Common SSRIs like Zoloft and Celexa increase serotonin levels in the brain, which is involved in weight regulation and appetite.
Oral corticosteroids can cause weight gain, too. These medications stimulate the appetite, promote water retention, and can even lead to insulin resistance. Other weight-affecting drugs include antihistamines, beta-blockers, and epilepsy medication.
Because It Has To Do With Hormones
Hormones significantly affect how our body holds onto and loses weight. First, let’s start with the most obvious: pregnancy. The abdomen muscles are directly affected as the body expands and shifts to accommodate a baby.
It can be difficult for women who have given birth to get their torsos to pre-pregnancy specs. (Of course, Michaels has never had to deal with that problem. She adopted her first child, and her partner carried their second child.)
But even past child-bearing age, hormones still affect our weight levels. When women stop ovulating, their body stops producing progesterone, which helps burn fat for energy. This is one reason why many menopausal women experience some level of weight gain, particularly around the abdomen.
Because You’re Human
Finally, the most important reason behind Michaels’ “I’m a hero for having abs” claim is that it just isn’t true. There’s nothing wrong with having abs. But there are a lot of things wrong with telling other people that there’s no reason they shouldn’t have them, too.
We are humans—lumpy, soft, squishy humans. Michaels isn’t made out of steel. When the cameras go away, and she stops flexing, she has lumpy, soft, and squishy bits, too. Trying to attain anything else is unrealistic and, frankly, biologically impossible.
Still, there’s a reason toxic fitness culture has been around for decades. It’s persuasive, manipulative, and plays into our deepest, darkest fears. Society then throws those fears back in our face via Hollywood body standards, social media, and by giving toxic women like Michaels an international platform.
There are lots of reasons to consider oneself a hero. And outside of her toxic fitness empire, I’d give Michaels the benefit of the doubt and say she has her fair share. But one thing is certain: The shape of her stomach is not one of them.