coping mechanisms

An Ode to the People in My Workout Video

Photo: Courtesy of Jillian Michaels Body Revolution

I do not want to speak for anyone else, because I don’t remember what anyone else looks like, but as we approach the maybe-end of the pandemic, I’ve been thinking fondly of the friends I made along the way. To be specific, I have made 11 friends. All of them are supporting actors in my daily workout video, “Jillian Michaels Body Revolution.” (Jillian Michaels acts as an adjective and not a possessive noun, in this case, describing the specific sort of body revolution one might have). The fact that they are all in the workout video is a coincidence — we would be friends anyway.

I see my friends six days a week for roughly 30 minutes at a time, usually at 9:30 a.m. after I have woken up, remembered the circumstances of our current collective existence, frowned, stared at my phone for one to four hours, and absorbed the contents of the entire internet. I know 10 out of 11 of their first names, and I know that at least one of them has children and one of them does not like the workout move called “fast feet.” I’ll get into the details of their lives shortly, but first, allow me to explain how we met.

In January, deep in the throes of four depressions (normal, seasonal, pandemic, primal-apocalyptic), I decided I should maybe try exercising every day instead of doing the exact opposite of that. I landed on “Jillian Michaels Body Revolution,” an app-based, 90-day workout program that’s at least a decade old, because I did not want to do any research whatsoever. I used to do Jillian Michaels workouts in college, during the height of her Biggest Loser fame, and I remembered how frightening I found her back then; that was enough for me to devote 2,700 minutes to her. I’ve found that fear is the only real motivator when you are four-depressed.

Jillian’s best quality is her randomly inspired, randomly directed rage. She is often yelling at me that she does not care if I die; she just wants me to “have sex with the lights on.” Sometimes she looks at me sternly and says, “Don’t phone this in. That makes me really, really mad. I’m talking to you. I can see you.” Sometimes she will get angry out of nowhere about something that has not happened — for example, at the beginning of workout eight (which you must repeat four times before moving on to workout nine), she shakes her head in disappointment as if I had just asked her what we are doing today, despite knowing full well what we will be doing today. “Today, we’re going to work shoulders, back, quads,” she says, sighing and rolling her eyes at our mutual friend Natalie. “I’m not sure why I have to keep telling you this.”

Jillian getting mad at me. Photo: Courtesy of Jillian Michaels Body Revolution

I’m sure Jillian, whose philosophy on working out skews old-school and body-negative, has done or said something offensive in the decade or so since I last befriended her, but if she did, I do not want to hear about it. Jillian Michaels the actual person is an entirely separate entity from Jillian Michaels the adjective for a workout who lives in my phone. The same concept applies for all of my workout video friends, the ones who stand behind Jillian and do the moves. I will never Google them or find out anything about them. The rules of our friendship are such that I cannot know anything about them that is not provided to me via the workout video. I am, however, allowed to make unfounded assumptions about them and fold those assumptions into my brain as fact.

Like me, my 11 (12 if you include Jillian) friends suffer endlessly but they do not break. Sometimes they moan, and Jillian mocks them for moaning. Sometimes they say, “I have an injury, so I’m using lighter weights for this one,” and Jillian hurls the lighter weights across the room. Sometimes they’re made to add weights to a non-weight-based exercise simply so Jillian can laugh maniacally and say, “Some people call me the B-word …” Everything I know about them, I know because Jillian said it, including their names (one of which she has never uttered aloud). Such is the fate of the supporting exercise-video actor — rarely are you allowed to narrate your own inner life or even say your own name. I’ll introduce them all now in order of how much I think about them. (Please know that I tried to isolate each of them within the workout app then take a screenshot so I could provide you with a photo to accompany their names, but it was too hard, so I gave up — something my workout video friends would never do.)

Row one, from left: Mimi, Jillian, Haley. Row two: I Don’t Know Her, Anita, Natalie. Row three: Terri (Ann?), Kenta, Ken. Photo: Courtesy of Jillian Michaels Body Revolution

11. Natalie. Natalie, who I would argue is the second main character of the workout videos and therefore my closest friend, is very tall and beautiful. She is unflappable; I’ve never seen her upset. Perhaps that’s because she has incredible biceps and knows she will always have them, as she has made a career out of having them. She and Jillian seem to have unfinished business of some kind — perhaps romantic, perhaps professional. Jillian has a lot of apparent respect for her and often refers to her as “my girl Natalie,” but Natalie speaks to Jillian at a polite remove. As a result, she is often made to do the hardest version of all of the exercises. If I had to guess, Jillian and Natalie once had a love affair, which ended mutually and with deep love and affection after Natalie fell in love with someone else.

10. Mimi. Mimi is sort of the sidekick of the Jillian Michaels Body Revolution Cinematic Universe. She is not as big of a character as Natalie, but she is definitely recurring. Mimi has a lot of verve and chutzpah, and she is often forced to come to the front of the class and do “fast feet” (running really fast in a sort of small way without moving forward in space) because she hates it and because Jillian is an established sadist. However, Mimi never complains; instead, she often laughs to herself, like she understands and accepts the innate absurdity of both of our situations (her living inside a workout app, me doing the workout app every day). At one point, Mimi mentions wanting to go out dancing. Is she a dancer in real life, outside of the confines of the Jillian Michaels Fitness App? I don’t know. And don’t tell me.

9. David. David is the most gargantuan person I have ever seen. He’s like a Greek myth come to life. He should play Hercules on Broadway, and I would suggest that to him if our relationship allowed it. If David and I even thought about having sex (we would never, as our friendship is too important, but hypothetically), I would be crushed into a pile of ash and dust. Like Mimi and Natalie, David is a great sport; Jillian is always making him do things and then saying, “It’s okay to objectify the boys!” and he just smiles, hugely.

This is David. Photo: Courtesy of Jillian Michaels Body Revolution

8. Kenta. Kenta, who looks exactly like my friend Sam (not a workout video friend), has player energy (much like my friend Sam … total coincidence). He wears a lot of gray tank tops and is a bit emotionally detached for my liking. Whenever Jillian is like, “Kenta, add weights for this one,” he’s like, “Okay.” “Okay”? What is Kenta up to? One time, Kenta screamed, “Oh God,” during a workout.

7. Haley. Haley picks up threes sometimes when Jillian says to pick up eights. She was a cheerleader in high school and extremely popular. Her ponytail is curled at the bottom, so that’s how I know this.

6. Anita. Anita is nervous. Every time Jillian addresses her directly, she laughs in a terrified manner. What is Anita hiding?

5. Ken. Ken is self-actualized. Once he used the phrase “” to describe his commitment to working out.

4. Omar. Omar is in love with Ken. He knows Ken is self-actualized and that’s why he loves him.

3. Terri (Terri Ann?). Terri (Ann?) smiles a lot, sometimes to the point where I begin to worry. I don’t know if Terri’s name is Terri Ann or if I just imagined that. If her name is Terri Ann, she escaped a difficult Republican upbringing. If her name is Terri, her parents are neoliberal WASPs. Either way, she has a complicated relationship with her parents.

2. Sari. Jillian doesn’t say Sari’s name until workout eight, which is, frankly, insane. I spent so much time waiting for Jillian to say Sari’s name that I forgot to develop any sort of working theories about her. Sari has a good spray tan.

1. Unnamed Woman. At the time of this writing, I am on workouts nine and ten, and Jillian has still not said this woman’s name aloud. She has, however, on multiple occasions, walked over to this woman, gestured at her abs, and said, “How many kids have you had?” And the woman replies, each time, “Three.” Jillian looks directly at the camera. “THREE KIDS!!!” she says. “YOU HAVE NO EXCUSE!!”

Unnamed Woman (left) and Mimi. Photo: Courtesy of Jillian Michaels Body Revolution

I have to believe that by the end of workouts 11 and 12, I will know who this woman is, and more specifically, what she is all about as a person. Indeed, the fact that I still do not know this woman’s name is what keeps me going each day. The promise of finding out her name wakes me up in the morning and puts me to sleep at night, and in the middle, convinces me that I should wash my hair sometimes. What I am trying to say is that the suspense of figuring out this woman’s name has been so helpful to me that I suggest you try to develop your own reason to live. Yours could be that, or it could be totally different. It’s your coping mechanism, so I encourage you to go crazy with it.

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