Business figure, entertainer. Born Jillian Michaels on February 18, 1974, in Los Angeles, California. Michaels was raised by her mother, Jo Ann McKarus, a psychotherapists in Santa Monica. Michaels endured a rough childhood marred by low self-esteem and psychological issues. “I was a really disturbed kid,” she remembers. “You know how kids have night terrors? Mine were really bad. I thought sharks were coming out of the drain in the bathtub. I couldn’t sleep at night, every night, waiting for aliens to come. I’m not kidding you: I. Was. Traumatized.” Her mother enrolled her in therapy at the age of 5, which Michaels says helped her tremendously. “I still try to go to therapy at least twice a week,” she says. “It has given me the confidence to pursue the things I love.”
Michaels’ parents divorced when she was 12 years old. The breakup of the family took a heavy emotional toll on Michaels, one manifestation of which was weight gain. By the time she was in the eighth grade, Michaels was 5-feet 2-inches and 175 pounds, and kids teased her frequently about her weight and appearance. “Once,” she recalls, “I was sitting at lunch and got surrounded by a bunch of kids who let me have it about how ugly I was—my unibrow, the size of my nose, the fat rolling over my jeans. It was pure hell. My mom had to pull me out and put me in another school.” Michaels gained control of her weight—and her life—at age 14, when her mother signed her up for martial arts classes. “It taught me that if I didn’t respect myself, no one else would respect me,” she says. “It helped me to redefine myself.”
Nevertheless, Michaels’ relationship with her parents remained severely strained after their divorce. She stopped speaking to her father after he moved out of their home, and they remain estranged to this date. At age 17, after years of constant fighting at home, Michaels’ mother kicked her out of the house to teach her how to fend for herself. She attended California State University, Northridge while bartending at night to support herself. Upon graduation, she worked briefly as an agent at International Creative Management in Los Angeles. But she hated her job and soon quit to become a personal trainer. Then, in 2002, at the age of 28, Michaels opened her own gym, Sky Sport & Spa, with fellow fitness expert Jackie Warner (who went on to star in the Bravo reality show Work Out).
Michaels got her big break in 2005 when she was cast as a personal trainer on the NBC reality TV show, The Biggest Loser. The show features obese and overweight contestants who compete to lose the most weight through an intense exercise and health regimen. On the show, Michaels has earned a reputation as a tough, drill sergeant-style trainer who does not hesitate to use fear as a motivation tactic. But despite her tough-as-nails TV persona, Michaels insists, “I really don’t have a mean bone in my body! Do you know how easy it would be to tell people what they want to hear? It would be heaven! But, unfortunately, it doesn’t get the job done.” The Biggest Loser has run for nine seasons and become a wildly popular program, transforming Michaels into one of America’s most famous fitness experts.
In 2010, Michaels launched a second weight loss-themed NBC reality show, Losing It With Jillian. On each episode, Michaels lives with a different family for one week while teaching them how to transform their unhealthy lifestyles. As she describes the show, “I’m in your marriage, I’m going to school with your kids. I’m, like, in the middle of everything.” Michaels says her goal for the show is to demonstrate that she’s more than just a hard-nosed personal trainer. “I want to get out a bigger message … there’s more to me, there’s more to what I do.”
Propelled by The Biggest Loser and Losing It With Jillian, Michaels has created a health and fitness empire that includes books, DVDs and video games. She is the author of five books: Winning by Losing (2007), Making the Cut (2008), Master Your Metabolism (2009), The Master Your Metabolism Cookbook (2010) and The Master Your Metabolism Calorie Counter (2010). She has also released a variety of workout DVDs and even a fitness-themed video game, Jillian Michaels’ Fitness Ultimatum, available for Nintendo Wii.
Michaels is currently single, but she says she hopes to have children in the future and is open to dating both men and women. When asked recently about her love life, Michaels responded, “Let’s just say I believe in healthy love. If I fall in love with a woman, that’s awesome. If I fall in love with a man, that’s awesome. As long as you fall in love … it’s like organic food. I only eat healthy food, and I only want healthy love!”
With two hit TV shows and an ever-expanding array of popular books, DVDs and video games, Michaels has become one of the most popular faces of fitness in America. Still, she has her sights set on making an impact beyond just exercise and entertainment. Asked about her goals for the future in a recent interview, Michaels spoke ambitiously about wanting to change the entire world. “I would like to win a Nobel Prize,” she said. “In a perfect world I’d like to get to that place where I walk away from everything. And then I can be pure Bill Gates. Cure smallpox. I want to turn around and be like, ‘I cured smallpox. How about those apples?’ You know what I mean? Or, like, ‘I reversed global warming. How ’bout that?'”