How Healthy Is "Revenge Body" Anyway?
Celebrity trainers Gunnar Peterson and Anna Kaiser weigh in on the phenomenon that inspired Khloe Kardashian's new reality series.
Each member of the Kardashian klan has a thing: Kim is the uber-sexy, fashion-forward one. Kendall is the model. Kylie, the beauty magnate. Rob makes socks.
And, as of two years ago, Khloe has become the family's workout buff. Following the reality star's much-discussed, thoroughly documented weight loss transformation from the self-declared "fat Kardashian" to the super-fit, protein shake-hocking Insta-babe, her title was cemented in history earlier this month with the debut of her new E! reality show, Revenge Body.
A "revenge body" typically has been defined as a physical transformation undergone after a particularly messy breakup — a sort of "eff you, look what you're missing out on" in the form of a rounded posterior, toned abs and maybe a spray tan to boot, documented on multiple social media accounts so that your ex can't help but see (hence the "revenge" aspect). In many cases, the dumpee sheds the "love chub," or weight gained during the relationship. As the Urban Dictionary puts it, "you work your ass off to look the best you can just to piss him/her off and make them regret their poor choices."
The revenge body phenomenon has gained significant momentum in the age of Instagram, social media fitness "experts," and before/after culture, and Khloe and her team have capitalized on it by choosing the phrase as the premise of her show.
On each hour-long episode, two contestants undergo makeovers with the help of trainers, nutrition experts and stylists. "We are so excited to partner with Khloé Kardashian to help these deserving people seek the ultimate revenge," said Jeff Olde, EVP, programming and development, E! in a release about the show. "By tapping her unlimited resources, Khloé offers transformations of true Hollywood proportions."
"Positive transformations are all about starting from the inside out," Khloe assures her 62 million followers on Instagram. "It’s not about being 'skinny' or 'fat.' Life is not as black and white as that, and being healthy doesn’t mean fitting into a certain size."
But despite Khloe's reassurances about her health-minded intentions, some trainers call the terminology toxic, as the original social media definition promotes the idea that a person's health is or should be tied to other people's aesthetic judgments, rather than your own feelings and well being.
Life isn't about a number on the scale. Life is about happiness. Currently I am 190 pounds with no intentions of losing or gaining any time soon. I am focusing on maintaining the healthiest weight for MY body. Everyone is different. Stop putting yourself under a microscope because life is so much better when you just LIVE !! Happy to share my story and experience on @revengebody and huge thanks to @khloekardashian and all the others who helped me. #revengebody
"I think it’s a terribly negative way to look at your body and I don't think it’s proper motivation to get in shape," Anna Kaiser, a celebrity trainer who has worked with Karlie Kloss, Shakira and Kelly Ripa, tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I want the workout to be a positive experience, not a vulnerable situation tied to someone who has wronged you. The idea of revenge itself is not healthy. Feeling comfortable to move on and be a stronger person is much healthier than an idea like that."
Reality transformation shows in general are a "band-aid" solution, she continues. "You’re just addressing the symptoms ... My team and I work to get to the root of the problem — What’s causing you to make the decisions you’re making? Why are you choosing to eat those things? Getting in shape is a long-term process, it's not about getting to your 'goal weight' overnight. It's about adopting a new lifestyle."
Gunnar Peterson, whom Kardashian credits with much of her own success in her book, Strong Looks Better Naked, and who is also one of the featured trainers on her show, takes the term less literally. "I think a 'revenge body' is getting yourself in shape physically, while also fortifying your mental state to take on whatever you face in life," he says. "It’s overcoming whatever held you back or beat you down--a person, a situation, an experience — and rising from those ashes."
He adds that one motivation — be it looking good for other people in photos or just trying to get healthier — is no better than another, as long as it means you're working out. "I think that whatever it takes to get people to make a healthy change in their lives is fine."
On the show, Kardashian reiterates this focus. "Revenge body is deeper than a physical transformation. It is a spiritual and emotional transformation. The physical part is a bonus!" she says, spotlighting contestant Jill Perih, who claims she was getting "revenge on life." However, her message doesn't stop other contestants from citing friends and family members as the people on whom they are seeking revenge. It's here, when clients confront their friends or even their exes during the reveals, that the message seems muddled.
Maybe when you need constant explainers and qualifiers — or in Khloe's case, lengthy Instagram captions — to differentiate the positive, spiritual spin from the Urban Dictionary definition of the term, the idea of a revenge body does perpetuate a flawed, unhealthy way of thinking?
The one thing everyone can agree on is that when it comes to the sustainability of any program, clients must commit to new lifestyle changes. "Ultimately, [clients] will see the bigger picture and realize that the rewards they reap go far beyond anyone or anything that wronged them," said Peterson. "Health and fitness make every aspect of your life better. Time heals all and the initial motivation for taking the leap will be a distant memory."