By Laurie Pike
Originally published on Advocate.com April 09 2010 5:00 AM ET
As the bravo tv show Work Out bench-pressed its way into American consciousness over three seasons starting in 2006, gifts flooded in to Sky Sport & Spa. Most of the packages were addressed to Jackie Warner, the owner of the deluxe Beverly Hills gym and the star of the reality series. Clothing companies sent spandex shorts. Supplements companies sent bags of pills. And viewers sent mash notes. For many lesbians, Warner was an icon on par with actress-model Jenny Shimizu. For suburban housewives, she was a rare same-sex fantasy. For the overweight and undermuscled, she was hope for a better body. Some fans were so moved that they sent portraits they’d drawn or painted of the 5-foot, 8-inch superwoman, who resembles the love child of Pink and Scarlett Johansson.
“I got a lot of creative stuff,” Warner says. “A guy from San Diego painted my portrait. It’s modern pop art. It hung in one of my offices at Sky Sport for years.”
None of the pictures, however, made it onto the walls of Warner’s Hollywood Hills home. Although television cameras had been invited to capture her in bed with a girlfriend or at a dinner party where Warner’s friends would debate gay marriage with her Republican mom from Ohio, the artistic keepsakes from the show’s viewers never crossed the threshold.
“I painted every painting in my home,” says Warner, who keeps an art studio in back of her house. “[When I’m] at an exhibit I always think, I can do that. If I can create something, why not put my art up instead of buying someone else’s version?” She pauses. “It’s an ego thing.”
It was that ego that helped spark a backlash almost as soon as Jackie Warner’s star began rising. “I continue to be astonished at how highly Jackie thinks of herself,” one person commented on AfterEllen.com. Snapped another on BravoTV.com, “Jackie needs to take a class in etiquette.” Anonymous online flaming strikes anyone in the public eye, of course, but in this case it mirrored the fact that some lesbian viewers were souring on Warner. “We all hoped she’d be this great role model,” a gay viewer told me. “But she reinforced every bad stereotype, like out-of-control narcissism and having a girlfriend move in after one date.”
But Warner isn’t bothered by the chatter. She’s the kind of person who disregards haters and presses onward—just like, come to think of it, Susan Powter, the last blond lesbian to try to whip us all into healthy ectomorphs. Yet Warner couldn’t ignore it when Gatorade, a sponsor of Work Out, denounced the show after some people suggested that Warner had made catty remarks about a client who’d had reconstructive surgery after a bout with breast cancer (the comments never appeared on the show but were referred to by a trainer who confronted Warner on camera). The conversation led many fans to turn their backs on the show and demand that sponsors pull their support. Gatorade buckled. “We have watched the episode in question, and we too were surprised and saddened to see the conversations unfold between these trainers,” a company representative wrote in a statement.
Without the advertiser, there would be no season 4 of Work Out. Warner maintains that she herself didn’t make any nasty comments. Nevertheless, the incident underscored what many believed was arrogance.
“There are highs and lows in everyone’s career,” she says. “[The high isn’t] what happened at the moment but how you deal with it. I hold my head high knowing that I had done nothing wrong. Sometimes you dip and fall and recover.”
In retrospect, she says now, “You couldn’t pay me any amount of money to have cameras follow me on my trials and tribulations.” Still, she admits, the three years on the tube were therapeutic. “There’s nothing more penetrating than the camera. It shows you what you love about yourself and what you don’t like about yourself. I did a lot of self-thinking and change and working through stuff.”
Warner recovered. Bravo got over it. Together they shot a pilot for a new show, Jackie’s Gym Takeover, modeled on the cable network’s Tabatha’s Salon Takeover. Though it was ultimately scrapped, “they saw something in me worth giving a second show to,” she says, “which doesn’t happen much with that network. You don’t see many second opportunities.”
Or third opportunities, for that matter. Warner formulated yet another reality series for Bravo, ThinterventionWith Jackie Warner, that’s set to debut later this year. It’s based on her favorite A&E show, Intervention, in which people are forced to confront their alcohol and drug addictions. But here Warner will try to transform overweight, sedentary people into healthy, active individuals. It will be welcomed by those who found Warner’s clients on Work Out more interesting than her employees. And as executive producer, Warner wields more control over the finished product. “Work Out came to me,” says Warner, ever the quote machine. “I made Thintervention happen.”
She also got a book deal after Work Out was canceled, and for the next several months she spent five days a week, two hours a day writing.
The result is This Is Why You’re Fat (and How to Get Thin Forever): Eat More, Cheat More, Lose More—and Keep the Weight Off (Wellness Central, $24.99). The book is due out in late April. While the title could stand to lose a few inches, the content is all killer, no filler.
“It’s different and better than anything else out there,” Warner boasts in the introduction. Casting the Atkins diet as unmaintainable (“deprivation doesn’t work”), she allows sugar in her eating plan (albeit not much) and provides long lists of foods—including pita bread, pork roast, and yams—for her plan’s allotted three meals and two snacks per day. The regimen includes two “treat meals” each week of whatever junk food you want—as long as the meals add up to no more than 1,500 calories each. As for the exercise half of the book, “crunches,” Warner writes, “are a waste of time.” It’s all about cardio (which she admits that she hates) and her signature “power circuit” training to the point of exhaustion—or throwing up, whichever comes first.
The title of the book suggests that Americans don’t know why they are supersize. They don’t, she insists. “I fought very hard for that title,” Warner says. “It’s inflammatory, but I am tired of turning on the TV and reading diets that are not going to help.” Her approach is antielitist (the recommended foods are affordable and widely available) and pro-simplicity (don’t weigh that chicken breast; if it’s the size of your palm, it’s cool).
The book puts the spotlight on what Warner wishes Work Out would have featured more: her recipe for getting a body like hers, without the surrounding drama.
Both the book and the upcoming show offer Warner a chance at redemption by focusing on her undisputed ability to inspire people to get fit. “I am now comfortable with being a role model,” she says. “There’s a lot of judgment that comes because people feel they know me. I became someone in the public eye, but I embrace that. I own two gyms and am a role model in the fitness industry and to my trainers.” She can’t help adding, “Now I am a role model on a much bigger level. So it feels comfortable for me.”