How a fitness influencer went from small-time scammer to one of the Internet’s leading villains.
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Michael: Welcome to Maintenance Phase, the podcast that so loves the world that we've given our only begotten cohost-
Michael: It broke down halfway through. It broke down halfway through. It started strong though. It started strong.
Aubrey: The strongest part was your confidence when you said, "I've got one."
Michael: You should know well enough by now to know, "Oh, it's going to be dark."
Aubrey: Part of the issue here is that I am not a lady who was raised in a church.
Aubrey: It takes me a minute, sometimes, to catch on to be like, "Oh, his Bible talk is happening. Got it."
Michael: I am Michael Hobbes.
Aubrey: I am Aubrey Gordon. If you would like to support the show, you can do that at patreon.com/maintenancephase. You can also buy T-shirts, mugs, tote bags, all manner of things at TeePublic. Both of those things are linked for you in the show notes. Michael,-
Aubrey: -we are talking about Brittany Dawn.
Michael: I'm so excited, because literally all I know is that there's something-something Christian weight loss something-something. I've never heard of this person.
Aubrey: Bless. A couple of content notes before we get into it. There are a lot to be had for today's episode. We are going to talk about police violence. We are going to talk about cruelty to animals. We are going to hit on some transphobic rhetoric. We're going to talk about miscarriage. I feel like Stefan. This episode has everything.
Michael: I feel like you're doing this to get me interested.
Aubrey: Oh. [laughs]
Michael: It's like a writing prompt. It's like, how can I tie all of these things together? But then what about you? Are you familiar with Brittany Dawn?
Aubrey: I was not. Before this episode, this was one that was heavily, heavily requested of us. So, I thought I would dig in and see what was there. I will tell you what was there was a kernel of a conflict that I understood, and then a bunch of things that grew up around that kernel of a conflict that made me feel complicated. I have complex feelings on this one. So, we're going to invite folks into the complexity.
Michael: I don't like these episodes. I don't like it when current day events are as complicated as history. It's bad.
Aubrey: So, I thought we would start out with an Instagram post, as we often do on an influencer episode. Let's take a look at the Instagram.
Michael: I'm about to be influenced.
Aubrey: I am going to ask you to describe the post that I just sent you.
Michael: Ooh. Wow, good God.
Michael: So, this is from an account called @realbrittanydawn. It's a photo of an extremely thin woman wearing bikini bottoms and a crop top top. She's sideways to the camera like mug shot style. So, you can see how impossibly flat her stomach is. She looks two dimensional.
Michael: The post says, "Facts every female should know. One, every girl has rolls when they bend over. Two, when someone says you’re beautiful, they’re not lying. they're not lying. Three, any girl you ask will have a stretch mark, they’re beyond normal. Four, you should have more confidence, it’s actually really attractive. Five, you’re allowed to fall in love with yourself, and you should. Six, it’s okay to not love every part of your body, but you should. Seven, everyone's boobs are uneven." We just did an entire bonus episode about my wax skeleton. So, I feel seen by this.
Michael: "Eight, you should be a priority. Not a second option, last resort, or a back up plan. Nine, you’re a woman, that alone makes you pretty damn remarkable. Ten, most of all, even on days when you’re makeupless/lounging in sweats... you’re absolutely beautiful." And it's from 250 weeks ago, [Aubrey laughs] which is a weird way to do that, but I guess that's like five years.
Aubrey: Tell me your thoughts, Michael.
Michael: Man, I feel so mean saying this. But it's clearly like a thirst photo of a very conventionally attractive woman who's like, "You don't have to be conventionally attractive, bestie." I feel like it's very emblematic of the time that we're in where it's all about loving yourself, and body positivity, and all this. But it's oftentimes very conventionally attractive people telling this to you. And so, the message and the messenger are just incongruent. But then if you talk about it, you sound like such a dick. You're the one shaming someone for being in a bikini, just because she's thin.
Michael: It's like, that's not right. It's just annoying.
Aubrey: Take it quite in that way. I think there is a tendency to want to believe that it is dickish to talk about this kind of stuff that [crosstalk]
Michael: You're like, "Let's be dickish, Mike." [laughs]
Aubrey: No, Mike, Join me. [Michael laughs] I'm going out on a limb, baby. Come on out. There's a nice breeze.
Michael: You're like, "We are going to be skinny shaming today, Mike." [Aubrey laughs] You know what, it's fucking real and we're doing it.
Aubrey: Get in, loser. We're skinny shaming.
Aubrey: Look, I think there are a few things here that feel like as you have noted a rich text for a cultural moment, which is, this idea that you should love your body, and love its flaws, and perform a satisfaction with your body, right?
Aubrey: All the while continuing to pursue pretty ruthless and continually narrow standards of both beauty and health. When someone my size or shape or someone who looks like me says these same things, what we are met with is threats and harassment and just wild, intense, awful reactions. If these are things that resonate with you, by all means, go town. It feels like it is worth noting that those are things that some people are culturally permitted to say and some people are not, right?
Michael: Yeah. Dude, if you're going to start with number one, everybody has rolls when they bend over. Show me the rolls.
Michael: You're showing me a distinct lack of rolls. I see no body fat on this person.
Aubrey: Right. Also, no stretch marks. Also, no uneven boobs. None of what she is mentioning is depicted here.
Michael: Well, I can't see the boobs. I need to see more to determine the boobs. I'll make a determination at a later time.
Aubrey: Mike will be our official boob judge for today.
Michael: [laughs] That's what people go to this show for. They're like, "I want to hear Mike comment on women's bodies."
Aubrey: I want to hear a man's opinion.
Michael: Noted women body expert, Michael Hobbes.
Aubrey: [laughs] The other thing I'll say about that, number one, is every girl has rolls when they bend over is a very specific. That's speaking to a specific audience. It's not speaking to me.
Aubrey: I have rolls when I stand up. I have rolls when I lay down. I have rolls in every--There's not an angle on me or a posture on me that doesn't have rolls, right? So, it's normalizing this for a very specific group of people who are close to thinness.
Michael: You know, I only followed six people on Instagram. I had to unfollow this guy who I added, and he posts these mirror selfies of like, "I used to be so ashamed of my body, but I finally made peace with the way that I look." He's tall and thin and lean, and he has a visible six pack. He's always been thin and lean, and he's insecure about being skinny. But he has the body that I literally would have killed for in high school, for much of my young life. It was like, I wanted to look like Guy Pearce in Memento, and he looked like fucking Guy Pearce in Memento. I don't have any animus toward this person. It's totally legible as human behavior to me. I just don't want to encounter that on social media. That's why I only use Instagram to keep in touch with high school friends and people that I know personally.
Aubrey: Yeah, that's my personal Instagram account as well.
Aubrey: It's just straight up like people I know, and then comedians. That's it.
Aubrey: And a couple of tattoo artists.
Michael: Your personal Insta is mostly your dog.
Aubrey: Not mostly.
Michael: Yeah. [laughs]
Aubrey: I 100% took a video of him this morning scratching at his food bowl, and then I had to talk myself out of posting it.
Michael: Why? You should have posted it, Aubrey. [crosstalk] I would love to see that.
Aubrey: Who needs to see a dog scratch it at the dog bowl?
Michael: You should have been like, one, every dog scratches its bowl.
Michael: Two, believe in yourself and your dog. You got to make it into inspo, Aubrey, and then it's okay to post.
Aubrey: So, Michael, shall we start at the start with Brittany Dawn?
Michael: Should I not have clicked on her Instagram profile? I'm on her Instagram profile.
Aubrey: Oh, no. Mike.
Michael: Oh, there's a category in her stories for cyberbullying. That's where we're headed, I guess.
Aubrey: We'll get there.
Aubrey: Brittany Dawn was born in 1991 in Texas. There is not a lot out there about her childhood or even about her early rise, because she is a person who had a lot of pretty organic growth, or at least organic seeming growth on social media that is born out today. She has 442,000 subscribers on YouTube, 483,000 followers on Instagram, and she has 1.3 million followers on TikTok.
Michael: That's a lot for just a normal ass person.
Aubrey: Most of what we know about Brittany Dawn's early life are things that she herself has said in videos, and Instagram posts, and all of that kind of stuff, she reports that she worked as a vet tech in early adulthood for several years. From there, she gets into a bodybuilding world. She loses a small amount of weight. I think the number that I saw in one of her early posts was 30 pounds.
Michael: Oh, you love this. This is Aubrey catnip. Like, the thin person who lost a tiny amount of weight and then becomes a weight loss influencer.
Aubrey: Absolutely. So, her early Instagram posts are an overwhelming number of before and after photos of herself split screen.
Aubrey: She starts looking more muscular because she's bodybuilding. She starts looking more toned. These before and after photos of essentially like, a thin person who's not particularly toned and then a thin person who's thinner really, really, really take off on social media. People eat it up.
Michael: Okay. I couldn't help myself and I google image searched for Brittany Dawn 2014.
Aubrey: Goddamn it, Michael.
Michael: Yeah, she's like super buff. She does look like a bodybuilder. Her before pictures are all just a normal looking person.
Aubrey: Yeah. As Brittany Dawn is posting her fitness content, she also starts talking about her own personal history of what she considers problem drinking and also disordered eating. She tags her posts with #edrecovery. She includes a bunch of ED Warrior stuff. And some of those posts are before and after photos, which is an extremely wild choice to make to say, "I'm talking about my ED recovery, here are my before and after photos,-"
Michael: Oh, yeah.
Aubrey: -which means other people who are looking for eating disorder recovery content are going to click through and get these before and after photos, which they are a very clear statement of, "The before photo is what a body should not look like, and an after photo is what a body should look like." And to your point earlier, I would say, her before photos are something that I absolutely would have loved to have had in high school and college. So, I'm sending you a quote from a piece from the Dallas Morning News.
Michael: Okay. It says, "Over five or so years, Brittany Dawn grew her following by posting pictures and videos about her own transformation and a seemingly idyllic lifestyle. Her feed is filled with inspirational messages ("It takes $0.00 to be a decent person with a good heart"), images of her modeling fitness wear, healthy snacks and 2-foot pizzas, trips to Hawaii, a pit bull with 10,000 followers of its own and a Range Rover. Many of her followers say her life looked like something they wanted for themselves, someone who practiced what she preached." Okay, I have no idea where this episode is going. So, I'm like, "What are we foreshadowing here?"
Aubrey: We're not foreshadowing much here. This is genuinely like a fast forward. This is a wealthy, thin white woman who has the world by the string, and she's doing very standard issue influencer stuff.
Michael: Aubrey, there is nothing standard issue about 2-foot pizzas.
Michael: I don't even know what that is.
Aubrey: As her following grows, during this time, she starts offering services to her followers for a fee.
Aubrey: She starts offering personalized meal plans. She offers macronutrient checks. She offers personal training and one-on-one fitness coaching. All of the services have different prices, but the personalized meal plans go for up to $300.
Michael: Oh, okay.
Aubrey: Which is a fair amount of money for a plan and not any food.
Michael: I was just going to say it sounds low, but I'm also-- [chuckles] My brain is so fucking warped by doing so many of these episodes on these grifters. [laughs]
Aubrey: That's so much less than a Pete Evans [unintelligible [00:13:36].
Michael: Yeah, exactly. We've looked into so many other fucking weird [unintelligible [00:13:39] [laughs]
Aubrey: Yeah. Brittany Dawn has claimed that she helped 5,000 clients during this time. But when she was later asked to confirm that, she didn't know how many clients she had and neither did her manager. So, I'm guessing that's an aspirational scale. I'm guessing that skews a little larger than what she actually did.
Michael: It's wild that you can just do this by being a hot lady who posts on Instagram.
Aubrey: So, all of this is happening, folks are paying her for meal plans, all of that kind of stuff. And in 2018 and into 2019, her customers start to connect through a Facebook group. As they start posting about their experiences, they figure a few things out. The first thing that they figure out is that their personalized nutrition plans were not personalized at all.
Michael: Of course, that's like that dude who was making personalized playlists for ladies that he met on the internet, and then it turned out they were all just the same playlist.
Aubrey: It's all just an endless loop of Hey There Delilah or something.
Michael: It's Conor Oberst, and they all should have seen right through it.
Aubrey: They also figure out that their one on one support, which some of the plans build like, you get personal support from Brittany were a lot of generic texts that were like, "You got this, girl."
Michael: Oh, hell yeah. So, she's automated all this shit.
Aubrey: It sure seems like it. There are also funny little details about this. One customer ordered something that came with a packet of that said it came with 21 amazing recipes, and the packet arrived, and it only had 11 recipes in it.
Michael: Nice. [laughs]
Aubrey: I wanted them to be like, not only was it not 21 amazing recipes, it was just 11 recipes, and they were just okay.
Aubrey: The next thing that they figure out is that many customers had previously dealt with eating disorders and signed on, because they felt like this was a safe way to do what nearly everyone feels pressure to do, which is, "get healthy," which just means get thin.
Michael: Man, you know you have a bad business model when it works until your customers start speaking with one another.
Aubrey: It's a bad sign.
Aubrey: So, folks start going back through her old posts, and screen grabbing Instagram posts that show her using hashtags like #edwarrior, Eating Disorder Warrior, and also hashtags in the same post like #behealthyandskipdinner.
Michael: Yeah, that's not what I would classify as ED Recovery, necessarily.
Michael: I would describe that with the term ED, somewhere in there.
Aubrey: They also figure out that some of them have requested refunds when they figured this out and they were like, "Oh, well, if it's not personalized, give me my money back. What?" Those requests for refunds rarely even got a response email.
Aubrey: Those who escalated to complaining on social media got an even clearer message. Their comments were deleted, and their accounts were blocked by Brittany Dawn.
Michael: Okay. Another good sign.
Aubrey: The handful of customers who were offered refunds were offered either partial refunds or were asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement-
Michael: Oh, wow.
Aubrey: -while getting their up to $300 profit.
Michael: The funny thing is, she could actually hide behind technicalities and be like, "Well, it was personalized. You just happen to have the same characteristics as every single other person," unfortunately.
Aubrey: There's a path to this that I can understand, which is, up to 5,000 clients is a lot of people to manage, especially if you're not trained, especially if you don't have staff. I think there's a good faith way of getting here. I don't know that Brittany Dawn took that good faith way to get here.
Aubrey: But usually if you take that route, you would go, "I'm so sorry. Let me level with you. Here's what happened. Of course, [crosstalk] a refund."
Michael: This is what we're going to do when we're on cameo. Finally, we're like, "You're all getting the same fucking thing."
Aubrey: One of my favorite late night rabbit holes to fall down on the internet is cameo pricing.
Michael: Oh, yes. Same. I know, it's so fascinating. I know.
Aubrey: To be like, "How much do you think Chris Harrison, the disgraced former host of The Bachelor charges?"
Aubrey: And then my guess is always wrong, because it's $500.
Michael: There's weird like Trump World people on there whose prices are shockingly high. And you're like, "Does someone want a happy birthday message from Michael Flynn."
Aubrey: Hey, it's the mooch.
Aubrey: Hey, congratulations on your retirement.
Aubrey: Okay, so folks start talking about their experiences in this Facebook group and start figuring out that no one's getting what they paid for, and also, very few people are getting refunds. So, it starts to leak out more broadly. Folks start commenting on her public posts being like, "Hey, can you give me a refund?" People start talking about it more online, and it gains so much steam that a YouTube prankster, Cassady Campbell-
Michael: Oh, no.
Aubrey: -creates a video-
Michael: Oh, no.
Aubrey: -to prank Brittany Dawn.
Michael: These were the people that would just walk up to people in grocery stores and be like, "Mah," and then scare them. It's like, "Ho-ho, got you." It's like, yeah, just a human reaction to you being a prick and ruining someone's day. Congratulations.
Aubrey: You're absolutely not going to watch this video, because I understand what your discomfort threshold is, and this is 60 points above that.
Michael: Oh, really?
Aubrey: It is so uncomfortable.
Michael: Now I want to watch it, Aubrey.
Aubrey: Damn, Michael.
Michael: What's it like? Describe it to me first. Let me know what I'm to expect.
Aubrey: Okay. So, the video is absolutely bizarre.
Aubrey: Cassady Campbell is dressed up. He's got a costume. It's a very weird, broad caricature of this cartoonish idea of small-town conservative bigots. The look is very tiger king.
Michael: I'm already uncomfortable.
Aubrey: Mullet baseball hat, Camo.
Michael: Extremely uncomfortable.
Aubrey: Handlebar mustache.
Aubrey: He keeps saying, miracle.
Michael: Good God. Okay.
Aubrey: Which hasn't been funny or insightful in a solid decade.
Michael: Yeah. If we, 241-year-olds, are telling you that-
Aubrey: It's not funny.
Michael: -your shtick is not funny anymore.
Michael: If we're over it, wow. [laughs]
Aubrey: Cassady Campbell is at a fitness expo where Brittany Dawn has a booth.
Aubrey: In this video, he does include a pretty lengthy segment where he's giving context. He's playing videos, front facing videos from people on TikTok and Instagram talking about their personal experiences and how rough it was. So, it is sort of signal boosting, that stuff. But mostly, it's just this wild, shitty flat caricature of a guy going, "One, two, three, Trump." Like, okay.
Aubrey: He makes his way into this fitness expo, he goes up to Brittany Dawn's booth, he gets her attention, and then he absolutely just starts shouting and unloading on her-
Aubrey: -about how she stole money from his daughter, and she just wants her money back, but she won't give the money back. It is very uncomfortable, and it has the energy of a random dude walking up to a lady in a public space shouting at her.
Michael: Also, what's the point of the costume if you're just going to walk up to somebody and yell at them?
Aubrey: Yeah. You could have just straight up asked some direct questions-
Michael: Just like, "Hi."
Aubrey: -without doing this weird deep character work.
Michael: Yeah. This is like a tension that I feel like we both think about a lot in doing episodes like this that, whenever there's a female influencer who's problematic, criticisms tip into rank misogyny extremely quickly.
Aubrey: Yeah, we'll get into it. There is not quite cottage industry, but there is definitely a community of people who are just like, "Fuck this lady."
Michael: Yeah. It becomes anti-fandom really quickly where literally anything the person does becomes grounds to criticize them. The justified critiques or the scale of the justified critiques get buried under all this other stuff.
Aubrey: Yes, it is full bitch eaten crackers territory.
Michael: Yeah, that's what I was about to say, but I didn't know if you knew that term, because that term is problematic.
Aubrey: Oh, Michael, if you think I'm not listening to your bonus episode, [Michael laughs] you're crazy.
Michael: Do you want to say what bitch eaten crackers is, just in case people don't know?
Aubrey: So, for those of you who are not subscribers to the bonus content of If Books Could Kill, bitch eating crackers is this shorthand for like, when you hate someone so much that them just eating crackers elicits a negative response from you that you start going like, "Look at this bitch eating crackers."
Aubrey: Like, okay.
Michael: It's almost always women who this happens to. You see the derangement, you see the beginning of like, "Okay, there's real reasons to criticize this person." And then very quickly, you're like, "Wait a minute, the things that people are criticizing her for are eating crackers type stuff."
Aubrey: So, this video ends up getting 1.8 million views, which is absolutely bonkers to me. After this happens, Brittany Dawn posts an apology video, a classic of the YouTube genre, and it is very weird and it is very wooden.
Aubrey: It has since been taken down, but I found an alternate upload, and I think maybe you and I should watch the first little bit of that too.
Aubrey: Even if we end up cutting it out, it's just a lot.
Michael: I like our little watch parties.
Aubrey: I like our little watch parties too. Also, I just feel like I'm like, "Let's stretch out today."
Michael: Yeah, let's just go for it. Let's relax.
Aubrey: Let's fucking hang.
Michael: Let's just hang out in the living room of our show.
Aubrey: Okay. Here is the internet archive-- [crosstalk]
Michael: archive.org YouTube Link. I didn't know that was possible.
Aubrey: Oh, baby-
Michael: And it still plays and everything?
Michael: Fuck yes. Okay.
Aubrey: This video goes out in February of 2019.
Brittany: Hey, guys. I'm not really sure where to start this video. I am scared to film this video. There's some things on the surface that have come to surface that have come to fruition that need to be addressed, and so I'm here to do that, and I'm here to put everything to rest once and for all. I apologize to anyone who feels like they got scammed from me. And I genuinely promise that my intentions from the start were pure. I wanted to help and impact as many women as I could, because I felt like this is why I was given this incredible platform.
When you are given an opportunity like this, you would be stupid not to take it and run with it. And unfortunately, I ran too fast for one person. These claims are coming from years ago after I got launched into a business that took off so fast that I didn't know how to mentally handle it. I did what I knew to do to the best of my ability. I didn't know what I was signing up for simply, because being an influencer and running a fitness influencer business was not really a thing back then. Therefore, I didn't have much guidance.
Aubrey: Tell me about your reactions to this so far.
Michael: Yeah, so I guess, it's a little wooden. She's reading off of her phone and pausing to look at the camera every now and again. Maybe this is bad of me, but I am in my head comparing her to all of the other influencers and all of the other scammy bullshit. This is obviously indefensible behavior, but it's like grading on a curve. This is not that bad. I find it difficult to get worked up about this.
Aubrey: Yeah, I can understand that, and I felt that way at this point in the research as well.
Aubrey: And then my feelings changed.
Aubrey: She talks about getting death threats after the Cassady Campbell video. She talks about getting harassment. She talks about all kinds of stuff. She's pretty widely known at this point to be a fairly unreliable narrator, or at least an untrusted narrator. So, she's talking about this stuff, and people are already not thrilled with her. So, to have this kind of statement where she's reading off of her phone where, this is a side note and a real pet peeve, her dryer is on in the background.
Michael: Dude, I was wondering what that thing was. I thought it was her pitbull.
Aubrey: Yeah, like a pair of overalls or a button or something.
Michael: It's like clickety, clickety, clickety click.
Aubrey: The other thing to know about this video is that she monetized it.
Aubrey: It had ads. She included affiliate links, and people are like, "Why are you making money off of your apology for scamming people out of money?"
Aubrey: So, again. I'm not going to make a federal case out of it, but I get why it left a bad taste in folks' mouths, right? I bet fair. Understandable.
Michael: It's not good. It's not that bad, but it's definitely not good. [laughs]
Aubrey: Within just a few days of that on February 13th, the Brittany Dawn backlash becomes a story in national news media, and Brittany Dawn goes on Good Morning America.
Michael: Yeah, I have this link in my right hand bar.
Aubrey: Yeah, you sure do.
Michael: Yeah. It's suggesting this to me now.
Aubrey: Brittany is briefly quoted on camera in the piece, and she says, "I jumped into an industry that had no instruction manual. I'm basically going through uncharted territory and doing the best I can to the best of my ability. I'm using this as a tool to learn and to grow as a professional and move forward." All of this only serves to amplify customers' really troubling stories, right?
Aubrey: Someone comes forward in all of this media and says that she was very thin at the time that she started with Brittany Dawn. When she decided to stop doing the Brittany Dawn routine, she was at 80 pounds.
Michael: Oh, wow.
Aubrey: Another customer disclosed that she had anorexia and was still put on a "personalized plan" of 1245 calories paired with high intensity interval training. Another person said that they weighed around 200 pounds when they were doing Brittany Dawn's program, and that they passed out from inadequate nutrition. In November of 2019, so we're fast forwarding nine months, she announces that the focus of her social media presence is changing. She says that health and fitness are important to her, but that her identity is shifting, and now her identity is in Christ. Her content shifts very quickly from primarily fitness and weight loss content to evangelical content that I would say is even niche within evangelical spaces.
Michael: Oh, really?
Aubrey: There's a real Pentecostal sort of tenor to what she's doing.
Michael: So, she's in a tent. She's doing revival stuff.
Aubrey: Nah, she's in her Range Rover [Michael laughs] filming videos on her iPhone camera. So, we're going from, "Here's how to order a low-calorie drink at Starbucks," and like, "Here's the lunges that I'm doing," to the video that I just sent you.
Aubrey: She is posting this around Joe Biden's inauguration. That's when this video comes at.
Michael: Oh, from that direction. Okay. So, the thumbnail is her looking concerned in a YouTube thumbnail like, "I'm reacting to this way." And then the big caption in the thumbnail is, "This is unsettling."
Brittany: I don't care if you're red, blue, Republican, Democrat. I don't care what state you live in. I don't care what color the state that you live in is. I don't care about any of that. This isn't a video about my political stance.
Michael: Oh, no.
Brittany: This is not a video about who I voted for or anything regards to that. This is a video about what the Holy Spirit is revealing to me, and so many others in this day and age, and things are shifting and they're shifting fast.
Michael: oh, no.
Brittany: The first thing that I found incredibly disturbing yesterday was during the inauguration when Lady Gaga was up there. If you don't already know, Lady Gaga is tied into witchcraft. I'm going to try to put some information here on the screen as I talk, sharing this and stating this and showing you guys the facts. If you dig even just an inch deep,-
Michael: Oh, no.
Brittany: -you will find this. It's out there. It's not trying to be hidden. She has made this known.
Michael: Fair point.
Brittany: The performance that she put on yesterday was more than disturbing. It reminded me of Hunger Games from the get-go. And then, on top of that, on top of her whole outfit, her whole get up, she was also wearing the dove, a peace symbol also in Hunger Games. Little disturbing. Lots of red flags going on there. Lady Gaga is also tied to Marina Abramović. Now, if you don't know who she is, google her name. She is a witch. [Michael laughs] They're both into spirit cooking and soul cooking. And yesterday, the slogan for them was "fight for the soul of our nation." Biden said that he is going to reverse any and all laws that were made or put into place against abortion when he gets-
Michael: Oh, no.
Brittany: -in the White House that he wants to do away with gender terms like niece-
Brittany: -nephew, brother-
Brittany: -sister, mother, father. I'm sorry, what? How are people not seeing these red flags? The opening prayer in the senate two weeks ago, I believe it was two or three weeks ago in itself was disturbing. Not only were they praying to all these other Gods, but they closed that prayer out with amen and a woman. I'm sorry. Do you even know what Amen means? Do you even know what amen means? But we live in this culture that is so sensitive and so easily offended by anything and everything, including a prayer now that our government, who doesn't want to offend anyone, is now mixing and molding God's word for what they want it to be instead of submitting to His authority of who He is and who He has always been.
I just want to say this. If you are offended by anything that I say in this video, I really, as a sister in Christ, want you to take that offense to the feet of Jesus and ask Him, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal these things to you, because if you're following the same Jesus that I am, He will.
Aubrey: I love that the clip that we just watched started with her being like, "Marina Abramović is a witch. And Lady Gaga was dressed like The Hunger Games." And then it ends with her going, "People are so offended by everything."
Michael: I know. [laughs]
Aubrey: "An outfit that reminded you of a movie. What's happening?"0
Michael: The thing is, Hunger Games, that's not even a sacrilegious text. That's not witchcraft or anything. That's just a sci-fi movie.
Aubrey: Yeah, there's no occult element to it.
Aubrey: I don't know.
Michael: To be fair, Lady Gaga's outfit did look a little Hunger Games, but that doesn't mean anything.
Aubrey: Also, the symbol in The Hunger Games was the mockingjay, not a dove.
Michael: Oh, yeah. Huh.
Aubrey: A dove just only always means peace.
Michael: Yeah, that's like a Christian thing.
Aubrey: There is so much in this video.
Michael: We can go line by line, Aubrey.
Aubrey: Oh, my God.
Michael: We can do this all day.
Aubrey: Particularly, I wanted to dig in with you on, Biden wants to do away with gendered terms like niece.
Michael: That's actually true, but all of the vowels will be replaced by Xs.
Michael: I love it. I love it when these deranged religious people say stuff about language, and pronouns, and stuff that just literally doesn't make sense, but like, "They want to do away with pronouns." In English, that would actually make it very difficult to communicate. I don't think anyone's actually proposing that. [laughs]
Aubrey: Well, and also, just as a former public policy person, when she's like, "He wants to do away with all these names for nieces, and wife, and husband, and nephew," my brain is trying so hard to figure out what policy that would be.
Michael: Yeah. Tell me the mechanics of that, Brittany. What are the mechanics by which someone could ban a word?
Aubrey: How do you stop people from saying words?
Michael: We're so awash in this stuff that it is almost campy at this point. But this is someone who's become unglued from reality on some level. She's clearly reading like far right. Facebook group ass news sources that just say shit that just doesn't make any fucking sense. It's like, "Yeah, the Democrats want to ban all religions." And then the weird stuff with the symbolism is just like pure QAnon.
Aubrey: It's pure QAnon. It's also pure national treasure.
Michael: Yeah. [laughs]
Aubrey: Oh, they put the symbol on the dollar bill.
Michael: This is a generation that read too much fucking Encyclopedia Brown growing up, and we all think this is a way to solve crimes.
Aubrey: And too much Dan Brown.
Michael: The funny thing is, I love The Da Vinci Code so much because it's [Aubrey laughs] just openly such fucking garbage in a really fun way. [Aubrey laughs] I feel like the writer knows that it's garbage and it's just very well-executed garbage.
Aubrey: Listen, I'm over here dunking on National Treasure, and I 100% watched National Treasure: Book of Secrets last week.
Aubrey: So, around this time that Brittany Dawn is shifting her content, she is also shifting what she is selling to her followers.
Aubrey: She starts selling tickets to religious retreats-
Michael: Okay, that makes sense.
Aubrey: -where she baptizes attendees.
Michael: Actually, that's a way better business model.
Aubrey: The reaction from at least the most vocal Christian folks responding to this is very negative.
Aubrey: Charging someone to be baptized, like, what are we doing, especially when that someone isn't clergy feels really wild.
Michael: Sure. But also, it's a weird case to all of a sudden be offended at the intersection between commerce and Christianity guys.
Aubrey: Someone hasn't heard of Joel Osteen.
Michael: Yeah. Brittany Dawn is not even in the top 1,000 of fucking megachurch ass grifters doing this shit.
Aubrey: So, this may seem like a hard turn from fitness content into Pentecostal leaning evangelical content, but Christian fitness has a surprisingly long history.
Michael: Ooh, you are doing context. Here we go.
Aubrey: Oh, my. So, the modern roots of that connection stretch back to the Victorian era. There's a book called British Manly Exercises-
Michael: My Favorite kind.
Aubrey: -that is published in 1837 and becomes a hit.
Michael: Ooh, okay.
Aubrey: One Scottish medical practitioner founded the British Institute of Physical Training in 1889. His exercise program consisted of what he called physical jerks.
Michael: Oh, what?
Aubrey: Which feels to me like how you would describe dancing in the footloose town.
Michael: Yeah. [laughs]
Aubrey: So, all of this evolves into a movement called Muscular Christianity.
Aubrey: I am taking it that you have not heard of Muscular Christianity.
Michael: No, because if I heard it, I would assume that was supposed to be a metaphor. Like, it's muscular, like the Spirit of Christ is making our beliefs more powerful. But they mean literally physical muscles, like, you're covered in veins and protein.
Aubrey: Absolutely. The idea behind muscular Christianity primarily focuses on men and masculinity. And the idea is that your body is a gift and that it needs to be trained to do the work of Christ. Things like protecting those who are perceived as not being able to protect themselves, things like missionary work and so forth. Professor Richard Andrew Meyer outlined six criteria for muscular Christianity.
Michael: Abs, lats, quads, traps.
Aubrey: Number one, a man's body is given to him by God. Two, to be trained. Three, to be brought into subjection.
Aubrey: Four, to be used for protection of the weak. Five, to be used for the "advancement of all righteous causes." And six, to be used for subduing the Earth which God has given to the children of men.
Michael: Subduing the Earth.
Aubrey: The anxiety at this point is like, we're working in these factories and it's making us soft. We used to work the field. So, this idea of subduing the Earth is like, we have to get back to our sort of masculine roots of working the land.
Michael: God, it's always the same shit. It's the same shit we see now. It's like, "Oh, we left the land. We used to be pure." All this like Michael Pollan stuff, authenticity, and get your yogurt from a dairy farm direct from the farmer. It's all the same shit forever.
Aubrey: The other thing that's all the same shit is that, muscular Christianity also gave way to a set of beliefs that are with us still today, which is, the idea that physical strength led to strong character and strong morals, right-
Aubrey: -that if you are training in the gym, that doesn't just mean you're training in the gym, it means you have tenacity and a work ethic. There are all sorts of character complements that we add on to the simple act of going to the gym or not going to the gym.
Michael: Right. It's turning us into a metaphor, basically.
Aubrey: So, muscular Christianity spread through the US as well, in part as a reactionary politics. Women were gaining more social and political rights, a wave of immigrants were shifting culture and the job market, and all of that also led to a different sense, but linked to the sort of English version of white masculinity in crisis.
Michael: Always. [unintelligible [00:40:37] of men. This is like the thing that men have been fucking whining about for 200 years.
Aubrey: Straight up Tucker Carlson.
Michael: Yeah, exactly.
Aubrey: Muscular Christianity is actually how we got the YMCA?
Michael: What, the song?
Aubrey: No. Goddamn-- Michael?
Michael: I'm kidding. I'm kidding. I'm kidding. I'm kidding.
Michael: It kind of is. This is why we have gay men fetishizing this stuff.
Michael: The YMCA built its first gym facility in 1869 in New York. Before that, it really was just a Christian association that didn't have nearly as much to do with athleticism.
Aubrey: Muscular Christianity continues to influence Christian fitness programs today. We still have programs like Losing to Live, The Daniel Plan, Firm Believer, Body for God, Holy Fit, Body Temple Wellness, and Body Gospel. There are tons of these.
Michael: You have a bunch of these in your diet book collection. I know because you've talked about a couple of them.
Aubrey: Do I ever?
Aubrey: I don't have Firm Believer.
Michael: That's by far the best one.
Aubrey: All of this also ties into Christian weight loss programs. I read a great piece in Christianity Today about this concept of a fitness driven church.
Aubrey: They referenced a 1957 bestseller called Pray Your Weight Away-
Aubrey: -which argued that, "If our bodies really are to be temples of the Holy Spirit, we had best get them down to the size God intended."
Michael: Yeah, God does not care what size you are. This is the dumbest shit. This timeless being is like looking down and it's like, "Oh, your body fat's 8%. It should be 5%."
Aubrey: Cheryl's put on a few.
Aubrey: So, in the tradition of muscular Christianity, Brittany Dawn starts her own ministry called She Lives Freed.
Aubrey: According to The Guardian, her ministry is a 501(c)(3) registered nonprofit. As part of that, she launches a podcast, actually, earlier this year in 2023 called Chiseled and Called.
Michael: That's not even good. Brittany.
Aubrey: She starts holding religious retreats. And her retreats go for up to $650 for a weekend retreat, which is considerably higher than other Christian spiritual retreats. She also has a bunch of merch. She sells a set of Bible highlighters.
Michael: What? Why would you need special highlighters? [laughs] That's genius. I like her now. I'm sorry.
Michael: It's such a blatant drift. You have to almost respect it.
Michael: Fucking Bible highlighters.
Aubrey: She's just taking a razor blade and scratching off the part where it says sharpie-
Aubrey: -and writing Bible.
Aubrey: Can I tell you about-- No, now I'm so giggly.
Michael: [unintelligible [00:43:43]
Aubrey: [laughs] She also sells protein cookies.
Aubrey: She sells false eyelashes, and she sells self-tanner.
Michael: Is the bronzer called looking dark on the ark.
Michael: That would be pretty good.
Aubrey: There are also some internet allegations that the false eyelashes that she sells are just drop shipped from Alibaba.
Michael: I'm sure.
Michael and Aubrey: Yes.
Michael: Well, what did you expect? It's not like she's a textile manufacturer.
Michael: Of course.
Aubrey: So, part of her appeal at these Christian retreats that she holds is her backlash.
Michael: They canceled me just like they canceled Jesus.
Aubrey: So, I'm going to send you a quote. A number of media outlets attended this one retreat.
Aubrey: She got asked about like, talk to me about the fitness scam stuff. This was her response to that. I just sent it to you.
Michael: Oh, God, I was right. Jesus. Okay. She says, "You can’t cancel what God has called. You can try all you want, but the power of the blood has already overcome it. That is the truth that I walk in every day, and a heavenly confidence comes with that. You can’t cancel me."
Aubrey: She is also selling you can't cancel me stickers-
Michael: Oh, of course.
Aubrey: -at this specific retreat, I don't know people.
Michael: I don’t know. It's the kind of people that she's preying on. It's like, these far-right evangelical Christians that are falling for this shit, and part of me just feels like, that is a weird little jungle in there where they're all just fucking getting grifted. Most right-wing politics is so fucking grift adjacent at this point.
Michael: But it's honestly so hard for me to feel sympathy for people who are falling for these buy fucking gold doubloons that you see advertised on Fox News.
Michael: Of course, she's fucking grifting you. This is the whole fucking ideology is a grift.
Aubrey: Well, we're going to go a little further in that direction and then come on back.
Aubrey: As with many of these stories-- This is all shaped significantly by a dedicated group of internet people. This mostly happens on Reddit, although you can find Brittany Dawn stuff on pretty much every platform. As of this week, the main anti-Brittany Dawn subreddit has over 40,000 followers, and is flooded with people who reject every single thing she does. It is like deep bitch eaten crackers territory.
Michael: Oh, I get really uncomfortable with that. Even when somebody deserves it, I get uncomfortable with that.
Aubrey: At one point, Brittany makes a video where she talks about a very harrowing experience. She's weeping while she makes the video. She and her husband have come home from running errands to find that her dog has been hit by a car in a hit and run.
Aubrey: She is a wreck, as I would be. I would be destroyed. She says that she used to be a vet tech, so she knows that her dog wouldn't have survived. So, her husband takes her dog into the house away from Brittany and shoots the dog to put it out of its misery.
People have very strong reactions to this. I absolutely understand why. The idea of someone shooting my dog absolutely got me choked up immediately. Also, I will say there is some real urban, rural divide stuff in the reactions to this. I talked to my dad about this, and he was like, "Well, yeah, man, if a dog's hurt and you can't get it to the vet, you got to shoot that dog." So, there's some of that. To be clear, that's not true for Brittany Dawn. She lives in Dallas-Fort Worth like a big ass metro area.
Listen, anytime you're putting a dog down, it's a really, really, really hard thing. And people engage with that in lots of different ways, they have lots of different responses to it. I don't need everyone's grieving to look the same or whatever, but it is wild to be in such a big city with so many resources and go, "No, you just got to shoot the dog."
Michael: I resent the position that these influencers put us all in, because a lot of these people have made their personal life like the center of their career. It's like, "Oh, me and my dog, we are going to go for a walk." Or like, "Me and my husband have such a healthy marriage. Here's us in the morning drinking coffee." And then when something happens in their personal life, like they get a divorce or their dog dies, it's part of their public persona, because they've made it part of their public persona. But then, if you're criticizing somebody for those personal decisions, in other contexts, you wouldn't do this. You'd just be like, "Oh, this really isn't any of my business.
Aubrey: Well, and also, this is someone whose fucking dog just died.
Michael: Yeah, exactly.
Aubrey: I don't know. I feel gross about being like, "You did it wrong."
Michael: To be honest, I find the behavior like something terrible happened to me. I'm an emotional wreck. I'm immediately going to turn on my phone and talk about it for the public and broadcast it on the internet. I honestly find that behavior totally baffling and really off putting morally like I don't get it at all. But on the other hand, her dog died. It seems like whatever else you want to say about Brittany Dawn, she loved her dog. It just feels uncomfortable to be criticizing somebody for like, her dog got hit by a car and she made a decision in the moment that maybe I wouldn't have made. Maybe it was the wrong decision. I don't have enough information to really know.
Aubrey: The whole thing is just messy. This is a weird- not the best decision by my own assessment. But also, I don't know that a bunch of shitty internet comments is helping anybody do better with that. I don't know, I feel really complicated about it.
Michael: I'm glad you brought me into these complicated feelings. I knew what you meant now.
Aubrey: Complicated feelings, here we are.
Aubrey: Since this whole story broke, folks have surfaced other issues with Brittany Dawn and her work and her presence in the world on the internet. One of those things is that, Brittany and her husband, Jordan, have volunteered in the past for the Freedom Shield Foundation, which is a right-wing anti-trafficking organization that's like, "We're saving Christians from bad life circumstances."
Aubrey: Another is that she posted a whole series of Instagram stories and TikToks about meeting an unhoused person named James, and trying to find him to give him money and take him in. The critiques of that one were mostly about like, "Wow, you couldn't even just do this thing without uploading a video about it." As more of these little stories come to the surface, they actually draw more folks in. Brittany announced last year that she had two miscarriages.
Aubrey: Brittany Dawn has since made a number of videos about her experience with her miscarriage. So, people initially start with, "She's just monetizing this again," and that feels gross. And then, people start just straight up alleging that she is faking her miscarriages.
Aubrey: Part of what happens around the miscarriage stuff is utterly grotesque behavior to me. People pull screen grabs from her videos where she shows an ultrasound-
Michael: Ah, fuck off.
Aubrey: -and goes like, "She's saying she had a miscarriage at this time period, but this is clearly an ultrasound from this trimester." She's saying it was there, whatever. People are deconstructing all of her videos like the Goddamn Zapruder film.
Michael: Yeah, so bad. Absolutely.
Aubrey: They are looking at her expressions on her face and they're like-
Michael: Yeah, that's awful.
Aubrey: -"No one who is really grieving would make that face."
Michael: I, a couple of years ago watched one of the terrible Sandy Hook conspiracy theory videos, and this is the shit that they said about the parents, like, grieving parents. It's like, their faces wouldn't look like that if their kid had really died. Whenever you see somebody doing this, huge red flag.
Michael: Yes. So, following her miscarriages, Brittany Dawn announces that she and her husband have become foster parents to an infant. The infant that they foster is black, which will become relevant in a bit. This riles folks for a few reasons. One, she makes a lot of videos of her with this foster baby. She has affiliate links to some of the baby stuff that she has bought, all of that kind of stuff. She does blur the child's face, because the US Children's Bureau requires that foster parents not post pictures of their foster kids.
Michael: Yes. Thank fucking God. Jesus Christ.
Aubrey: She also reveals a bunch of personal details about this baby in her videos. She talks about the baby going through substance withdrawals, which is an extremely sensitive disclosure, and reads to many folks like, she's trying to get brownie points based on the struggles that this infant is going through.
Michael: So, she has a baby for some short period of time and then is just immediately mining the baby for content.
Aubrey: That's how folks respond to it.
Aubrey: Foster parents and social workers in particular are livid that she is bucking this fairly widely accepted role for foster parents that they are temporary loving homes, but temporary homes for kids who are expected to reunite with their families.
Aubrey: The biggest reason that this one blows up, doesn't have anything really to do with Brittany. It has everything to do with her husband.
Aubrey: You start to see comments on the posts about her foster child with people asking how they passed a background check to foster kids.
Aubrey: Brittany responds in the comments, "My background check came back perfect. Thank you. I'd be cautious about believing everything you see about someone on the internet, a gossip forum, and especially manipulative news stories."
Aubrey: She is talking about her husband, Jordan Nelson, who is originally from Kansas City, Missouri, and is a former police officer.
Aubrey: He and Brittany got married in September of 2021. He is a former police officer, in part, because the ACLU filed suit against him for excessive force against a black man.
Michael: Oh, my fucking God.
Aubrey: So, the lawsuit was settled out of court, but the dash cam footage was released. It very clearly shows a black man standing still, his hands in the air and fully visible. A group officers tear up in police cars and approach him. So, Brittany Dawn's husband, Jordan Nelson, is the first officer to reach him. What he does is kick his legs out from under him, shove him into the sidewalk, and four other officers descend on him and hold him down.
Michael: Jesus Christ.
Aubrey: A few minutes later, on that same video, he reenacts the whole thing to show off to his fellow officers-
Michael: Ah, fuck off. Good God.
Aubrey: -while this man is still lying on the sidewalk and had yet to receive any medical attention.
Michael: Jesus Christ. It's like the opposite of bitch eating crackers. This is the most odious fucking shit.
Aubrey: It is absolutely atrocious.
Aubrey: After all of this happens, Jordan Nelson filed for a protective order against the dude he beat.
Michael: Oh, God.
Aubrey: Absolutely deranged behavior is what's happening here.
Michael: I guess the reason he passed the background check is because they settled out of court. All a background check would find is if he was convicted of something. But he wasn't convicted of anything, partly because he was an agent of the state. It's a huge loophole in the system that if somebody uses power to subjugate somebody else, that wouldn't show up as a red flag.
Aubrey: And now, this fucking couple is fostering a black child.
Aubrey: Like just, boy, oh, boy, oh, boy. I can't say enough about how extremely reasonable a concern this is. It leads to quite a bit of talk about how much this reflects the brokenness of the foster care system. And hard agree, right?
Michael: God, this episode was so fun and breezy. It was just a run of the mill Christian megachurch grifter.
Aubrey: Remember when you were like, "I like her."
Michael: I know. [laughs]
Michael: Now, it's just like, "Oh, it's all of the worst shit in American society."
Michael: Has she said anything about the video of her husband?
Aubrey: Not that I found, just the like, "Don't believe everything you read," which is like, "Okay."
Michael: God, it's such a fucking obvious thing to say, but it's like, the idea of a Christianity that wants you to be thin but doesn't mind you using your power as an agent of the state to beat somebody up is just like, that's not a serious morality.
Aubrey: Quite a bit of this comes to a head in a way that really surprised me.
Aubrey: The state of Texas announced in February of last year that it was suing Brittany Dawn for $250,000 to a million dollars in damages for "deceptive trade practices."
Aubrey: The grounds for the suit are specifically that Brittany Dawn particularly focused on targeting people with eating disorders.
Michael: Oh, wow.
Aubrey: People who were clearly intentionally misled and taken in by the frequent implication that Brittany Dawn was trained to work with people with EDs, or that she had a level of expertise that they could trust. They also alleged some other little things that didn't come up in the online tossing out the net to gather things up that I did. The actual lawsuit includes in the damages that they say that she charged shipping for PDFs.
Michael: Nice. That's actually pretty good.
Michael: That's pretty good. Let's write that down, Aubrey. Let's keep that in our back pocket for when we cash in.
Aubrey: The trial gets scheduled. There's over a year of buildup. It's delayed a couple of times. It ends up coming to a close without a single day of the trial, because she settles out of court. And two weeks later, Brittany Dawn makes a video saying, she's off social media that the Lord is calling her to a period of spiritual rest.
Aubrey: Even though she's off social media, she has more followers than ever on TikTok.
Aubrey: Despite everything, she still seems to be accruing followers, and she still seems to be profiting.
Michael: It's also such a weird internet story, because if it wasn't for the final twist, like the final thing that happened, the video of her husband, this would mostly be a story of something on the internet that makes me uncomfortable. Like, someone who is annoying or tacky or grifty or even genuinely bad, but then a community forms just talking constantly about how bad this person is. It seems like they finally, years into this, found a good reason to dislike her.
Michael: Yeah. Both of them are such archetypes in addition to being who they are. They are also these kind of effigies of like this kind of dude and this kind of lady, and they come to represent, again, not just what they personally are doing, but these whole systems that they are happily and proudly contributing to that are terrible to folks who are on the downside of power.
Michael: Yeah. And also, her boobs are asymmetrical.
Michael: I feel like it's okay.
Michael: It's okay to make fun of her for that now. I can be problematic, because she sucks. [laughs]
Aubrey: She sucks so-- Oh, that's rough.
Michael: That's how principles work. That's how it works.
Aubrey: Good job.
Michael: I can say that about people now.
[Transcript provided by SpeechDocs Podcast Transcription]