Remarkable media executive and fitness expert shares her powerful story

Jennifer Turner is the executive vice president at TriStar Television for Sony Pictures Television, where she manages the development and production of new premium television series to be aired on cable and streaming platforms.

Jennifer, Doctor of Public Health Leadership (DrPH), is also the CEO and founder of MAD COOL FITNESS and MAD COOL COMMUNITY, which leverages behavioral science to help people—particularly women—feel better, look better and be better.

In November, Jennifer was featured by Zonta International in a Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories event, a leadership series hosted by Lynne Foley OAM, chair of the Zonta Spirit Working Group.

The three parts of Jennifer Turner's journey

"I would describe my life sort of in three parts. Part one was Jennifer Turner who played the violin. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. I was an overweight kid who thought gym and physical activity were stupid.  … If you met me, I always had a violin with me. I was always going to or coming from a violin lesson."

"Unfortunately, I had bulimia. I struggled with that basically from the time I was 13 until I was 24 years old. And so the second part of my life, I became Jennifer who was really into fitness. So when I went to business school at Stanford in California, I decided that it was really important for me to not only get my MBA, but it was super important for me to get my health together, because I knew that if I continued down this path of struggling with this eating disorder, that I would be not only very sick, but there was a good chance that I could die from it. … I went from somebody who was struggling with this eating disorder to going to the gym every day, just to develop that habit. I stopped weighing myself, I stopped worrying about counting calories. I had support from some of my classmates in business school, and the next thing you knew I felt better."

"Now, in part three of my life, I'm really focused on teaching others and helping others to be healthy, helping others to develop a sense of empowerment—a sense of self, a sense of purpose. I would call this part 'the teaching part.' Coincidentally, this is also the period where I went back to school. … So part three is really kind of a culmination of the previous parts of my life, and it's really important to me to be able to teach what I know and help other people, in particular women and girls, to achieve health empowerment—and not just health empowerment, but overall life empowerment and a sense of purpose and the belief that they can achieve whatever they want to achieve."

Humble beginnings

"My desire to leave the South Side of Chicago and to achieve other things was first really motivated out of having an incredible mother. She is an incredible visionary and a woman who really wanted the best for her daughters. … She made sure that we went to the best private schools and had violin lessons. I played with many orchestras and [they] would always travel to Europe and Japan during the summer. So, my world expanded through music. When we traveled to these different countries we not only played music, but we also learned about different economies, and that's actually where I came up with the idea that I wanted to work in international business."

"How I went about studying different things was through exposure, and that exposure was created because of my mother. It's [about] having opportunities, having exposure and also not being afraid to try things that are different and unknown."

How to be a role model

"I am by no means perfect. I'm still learning and growing, but I try to do the very best I can. I try to be the best version of myself that I can, and if I can help—whether it's a peer, someone older or a girl to learn from what I have learned. If there's any value in my knowledge, I'm  happy to share it; and if I can keep someone from either making the same mistakes I made or to excel farther [and] faster or just listen sometimes and be supportive, I'm happy to do it."

Overcoming challenges

"You know that you're smart. You know that you're capable. You know that you're a good person. And you can hold on to that even when people, or the world, or elements or forces are trying to pull you down or playing a different direction."

"I've been through a lot of stuff over the years. This is very cliché and everybody says this, but it's true. When you get knocked down, you get back up. And what I have learned in life is that no matter how bad something is, you have to hang in there long enough to get to the other side, because the situation will change."

"The issue really is to persevere, and to understand that you've just got to get over the top of that mountain, see what's waiting for you on the other side. And no matter how bad things are, the situation will change and there's usually a solution. I think that is the difference between age and youth. I think when you're younger, you don't have experience to know and pursue, to have perspective on issues. As you get older and you've got a few battle scars, you've been knocked down a little bit. When you get knocked down again, you're like, 'I've been knocked down before and I got through that, so I can probably get through this.' "

"If you're in a place where you have failed or something horrible has happened, and you're depressed and you're talking to yourself about it and you're trying to solve your problem; that's sort of like a surgeon doesn't perform surgery on himself. You go to a doctor. Even a surgeon goes to a doctor, right? So, really being able to reach out to young people and give them the support they need and give them the context and the perspective. They need to be able to work through these issues, because no matter how bad things seem, there's always a light in the situation. There's always hope in a situation."

Biggest gifts as a leader

"Listening to people and … empathy—so, really being able to hear where people are coming from, what their issues are, what they want, what they're trying to achieve in life, what scares them, and then being able to put yourself in their shoes and connect with people. Because you can't get anything done in this world by yourself. You can't be a leader if nobody is going to follow you, and you can't be a leader if people don't believe in you … your message. … People can connect when they believe they're talking to the real you. If they feel like you are being presentational and not forthcoming, they are not going to trust you. They're not going to connect with you, and I don't think they're going to work for you or work as hard for you, because at the end of the day we're emotional creatures."

Gender equality

"I think we have made quite a few strides. There are more women that are in leadership positions and companies. COVID was very interesting in how it did seem to more negatively affect women in the workplace than it did men, and a lot of the homeschooling and taking care of kids and all that tended to fall more on women."

"There's such a high bar for women to meet in terms of truly being super women. … The fact that women still feel like they have to make more of a choice, versus some of our male counterparts, in terms of work or career; I think that's something that still needs to be addressed."

"If women are going to lead the workforce … there should be  incredible opportunities for entrepreneurship for women to create businesses and have more support for women creating businesses so they can create businesses with work schedules that work for them and work for their lifestyle, where they have ownership, have more control over their financial destiny, and also can create workplace cultures and environments that speak more to their values."

Changing beauty standards

"I grew up in the era of the supermodel, in the '80s, where the images of beauty that we saw in the media were tall, and usually white, not diverse women—and so there were not representations of beauty, girls that really looked like me and it wasn't an inclusive society. Now, at least in the media, we do have more images in a world that is more welcoming of different types of beauty."

"In some ways there have been advances with girls around sense of self and empowerment. And in some ways, I think there's been a reversal. … We've come far but there's actually still quite a bit of work to do around girls having a sense of self, a sense of empowerment, understanding. First and foremost, that there's so much more than what they look like in our society, there still is a tendency to grade women more so than men based on looks and attributes of attractiveness versus men in general."

"It's very important for girls to feel like a total, complete, capable, smart person. It's not just what you look like; it's your thoughts, it's how you treat people, it's how you give back to your community, it's living in your purpose."

Influential women in her life

"My mom and my aunt were such an incredible force. With them in my corner there was simply no way that I could lose in life. They were always there for me. … My mother was a college professor [and] my aunt taught biology at a high school in Chicago."

"When my aunt passed away, I founded a scholarship at Rutgers School of Public Health, where I did my doctorate, because we believe that education is the great equalizer and is a great way to give people, especially women and girls, opportunity. My aunty was really into travel, so I established a scholarship for some of the master's of nutrition students to be able to study abroad. Similarly, I established a scholarship for my mom, who's still living thankfully, at my former music school to give other students an opportunity for private lessons to give them opportunities the way my mother gave me opportunities."

Part four

"I would love to find a way to better connect my two worlds of being a media executive and somebody who helps to tell stories and produce stories every day, and to connect that power to the power of narrative, to helping people to live better every day and be better every day and feel better every day. When there's a part four, I think it will focus on bringing these two parts of my professional life together and having those things align more with my personal values and mission."

Parting thoughts

"Be kind to yourself, be gracious, don't beat yourself up. This idea of not being enough…we have to throw that out the window. We are enough. You are. You are a constantly evolving, growing, complete person. You're not just one thing. You're many things, and to really view yourself through your own standard. You cannot constantly live for other people and live for other people's expectations and live up to their standard. The only person that you need to care about is you. If you can wake up every day and feel good about you and look in a mirror and be happy with the woman, the girl that's staring back at you, then that's what really matters."

Learn more about and get in touch with Jennifer at www.drjenniferturner.com.

Watch Jennifer's Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories video below: 

 

9 JANUARY 2023