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Reality television often gets a bad reputation for being vapid, shallow, and full of negative situations that are usually more scripted than, well, actually realistic. Many of the guilty pleasure shows out there live up to this stereotype, but one stands out in a good way: TLC’s "I Am Jazz," starring transgender activist Jazz Jennings and her family. The critically acclaimed show shares the story of what it’s like to grow up as a transgender teen and young adult in today’s world, approaching important issues with a surprising amount of frank honesty in order to try and fight the many misconceptions out there.
"I Am Jazz" debuted in 2015, and since then, it has never shied away from putting a spotlight on controversial issues. Jazz openly discusses her sexuality, her gender confirmation surgery, body image issues, and so much more — her strength is inspiring to watch.
Still, even though the show (and its star!) is known for being incredibly honest and self-aware, there are some behind-the-scenes secrets that even the biggest fans aren’t aware of. These little details give the show even more depth, and can be integral to truly understanding Jazz’s world.
She met Barbara Walters at only 6 years old
Jazz Jennings first gained notoriety back during her "20/20" interview with Barbara Walters in 2013. At 11 years old, Jazz revealed to the world that she is transgender, becoming the youngest trans advocate during a time when talking about it was far more controversial than it is today. Jazz told the world that she had been expressing gender dysphoria (when someone strongly identifies with the opposite gender of their assigned sex) since she could talk, stating, "I have a girl brain in a boy’s body."
The interview obviously led to a lot of media attention, eventually leading up to the creation of the show "I Am Jazz." But while the "20/20" interview shows an 11-year-old Jazz talking to the camera in a surprisingly mature way, what many people don’t realize is that the very first time Walters met Jazz was when she was 6 years old, back in 2007. During the "20/20" interview, Walters talks about how, at 6 years old, Jazz was "one of the youngest documented cases of an early transition from male to female."
Jazz and her family went to the media with a very specific goal in mind
Jazz and her family didn’t set out to do the "20/20" interview with dreams of becoming famous. They actually originally brought their story to the media in an attempt to get others to accept Jazz as a girl. In an interview with Broadly, Jazz’s mom, Jeanette, opened up about how she and her husband struggled to get school administrator’s to see Jazz as a girl, saying, "I tried to engage in a conversation, and they really weren’t interested in meeting with me. I think they were afraid."
In the beginning, Jeanette submitted their story anonymously to a local newspaper, although she says that it was clear to their community that it was about their family. In the end, the media attention paid off. Jeanette told Broadly, "It worked because they granted us the conversation and a meeting. They allowed us to go in with our lawyer, our doctor — you name it, they were there. We came in, guns loaded, ready to battle, and we fought for her right to go to school as a girl." This was, of course, only the beginning when it came to the spotlight on the family.
The Jennings family originally didn’t want to be on camera
Remember, the Jennings originally went to the media for some extra help in getting Jazz accepted as a girl at her school, and they did so anonymously. So it isn’t too surprising to hear that they weren’t exactly thrilled with the idea of having Jazz do an interview on national television. In an interview with Metro Weekly, Jeanette talked about being approached by ABC for "20/20" and said, "It took them 10 months of wooing us to even convince us to do it. We were not ready to share something so personal."
In the beginning, Jazz’s parents said they would only do the interview if they didn’t have to show their faces or share their real names. They also insisted of having Walters do the interview. In the end, the family gave in because they felt fully introducing the public to Jazz would be the best way to get their message across. Jeanette told Metro Weekly, "You know, you really have to see Jazz to get the whole situation. To see her in her environment, with her friends and family — to know and see that she truly is a girl."
They eventually grew to love having a filming crew around
Despite their initial hesitation, Jazz Jennings and her family have said that they began to actually enjoy being filmed all the time. In an interview with Metro Weekly, Jeanette said, "I love having people in my house, I love having company. For other people it’d be disruptive, but I really enjoyed the crew. It was a lot of work at times — many hours where we were filming and we were exhausted. But it’s all worth it in the end, now that we see the finished product."
Jazz also talked about how much she enjoys filming the show. She said, "Like my mom said, the crew was just absolutely incredible. It was definitely difficult to adjust to at first. But we got used to it pretty quickly. And you know, when you always have this camera following you around — it’s so different, it keeps you on your toes."
Jennings is not Jazz’s real last name
Even though they’re on an incredibly popular reality TV show, the Jennings family is still pretty committed to having some sense of privacy. The show might be very open about Jazz’s experience as a transgender girl, but the family tries to keep hidden what they can. It took a long time for them to reveal they lived in Broward, Florida, and in an interview with the Miami Herald, Jeanette revealed that "Jennings" isn’t their real last name. She said, "Jennings is our pseudonym, to sort of make life easier. We try to hide our real last name as much as possible."
Jeanette added, "Our last name is a very Jewish, long last name. We found it easier at this point. She’s known as Jazz Jennings. With the TV show, they’re not going to tell anybody where we live. The TV show is not going to reference our true last name."
A lot of the dinner table scenes were staged
One of the reasons "I Am Jazz" is such a great show is because it’s genuine and real. You know that what Jazz talks about going through is really happening, and you don’t get the sense that anything is scripted or staged — like you do with so many other reality TV shows out there. As it turns out, though, a few of the scenes actually are staged. Jazz wrote in her book "Being Jazz" that most of the dinner table scenes are staged, and reasoning actually makes sense.
Screen Rant pulled a quote from "Being Jazz" that says, "Any time there’s a scene that’s happening over a meal, you’re not supposed to actually eat. The sound of the chewing gets picked up by all the microphones and ruins any conversations that are happening. We learned fast that whenever we needed to film a lunch or dinner scene, we’d need to really eat beforehand."
Jazz fought to allow transgender kids to play soccer as their self-designated gender
Jazz Jennings has obviously had to deal with so many different challenging situations as a trans teen, like fighting for the right to participate in sports. She didn’t only think about herself, though — Jazz also worked hard to get the Minnesota State High School League to change their Trans Athletic Policy so that other trans athletes could participate in their sport of choice.
In an interview with The Minnesota Post, Jazz talked about how her love of sports inspired her in this situation, saying, "Like other transgender kids, I face enough discrimination and just want peace and the right to participate in sports on the team that matches my affirmed gender identity, and it is harmful to our health and well-being to keep us from doing so." Jazz pointed out that being on a sports team could help trans teens deal with the many challenges they face daily. She added, "All kids deserve to be happy, and enjoy themselves recreationally and socially. For me, sports are a big part of this happiness." Her fight was successful in the long run.
Jazz had to lose 30 pounds in order to get her gender confirmation surgery
Jazz Jennings went through gender confirmation surgery on June 26th, 2018, something she talked about in a YouTube video and documented in "I Am Jazz." The surgery is a serious one, and there were many things to take into consideration before going into it — including Jazz’s weight. According to a clip shared with People, Jazz was told she had to lose 30 pounds in order to go through with the surgery.
In the video, Jazz’s doctor explained that Jazz had gained in her body mass index (also known as BMI), which measures your weight compared to your height. The gain was something that could have potentially postponed Jazz’s surgery. Her doctor said, "If we’re going to get a hospital to say, ‘we’re going to allow a surgery at age 17,’ you’re going to have to be at a lower BMI. Literally, they won’t approve it if your BMI is one dot cover." The doctor explained that, for Jazz, this meant losing about 30 pounds. Jazz did end up losing the weight, a journey she partially documented on social media.
Jazz originally wanted to give herself the name ‘Sparkles’
While Jazz Jennings is a name she gave herself, it was almost something very different. In an interview with Audible, Jazz revealed that she had actually originally wanted to call herself "Sparkles." She said, "When I was 3 years old, I came up with the name Sparkles for myself. I thought it was going to be a cool name, you know, being Sparkles, this little glitter fairy child. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll keep it as a middle name."
In an interview with Glamour in July 2015, Jazz revealed that she settled on her final name choice after watching her sister (whom she refers to as her "role model") play Princess Jasmine in a school play. In that same interview, Jazz’s mom Jeannette revealed that she only started calling her daughter Jazz once they started their TLC show — before that, she called Jazz by her birth name, Jaren, revealing: "She has always been Jaren to me."
Jazz struggles with leading a healthier lifestyle in Season 7
While viewers have watched Jazz Jennings live her authentic life on camera season after season, Season 7 shows something more private: Jazz struggling with her health. The trailer for Season 7 of "I Am Jazz" teased the young trailblazer’s battle with her eating disorder, with Jazz telling the camera that she put on almost 100 pounds between Seasons 6 and 7.
"Two years ago, I was on my way to one of the greatest institutions in the world (Harvard), but I was actually struggling severely with mental health issues," Jazz said, alluding to the college career she put on hold. "I started binge eating and I gained weight and more weight and more weight. And now, almost 100 pounds heavier, here I am today."
Simple acts like going to the grocery store and trying to select healthier options became difficult for Jazz, and in a preview of a Season 7 episode, People reported that the activist found it incredibly difficult to prioritize healthy options, eventually calling her mom for help.
"Resisting the unhealthy food is much harder than putting the healthy food in my cart," Jazz said. "The unhealthy food you have this like psychological battle with it, and you’re like ‘I want it, but I don’t want it, I want to lose weight but I’m hungry’ so it’s much harder to resist unhealthy food."
Jazz Jennings’ book of the same title as her show has been at the center of controversy
When Jazz Jennings first came on the scene during her interview with Barbara Walters, her story — recounting being a young girl and knowing in her heart she was transgender — received mixed reviews. Even now, one of Walters’ sit-downs with the young Jazz continues to bear the burden of judgmental comments, even though it aired almost a decade ago. You may be wondering what other kinds of reception Jazz has faced since first sharing her story with the world, both on-camera and in printed form, and the most updated news might surprise you.
In addition to "I Am Jazz" airing on TLC, the transgender activist co-authored a book of the same title, which follows the journey of a transgender child who started making their public transition while in kindergarten. The picture book has been available since 2014 but has recently been at the center of a banned book controversy. As noted by WLRN, "I Am Jazz" is one of two books centered around transgender characters that has been banned from the classrooms and public libraries of Palm Beach County, Florida. The second book, "Call Me Max," tells the story of a transgender boy. As co-author of "I Am Jazz," Jessica Herthel, told Yahoo, "A lot of the people who have criticized the book never read it, never saw it, never put their hands on it."
Jazz Jennings opened up about her collegiate aspirations on the show
One of Jazz Jennings’ biggest life decisions — attending college — came at a time when she was really struggling with her own physical and mental health. After having been accepted to Harvard University, Jazz decided to defer her admittance, focusing on herself and overcoming personal challenges. In news that came as a cherished moment for the activist, Jazz was readmitted to Harvard University and will continue her academic pursuits at the Cambridge, Massachusetts institution.
In a January 2022 episode of "I Am Jazz," the young star revealed that she was still very concerned about her future at the university, as she had previously deferred her initial acceptance. "Part of me is still worried that they’re gonna review my information and deny me," Jazz revealed. "They can dictate the course of the rest of my life by what they decide."
While she was worried for her future, Jazz shared the wonderful news with her fans via TikTok shortly thereafter, revealing that she had in fact been readmitted. "You’re approved to return. Welcome to Harvard again!" Jazz read aloud from an email sent to her by the school.
The future of the show is up to Jazz
As of this writing, Jazz Jennings is set to embark on a new journey at Harvard University. Thus, the future of "I Am Jazz" is up in the air. Per the International Business Times, TLC, the network behind the show, has not yet hinted at a Season 8, leaving fans to wonder if the finale of Season 7 is their final goodbye to Jazz.
Adding more speculation to the future of the show, Jazz’s mom, Jeanette Jennings, admitted during an interview with MediaVillage that the future of the show is in Jazz’s hands (via IBT). Confessing that cameras would not be permitted on Harvard’s campus, Jeanette revealed that if Jazz wants to continue with the show, that’s her prerogative.
"It’s really what Jazz wants to do," Jeanette said. "But if she’s tied up with summer school or something, they can’t film up at Harvard. They’re not allowed to … have cameras up there. Without her, we wouldn’t have a show."