This week I saw a wave of tweets and Facebook posts commenting on the dramatic weight loss of “The Biggest Loser” winner, Rachel Frederickson. Most people I saw commented about how emaciated she was, and how the show had gone “too far” to allow a person to lose 60 percent of their body weight in such a short period of time. Then, there was the retaliation, mostly from feminists, that body shaming was body shaming, whether a person was overweight or underweight, and that the public should have left this poor woman alone. And here’s where my brain goes haywire with complexities.
Let me start by saying that I do not watch the show. I abhor the idea of making a spectacle of shaming people to lose weight, exhibiting larger than life bodies as circus freaks, made to do “tricks” like walking on balance beams and fishing weights out of swimming pools while the whole world watches. I hate that their idea of “inspiration” is pushing people until they throw up, setting a very disturbing mindset that weight loss is the ONLY thing that matters, and that, if you don’t lose weight, you’re ruining not only your life, but the life of everyone else around you. The dramatic number fluctuations on the scale make the whole world believe that 10 lbs of weight loss in one week is normal, nay, EXPECTED, and perfectly acceptable, er, desirable.
Some sick cultural mindset created this show. Weight loss messaging has amplified in the U.S., but the population continues to get heavier. That’s pretty much proof that fat shaming does not work, right? At any rate, millions of people tune in every week to watch people like them get put through the rigorous ringer of training, starvation (not dieting–come on), and other shenanigans, as some part of a sadistic fantasy seeded to them by billions of subliminal messages served to their skulls every day.
BUT…at the most basic level, this is a game show. It is not reality, and those who participate are putting themselves on display for their weight loss to be catalogued, their bodies to be shamed (they have to weigh themselves shirtless, because, lord knows that a t-shirt weighs SO much, and not because the producers want to show their fat bulging out over pants and under sports bras). That people are commenting on the over-the-top weight loss of the latest finalist, well, isn’t that the POINT of the show? If you’re not going to react to the contestants’ weight, why bother with watching?
For my own personal reaction to this, mostly, I feel sad. I feel sad that our culture has created a show like this,and, while Jillian Michaels, in her own book, addresses changing the mind before even thinking about changing the body, shows like The Biggest Loser seek to reinforce the superficiality of our cultural “quick fix” mentality. Real life weight loss is NOT like “The Biggest Loser” or any other TV produced weight loss show. Real life involves reinforcing habits every day, it’s about hitting road blocks, stress, and set points. It involves losing weight AND gaining weight, and learning to accept yourself at whatever weight.
Weight loss or gain is NOT a value judgment of your character. It is merely a reflection of your current circumstances, whatever they may be. Being overweight or underweight, you are still you, and you are good enough.
I wish we could remove the pain and the stigma from weight. I wish people would learn to stop internalizing and damaging themselves further. And I wish that we could stop judging others as harshly as we judge ourselves.
How about a show where no one competes, but everyone grows, and weighs whatever they want to weigh, and learns to love themselves? Eh, who am I kidding? No one would watch that.