The Biggest Loser and a Bigger Hypocrisy
I’m not a fan of The Biggest Loser, nor have I seen more than brief clips of episodes. I generally try not to be Judgey McJudgeypants about things, but I really don’t need to watch the show to know it’s not something I would a) enjoy and b) think is good for people to watch in general.
I know I have readers that like this show and say it’s empowering and health-promoting. I believe you. I also disagree with you.
Although I knew TBL was currently on the air, I wasn’t aware that last night was the season finale (I was reading a book for my book club). It’s where everyone gets to see the results of weeks and weeks of
hard work diet and exercise self-starvation and over-exercise. Last nights winner (erm, loser?) caused the collective Internet to freak the hell out. With breathless panic, judges, trainers, and TV viewers alike agreed: this year’s loser winner had lost too much weight.
You can read more details here, but be warned that there’s lots of talk of weight, weight loss, etc. I’m writing the post so that you don’t actually need to read the article if you don’t want to.
Let’s say this. The contestant, Rachel, isn’t technically underweight. But if she went to an eating disorder treatment center, they would probably encourage her to gain some weight.
Do I think TBL is potentially dangerous? Hellz to the yeah.
BUT HERE’S WHAT REALLY GRATES MY GORGONZOLA:
Why are we only worried about the effects of self-starvation and over-exercise on people who are objectively thin?
Presumably, Rachel’s co-contestants put themselves on similar diets and workout plans. They lost drastic amounts of body weight in short periods of time that could only be accomplished by a) amputation or b) seriously disordered eating (or, I suppose, c) all of the above). Yet we’re only worried about Rachel. A thin woman. Why not the others?
It would be easy to say that they’re not the loser/winner of the show. That might be some of it- I have enough media experience to know that this is a factor in why they’re covering it now. But I think that’s bullshit.
When I was significantly underweight and described my then fairly modest exercise routine (I was too exhausted and weak to do much besides walking at that point), with a tsk tsk of disdain. Such exercise was dangerous for someone in my state. No doubt true. But when I was eating just as little and working out a hella lot more, only my weight was then in the “normal range,” no one batted an eyelash. I had dedication. I was fit and healthy.
I’ve heard it time and time again: things that would get a thin woman a diagnosis of anorexia are actually encouraged in people who are “overweight” or “obese.” Crazy workouts and strict dieting are pretty much par for the advice any larger person will get from a physician. It’s the way the cookie crumbles (hopefully, not into your mouth, according to doctors).
Rachel will never be able to win. Her dramatic weight loss has condemned her to be a permanent loser. First, she was fat. That’s a loss in today’s thin-obsessed culture. Now she’s thin- too thin. Again, a loss. She’ll almost certainly gain at least a few pounds back since fasting and dehydration lead to rapid loss of water weight that return with your next sip of water. Another loss- everyone will comment how Rachel the Biggest Loser gained weight. YOU CAN’T WIN.
Starvation and overexercise are dangerous, end of. Someone with larger fat stores may be able to withstand utter starvation for a longer period of time, but that doesn’t mean that their bodies aren’t being wrecked in the meantime.
You’re not wrong to be concerned about Rachel. You’re wrong if that doesn’t make you worried about all of the other contestants who probably endured the same thing, only people are just patting them on the back and encouraging them to keep going because they weigh a bit more.