So, apparently, one of those weight loss shows hosted its season finale a while back, and there’s news of the winner “looking anorexic.” Even pro-women outlets have botched coverage of this “situation,” going so far as calling the woman “gaunt” at her 105lb reveal.
And, in response, the winner promptly offered up her exercise routine – shorter version: ‘I ate 1600 calories and exercised a ton‘ – so as to let people know “Hey, I eat! I eat plenty! I just spend my entire day exercising!”
I’ve made it clear, in the past, that I despise these shows. I’ve read countless stories from “successful” weight loss tv show participants, and I’ve read a few stories from those who struggled in painful ways. I’ve heard from contestants privately and publicly about their experiences on the show, and while some learned a great deal, others are resentful. And many others display an unfortunate case of Stockholm syndrome.
Either way, the things that burns my toast about these shows the most is the way so many cling to them as “inspiration” or “motivation.” I’m not entirely sure that’s the best avenue to take for these shows, and I have five reasons why:
1) To me, these shows reek of body-shaming porn. Pull together a bunch of fat people, make them sweat, cry and puke until they’re skinny – because being skinny is what wins the prize – and then when they get too good at it, chastise them for being too skinny. What did you think the prize was for? Being healthy? Are they running the contestants’ blood panels and reporting those on the show?
Anyone who has the audacity to criticize someone for being too skinny on a show that rewards the skinniest person with a quarter of a million dollars on a show that they’ve watched religiously all season needs to seriously re-think why they watch in the first place. Your problem isn’t with someone who was willing to shrink down as small as they could to win a quarter of a million dollars, and any ire pointed at her is misdirected. Your problem is with a television show that seeks to profit off of people contorting themselves for the ultimate manifestation of thin privilege: money. And, before you tell me that’s not how it happens in the real world… don’t. You’d be wrong.
We grant people benefits based on thinness, we then root people on in their quest for those benefits, then we allow these people to be shamed for benefiting. We need to face facts: if it’s going to be wrong to receive benefits based on size, then we need to focus equal attention on those granting the benefits, too.
A need to perpetuate the idea that the smallest person wins the prize merely smacks of a nasty reality: fat people are passed over for jobs, the graduate programs that prepare you for those jobs, and are disparaged publicly by the professors who teach them… all for being fat. Maybe, deep down inside we all need to watch someone get that skinny and win because of it. Maybe it really does reflect our need to believe that getting skinny is the key to winning in life…
…and that is even worse.
2) What is with the ridiculous “temptation challenges?” From the Today website:
Contestants on “The Biggest Loser” might have a hard time resisting the series of delectable treats they’ll face during the upcoming temptation challenge, but the show’s trainers say these kind of in-game tests of willpower are even harder for them to digest.
“I struggle to make sense of those,” red team trainer Dolvett Quince told TODAY. “I understand that contestants will face temptation in real life after the show, but they work against everything we are trying to teach these people.”
Bob Harper has served as a trainer on every season of the show and has seen his share of contestants overeat in hopes of making it further in the game. He, too, struggles to see the purpose of it all.
“I’ve really tried to make peace with a lot of the temptation challenges on the show,” Harper told us. “What I do in my brain to rationalize it is say, ‘Well, you know what? When they go home, they’re going to be driving by a fast food place all the time and food will be tempting them all the time.’ But it’s those temptations of ‘You’ve got to eat this much s— to gain power in the house.’ That I can’t rationalize. That’s not real life. No one’s ever going to come up to you and say, ‘Eat this whole cake and you get to see videos from home.’
“I don’t like those because there’s no way that I can wrap my brain around them,” Harper said.
The amount of calories a contestant can consume during one of these challenges is jaw-dropping. Just last season, one contestant ate over 1,100 calories worth of chocolates and treats in order to gain a two-pound advantage at the weigh in, which she hoped would help keep her in the game. (It did not.)
While it may seem cruel to seemingly try to sabotage the contestants’ weight loss journeys, Cheryl Forberg, the show’s dietician, believes the temptation challenges represent what the contestants will face once they leave the “Loser” ranch.
“It’s realistic because everybody has temptations every day that we have to deal with,” Forberg, who has been with the show since the first season, told TODAY. “I think it’s symbolic of what we go through on the outside every day. We are constantly bombarded — someone brought a bag of donuts to work, or a birthday cake — it’s something that occurs all the time in everyday life.” [source]
In no way, shape, or form are people bribed to binge, with contact from their families being the benefit, in the real world. Not once, not ever.
In no way, shape or form does this teach will power. This is not will power. This is manipulation for entertainment’s sake. Even if it DID in some way somehow sorta somewhat teach you how to contain yourself, the situation is so unrealistic that it hardly translates into the real world.
If you’ve spent a large portion of your life never saying no, learning how to do it takes another lifetime worth of time. There’ll always be a new temptation, a new environment, a new set of people encouraging you to go against your better judgment… none of which are components you are taught by being purposely taunted with sweets…
…and, yeah, about that. As a recovering emotional eater, I cannot stress enough how my stomach turns at the thought of people willfully choosing to binge eat. An environment as stressful as the ranch, the insurmountable pressures people feel to bring that money home, and the opportunity to binge eat… it’s the perfect environment for not only furthering a food addiction, but creating one in an unsuspecting cast member. It’s just dangerous.
3) Incentivizing weight loss, irrespective of the kind or quality of mass lost, sends the wrong message. All that matters on this show is that you’ve lost pounds, not that you’ve gained muscle, a very necessary part of weight loss maintenance. Simply basing your incentive on the pounds lost, as opposed to something far more meaningful and far more helpful like body fat percentage, has the dual benefit of acknowledging the fat loss while still not punishing the person for developing muscle, a true sign of fitness.
4) Unrealistic understandings of weight loss – not everyone can pull off 12lb-in-1-week losses, nor should they try. I’m familiar with the nature of weight loss being “easier” when you’re heavier, but I have to wonder – does the show take this as an opportunity to educate people as to why that happens? Why that is the way it is? I keep wanting to say that, if they did, then fewer people would be quitting their own weight loss journeys, angry that their losses don’t mimic those of the castmates.
I’m not one of those people who believes that media is responsible for educating the public, but I’m unwilling to absolve media of any and all responsibility for what they perpetuate, either.
5) There’s also the slow trickle of interviews being done by former contestants, which – at least, to me – serves as some kind of reminder that maybe, just maybe, we don’t know enough of what’s going on behind the scenes in these people’s lives that’s truly garnering their “success” in weight loss. When the prize is rewarded on a basis of being “the smallest person,” and we have methods of weight reduction in this country that, though unhealthy, get the job done, we really need to question whether or not we’re lying to ourselves about what kind of behavior this encourages.
For me, this can only be motivating if you are unwilling to think about what goes on at the facility outside of the 43-minute episode you watch weekly. Even if there was a registered dietician and a triage doctor on-facility every single day, I wouldn’t believe these shows at face value simply because there’s still incentive for someone to cheat the system in a dangerous way whenever they’re alone, by themselves. Dehydrating themselves, starvation, exercise bulimia, and with living on-campus, the incentive is always there: a quarter of a million dollars.
Don’t get me wrong – I understand, entertainment is entertainment. However, when we cross from “entertainment” to “inspiration,” we really should think long and hard about what we’re truly inspired by. Is it the sweat? The hustle? Is it what we perceive to be “dedication?” I can [maybe possibly kinda sorta somewhat] see that. But if it’s the progress, we should remember that we don’t all know the full story. Life long weight loss is a process that cannot be quantified in a series of 40-minute long episodes, nor should we be so eager to see someone be awarded the prize based on being as small as humanly possible. Life shouldn’t work that way, and we shouldn’t be so eager to perpetuate it.