Q: What do your think about the mtv show I used to be fat? what do you think about the 6 hour workouts everyday?
Yeah… I don’t like it. Shouldn’t be much of a surprise there, though. I don’t like most things as they apply to weight and wellness.
But let me be fair, though. I’ve never seen an episode, and probably never will. I just.. don’t do “weight loss” TV shows. I used to host Biggest Loser chats on the BGG2WL FB page, but after I wrote this post, I couldn’t bring myself to do it anymore.
I’m always aware of the fact that teenagers have major, major, major body image issues… and let’s face it – teenagers aren’t as bright as they will be as 20-somethings (and, even though I’m a 20-something, I know I’m nowhere near as bright as I’ll be as a 30-something… and so on and so forth.) Shows like this might come across one way to adults, but what message do they send to teens?
Are we telling our teens that hard work produces results? Or are we telling them to get skinny by any means necessary, even if it means embarrassing yourself on national television, being berated and telling the nation your shortcomings and thereby allowing millions of people – people who, by virtue of the fact that so many of us are in fact overweight and still collectively gaining weight, don’t know much about weight loss or weight management – to judge you and feel justified in telling you how what you’re eating is “what caused you to gain weight in the first place?”
You know people do things like that, right? Shoot, they do it to me, and I’m just a blogger.
Never mind the fact that most people don’t have the slightest idea of how to manage weight, or “what to eat for weight loss.” They just know that what YOU are eating… is wrong. They just know that THEY are the person to tell you… and they know that it is wholly appropriate for them, a stranger, to be the one to put that kind of pressure on you in public.
I also know that this kind of pressure? This is the kind of crap that can push a teenager toward an eating disorder. Black or white, male or female. It happens… far too often.
I’ve written about this kind of stuff before, too:
I can recall an argument I got into with a friend of mine about shows like TBL.. with his argument going something like, “We need shows like this to show people what it looks like to work hard in the gym. You sweat, you grind, you burn, you get pissed, but you’re happy when you see the results.” Yeah, I hear you talkin’, but um… 17lbs in one “week?” What about ol’ dude that lost ~30lbs his first “week” there?
My complaint has always been that it sets an unrealistic expectation for what one can continue to expect throughout their weight loss journey. The average person – who probably (unfortunately) knows very little about how their body handles weight outside of what the commercials tell them – doesn’t recognize that “hard work cannot produce 11lb weekly weight loss” on a regular basis. What I can see happening (and admittedly, what has happened to me), is someone going to the gym, busting their tails, “only” losing 4lbs and thinking that “This is as hard as I can work, and I only lost 4lbs? Why can they lose 11lbs in a week, and I can’t? I can’t do this anymore!” and giving up. We all know that people will sometimes look for reasons to give up… and while it isn’t NBC’s responsibility to keep us motivated, a little integrity might be nice, here.
And since we’re talking about scales, I can fuss about the weigh-ins, as well. I just spent three months ramping up my weight lifting routine so that when I burn the rest of this fat, my skin will have an actual shape to cling to.. not just dangle and hang there. I know how many inches I’ve lost, and I know how much leaner my body has become. I also know that I actually gained weight during that time, too. If I were a scale freak, I might be bothered by this. TBL encourages weight lifting with the left hand, and breeds scale freaks with the right – your longevity on the show (and your chance at 250k) is wholly determined by what shows up on that scale. Replacing muscle with fat (replacing a pound of muscle with a pound of fat… is still replacing a pound with a pound)… means that you’re not losing. A scale freak’s nightmare.
I love the stories of people overcoming their struggles. I also love the fact that TBL shows people working as hard as they can, and the joy on their faces when they see how that hard work paid off. Despite how manipulated that footage or situation may be, the message that gets across is that “hard work produces results.” I can respect that. TBL has inspired countless “office competitions” where groups of co-workers host their own TBL competitions and support one another. We cannot deny the fact that one of the biggest examples of weight loss porn has done some good.
We also cannot deny the fact that TBL creates an environment where “normal” results are frowned upon, and now it seems like unhealthy methods of weight loss are being glorified on the low. The average American, approximately 20-30lbs overweight, is not going to lose 30lbs in one week without surgery. I’own care what you say. Two pounds in a week makes sense, but someone losing 2lbs on the ranch is ready to cry. The everyday TBL fan won’t always say to themselves, “Well, if I was on a ranch where all I did was workout and sleep, 2lbs would be a disappointment to me, too.” They’ll say, “2lbs? Gosh, he sucks.”
Nine times out of ten, if you lose a gang of weight quickly, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll keep it off. Why? Because you probably lost it by doing something you can’t maintain for the rest of your life. Living on a ranch where your only stress is losing weight – no bills to worry about, no kids to chase around, no boss to brown nose – is not a lifestyle change. It simply isn’t. And with as little as many of us know about our bodies and weight gain… we’re not focusing on that lifestyle part of this. We’re focusing on the “how can I lose 8lbs in a ‘week?’” part of this… as evidenced by the average supermarket magazine cover.
Excerpted from The Biggest Loser & The Problem With Weight Loss Porn | A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss
And really, can I question how realistic – or unrealistic, for that matter – it is that these kids want to lose a ton of weight in only three months time? Are they pushing themselves far beyond what makes sense just because they want to be able to produce results for their show? They don’t want to “disappoint America,” so they over-perform, risking injury and goodness knows what else?
And again, how focused are we on lifestyle changes? That kind of thing doesn’t happen in 3 months time. How focused is the show on health, or do they know that “no one cares about health?” Does the show take the opportunity to teach its viewers about health and lifestyle?
Even I have to admit… I don’t care about the answers to the questions in the last paragraph, because any potential good that the show can do for America… isn’t worth the damage it does to those kids in the show.
Working that hard toward skinny, as opposed to developing a well-rounded understanding of wellness overall… is the kind of hollow mentality that can, in fact, lead someone to an eating disorder. Combine that with an intense pressure to perform – and perform well – for the cameras, and… it just feels disastrous to me.
Call me paranoid if you want, but I’m sensitive to the issues of girls and young women… and in my studies regarding disordered eating situations, I’ve learned just how much these things affect both young women and men.
Any show targeting teens that focuses too intensely on them changing what they look like without tact, as opposed to showing them how to love who they are in spite of what they want to change… is going to get the side-eye from me.
That being said, no, I don’t do weight loss porn shows… and while I’m not going to tell grown folks what to do, I certainly won’t be advocating for those kinds of shows on a website where I’m very aware of how many teen girls frequent and participate.
So… all I have to say is this – if anyone’s actually listening to me, take these shows for what they are – manipulations of reality for entertainment value. The kids work hard but still deserve our sympathy and compassion just like any stranger on the street or loved one sitting across from us struggling with a food addiction. They commit insane amounts of time to being able to pull off astounding numbers – something many of us cannot do – because they want “new bodies” but also don’t want to disappoint US.
I just can’t figure out why WE even care… but that’s just me.