I will come right out and say it: I am not a fan of “The Biggest Loser.” I have not watched the show in years, and the few times I have watched the show I’ve found it disturbing and upsetting. I hated the way the contestants were paraded out in their underwear to stand on huge scales. I hated the way the trainers screamed in the contestants’ faces. I hated the way exercise was recast as something approaching a medieval instrument of torture instead of something that can be enjoyable and even pleasurable. I hated that someone could be reduced to tears for “only” losing four pounds in a week. I hated the whole fucking thing. So I don’t watch it. I don’t enjoy watching people be humiliated for the sake of entertainment, even if – especially if – it’s under the guise of inspiration. Inspiration is all around us. There’s no need to make people suffer unnecessarily to find it.
The unhealthy practices portrayed on the show have been discussed in-depth in a few places, so I’ll just link you here and here and here and here. Basically, the show emphasizes weight loss to the exclusion of all else, contestants engage in some incredibly unhealthy practices to obtain the kinds of shocking weight loss that will keep them in the game, and the kind of weight loss they model – crash dieting and the like – is not only incredibly unhealthy, but it’s also not even an effective way to lose weight. A reasonable expectation when trying to lose weight is to do so gradually, perhaps a half-pound, maybe a pound a week. Losing fifteen pounds a week may happen at first, but it’s not sustainable, especially if that weight loss comes about as a result of Master Cleanses, dehydration and workout sessions lasting four to six hours a day.
This is why I refuse to get on board with the #wowmuchinspiration wagon, because that shit is not inspirational. It is DANGEROUS. These are the tricks of eating disorders dressed up with dramatic music and lighting and turned into mass entertainment.
So the fact that The Biggest Loser has been promoting what basically amounts to glossy eating disorders for fifteen cycles now means I was completely unsurprised by the outcry surrounding the latest winner. Rachel Fredericksen won the latest cycle when she lost 155 pounds. Her starting weight was 260 pounds, she weighed in at 105 pounds. That means she lost nearly 60% of her body weight. And she did this over the span of a handful of months!
After the reveal last night, people took to social media – including The Biggest Loser’s Facebook page – to express their dismay and concern. A lot of people are talking about how she looks anorexic, and I’ll admit that she’s quite thin. I try not to make judgments about health based on what someone’s body looks like, so I’m not going to go there. But what I will say is that it is not surprising to see that this has finally happened. Fredericksen took the game to its logical outcome. She played the game and she played it hard, and in doing so, she laid bare the show’s messed-up, disordered premises for all the world to see.
Maybe it was easier to ignore when the final contestants were bigger, because we as a society have a hard time understanding that heavier people can and do have eating disorders. Maybe everyone was okay with it because the implicit understanding surrounding a lot of weight loss talk in our society is that if you are fat, you should be willing to do whatever it takes to not be fat anymore. You should be willing to cut out part of your stomach and have your fat sucked out of your body and take pills that turn into balloons in your stomach so you won’t eat as much and have patches sewed on your tongue so you can’t eat in the first place. Maybe what it took was someone getting to a weight that made people think of Karen Carpenter to go, “Hey, wait a minute…”
I don’t think anyone should be shocked by this. Be saddened, sure, but don’t be shocked. This was bound to happen. I’m just surprised it hasn’t happened sooner.