Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Biggest Loser: An Eating Disorder Circus

Biggest Loser fans are in an uproar over the winner of the current season appearing "too thin" at the final weigh-in last night. Rachel Fredericksen, 24, lost 60% of her body weight over the course of the show and had a final weigh in of 105 pounds. She looked like this at the finale:

(Source)

Compare this to her beginning point and her 3/4 point.

(Source)

My response to this not-so-shocking news: No duh she's too thin. What did you expect?

I'm not a fan of The Biggest Loser. Never have been. It's an eating disorder circus. Humiliated, out-of-shape contestants parade in their underwear down a catwalk in front of a judgmental television audience. Two "celebrity" trainers scream in their clients' faces--borderline insulting their clients with demeaning rhetoric. The participants exercise for HOURS a day, but unlike athletes, are fed a restricted calorie diet. In the Biggest Loser world, exercise isn't fun or enjoyable, it's militaristic. In the end, participants are given makeovers and praised for their disciple and rigor. They are paid their prize money and sent back into the real world to deal with the psychological issues (that caused their overeating in the first place, as well the new issues they developed on the show) ALONE.

Can a show of this premise be inspirational? Sure. In some ways, it's hopeful to see regular people wrestle their demons and meet goals.

Is it realistic? Hellllllll to the nay-NO. Regular people have jobs and families and LIFE to handle. Not hours a day to dedicate to exercise and obsessing over every bite. Ain't nobody got time for that. These types of weight loss results are not only unrealistic, they are fu*king dangerous.

This media story saddens me. Has it taken this long for fans of the show to see it's narrative flaw? The real issue is not whether or not Ms. Fredericksen has an eating disorder. She may--she may not. It's that people are shocked by this kind of result on a show that REWARDS rapid, extreme, self deprecating weight loss.

American society praises weight loss and condemns weight gain. But the message is "lose weight! (but not too much weight)." There is a societal expectation that people should fit in some kind of acceptable range and body type--regardless of their genetics. We punish ourselves if we don't fit. We reward those that do.

When I was battling my eating disorder people and losing a lot of weight would tell me that I looked like a model. They praised my weight loss and I loved every. single. compliment. That attention fueled my disorder. It was only when I started looking like a death camp survivor that people started getting concerned. Too much weight, they thought.

Just because you lose weight, doesn't mean that your body issues are over and you are healthy and happy forever.

And THAT is the point that escapes The Biggest Loser narrative.

This is why I struggle with praising people for weight loss. I'd rather motivate and praise people for other goals--like running further, jumping higher, being stronger, finishing one more set, being a good friend or making healthy decisions. We have got to shift our focus and understand that there's a lot more to being healthy than just scale numbers. We need to reward the right things.


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