This year, I watched a few episodes of "The Biggest Loser", a tv show that follows a group of seriously overweight people through an intense program of weight loss away from their homes at a ranch in California. Each episode consists of manufactured "challenges" forcing the group to compete against each other to win "immunity" or "lose" a pound at their weekly weigh-in. The group is led through horrifically strenuous exercising by two overacting trainers who use screaming or manipulative docudrama as motivators. Complete with cheesy directing and ominous music, the group is weighed in each week, and then the people who have lost the least amount of weight are sent away while the others vote on who will be asked to leave. A weight loss of only 1-2 pounds is seen as devastating. All through the program, viewers and the contestants are reminded of how dreadful their lives are as fat people, how low their prospects for health or happiness.
This is not healthy weight loss, this is public humiliation and torture.
As a formerly overweight person, I know that carrying excess weight can be bad for ones health. But presenting these people as "losers" in every sense of the word whose only attribute is their weight, holding them up to public spectacle, and encouraging them to think their only worth is how fast they lose weight is substituting spectacle for education. Encouraging them and us viewers to think that this is the route toward health--it's a travesty. Presenting overweight people without allowing them their dignity just perpetuates the body-hate, the "you can never be too thin" mindset that affects so many women, no matter their size or level of health. And it does nothing constructive toward teaching us all to live our lives healthily and mindfully.
Consider these statistics, and think about what we as a culture are promoting:
• Over one half of teenage girls and nearly one third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives (NeumarkSztainer,2005).
• Girls who diet frequently are 12 times as likely to binge as girls who don’t diet (NeumarkSztainer,2005).
• 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner (Collins, 1991).
• 81% of 9-10 year olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al., 1991).
• The average American woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5’11” tall and weighs 117 pounds.
• Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women (Smolak, 1996).
• 46% of 9 year olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are
“sometimes” or “very often” on diets (Gustafson Larson& Terry, 1992).
• 91% of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight
through dieting, 22% dieted “often” or “always” (Kurth et al., 1995).
• 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 15years (Grodstein, et al., 1996).
• 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25%
progress to partial or full syndrome eating disorders (Shisslak & Crago, 1995).
• 25% of American men and 45% of American women are on a diet on any given day (Smolak,
• Americans spend over $40 billion on dieting and diet related products each year (Smolak,
Since I've lost weight, I've noticed that some people react more warmly to me now, offer more overtures. I'm the same person I was before, but now that there's less of me, I'm somehow more in their eyes? I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I should be angry--and so should we all.
I did a little poking at the web, and landed on these interviews with a former BL contestant who discusses the manipulation and "sub-human" treatment she received while on the show, which left her with an eating disorder she's struggling with.
Part 1: http://www.bodylovewellness.com/2010/06/09/kai-hibbard-biggest-loser-finalist-part-1-of-3/
Part 2: http://www.bodylovewellness.com/2010/06/16/kai-hibbard-biggest-loser-finalist-part-2-of-3/
Part 3 will be posted next week.