There’s only a few TV shows I watch on a regular basis: Parks and Rec (I want to be Leslie), Reba (don’t hate), Suits, and The Today Show. A few years ago, The Biggest Loser would also be on the list. But after I wrote a paper for my fourth year social theory class on some of the key narratives in the show—personal responsibility, health as a moral issue, etc.—and thought about the effects that their dominance might be having, I stopped buying the seasons on my iTunes and started to realize how much better off I am without the show.
Today, when something comes up about the show, I enter with caution. This morning’s uproar over the latest winner caught my eye:
“Newly crowned “Biggest Loser” champ Rachel Frederickson’s dramatic 155 pound weight loss earned her a place on the show’s record board — and criticism from viewers.
The 24-year-old voice-over artist from Los Angeles dropped nearly 60 percent of her body weight, which is the highest percentage of weight lost by any contestant in the show’s history. Her noticeably thin frame caused fans to express their concern for her health and shock on social media.”
Along with photos of Frederickson, we also get photos of the “shocked” faces of the show’s trainers and her fellow contestants.
I think that all the hubbub raises some interesting questions: What is “too thin”? Who decides how we define what is acceptable and where the line is? Along with this, when does one become “too fat” or “fat”?
As a side note, I feel bad for the girl. First, she was “too fat.” To turn around and now criticize her for doing what she was “supposed to” and winding up “too skinny” for our collective taste can’t leave her feeling very good. I think the whole situation is unfortunate.
I also think it’s unfortunate that it took someone showing bones and crossing the line into what we think is too thin in order to stir up popular consciousness about the fact that The Biggest Loser is messed up. Dedicating all of your waking hours to exercising, losing weight at all costs, severely limiting your caloric intake, and measuring your worth based on your weight are all things I associate with a disordered approach to eating, exercising, and our bodies. Unfortunately, these are the things that the show makes normal and even celebrates. For the people at home who are genuinely improving their health by adding in some moderate exercise or eating more fruits and vegetables, it seems like small potatoes. If someone is losing weight and compares their (healthy, sustainable, realistic) 1-2lb loss/week to the contestants’ (they lose 15lbs, 8lb, 13lbs on the regular and when they lose 2lbs, they freak out and call it a “bad week”). Given our culture’s obsession with quick fixes, it’s no wonder we love seeing people drop half their body weight over a single television season. While I’m sure there are some people for whom watching the show could be inspirational, I think it’s still worth watching with a critical eye.
Like I said, I think it’s unfortunate that the only reason we’re talking about the show with a little bit of critical awareness is because someone’s body upsets our normal metre. What is fortunate, however, is that now that we’ve considered what it’s all about, we have one more reason to turn the TV off.
What do you think about the “too thin” and “too fat” question?
Do you watch The Biggest Loser? Do you think it’s inspirational?
PS: Enjoy this, fellow Parks and Rec junkies.