I want to start this off by saying that I’m not a fan of The Biggest Loser. Every once in a while, I will sit through part of an episode, but I haven’t watched an episode in it’s entirety it since the series first began. I am so incredibly turned off by the fitness philosophy of Jillian Michaels that I really can’t stand to watch her on a regular basis, and I think that the philosophy of the show as a whole has a lot of room for improvement.
I don’t love the premise of someone winning because of one number, that one number being the one on the scale. I don’t love the idea of the contestants working out for several hours each day while consuming an alarmingly low number of calories. And I don’t love the idea of throwing these people back into their regular lives after this hyper-focused “healthy” lifestyle at the ranch, only to be bombarded with things like family commitments, work, and well, life.
I get it that it’s TV and that it’s there for our entertainment, but to me, it’s neither entertaining nor inspirational, in fact it’s often quite sad. But that’s all beyond the point. My focus today is on the season finale that aired earlier this week. I didn’t watch the finale myself, and didn’t really give it a second thought until yesterday when I started seeing an online reaction to the winner. Looking into the results, I was not that shocked to find that the winner was Rachel Frederickson, who lost 60% of her body weight in six months, ending up at a very small 105 lb.
All of a sudden there was outrage and concern expressed on Twitter and Facebook, with many people claiming that Rachel had simply lost too much weight, that she had gone too far, and that you could “see her bones”. Yes, she did drop an alarming amount of weight in a ridiculously short time period. Is this healthy? Of that I’m not sure, because I don’t know Rachel and I don’t know quite how she did it. Would I ever recommend that someone try to lose that much weight in that short of a time period? Absolutely not.
But to say that she’s too skinny is really just the flip side of the body shaming coin. Yes, she is very thin, but we need a lot more information before we can decide if she’s unhealthy, or too thin. Again, I didn’t watch the show and I don’t know her back story, but I’m willing to guess the 24 year old Frederickson went through her fair share of body shaming when she was her biggest self. Now that she has reached the other side, she has to endure criticism from internet voices around the world for being too small? Shamed for being to large (shamed enough to willingly stand in spandex and a bra in front of millions of people each week, just to see that number keep dropping), and now shamed for being too small. So yes, she won the money, but did Rachel really win here? Either she’s actually quite healthy but now has to defend herself to all the armchair doctors in the world, or she actually is unhealthy, and well, that’s a much bigger battle to take on. For her sake, I hope it’s the former.
In my opinion, the real issue here is not how thin she appears, because in all reality, she dieted down even further just to make sure she would be the winner of a significant portion of money. The real concern here is that that is what she felt she had to do to win. Because in a competition where the only thing that matters is that number on the scale, and for years contestants have been celebrated for this type of drastic weight loss, why wouldn’t she become as small as possible? When the entertainment industry and network TV is telling us that the real “winners” are those of us who become as small as possible, where is she supposed to draw the line? And what kind of precedent is this setting for future contestants of this “reality” show?
Personally, I don’t think The Biggest Loser should be on the air anymore. I think it’s quite dangerous, both to the contestants and to the viewers who think that this quick weight loss is healthy, probable, and manageable. But I do not fault Rachel for this, she was just doing what she had to do to win. Would you compulsively diet and exercise for six months if you knew it would get you $250,000? If you were 10 lb above the “winning” weight, would you go to drastic measures to get below that red line — even if you knew it wasn’t quite the healthiest thing to do? Something to think about. Money talks, but not quite as loud as the message that was sent from the producers of TBL the other night: “The smaller you are, the better you are, and nothing else matters. Skinny equals success.” I’m just wondering when society will realize that this is not true, that there are far more important things than the number on the scale. I’m wondering when society will realize that people are not winners or losers depending on their body weight, but I certainly won’t hold my breath.
Readers: Do you watch TBL? What did you think of the finale and of Frederickson’s drastic weight loss? Do you find shows like that inspirational? How do you feel about the focus on body weight as the determining factor of healthy vs. unhealthy?
Also, for more thoughts on this, check out Caitlin’s awesome post here.