Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Biggest Loser

biggest loser, fat shaming, bigotry,
I hate that show. I end up watching it quite a bit because Teh Hubby is obsessed with it. I hate it all the more for that.

[trigger warning: this post is about fat shaming and weight loss. please to avoid if you are dealing with ED or in any way find such discussions upsetting.]

You see, Teh Hubby is by the medical definition obese: more than 20 percent over his ideal weight*. I know women are supposed to be the ones obsessing about every extra ounce while morbidly obese men parade about in Speedos, but not so much in my house. For all I know, Teh Hubby showers with a shirt on, because I never see him without it. Every bite of something tasty- chocolate, cake, etc.- is immediately followed by "I shouldn't eat this". And we get to watch Fat Shaming For Dummies, otherwise known as The Biggest Loser.

Now it turns out that all the weight loss Teh Hubby was coveting was unhealthy where it wasn't simply water loss, which is dangerous and impossible not to regain. This makes my blood boil because shows like The Biggest Loser don't just fat shame, they set up Unrealistic Expectations. Which in turn sets up Guaranteed Failure.

Now in its eighth season, “The Biggest Loser” is one of NBC’s most-watched prime-time programs besides football, drawing an estimated 10 million viewers each week, according to Nielsen. It has clearly tapped into the American obsession with losing weight, as more than 200,000 people a year submit audition videotapes or attend open casting calls for the program.
It also has spawned a licensed merchandise business that will generate an estimated $100 million this year.

The series also highlights the difference between the pursuit of engaging television and the sometimes frenzied efforts of contestants to win, perhaps at the risk of their own health. Doctors, nutritionists and physiologists not affiliated with “The Biggest Loser” express doubt about the program’s regimen of severe caloric restriction and up to six hours a day of strenuous exercise, which cause contestants to sometimes lose more than 15 pounds a week.

. . .

JD Roth, an executive producer of the series who created its current format, said that while the show was extreme, “it needs to be extreme in my opinion.”

“For some of these people this is their last chance,” he said. “And in a country right now that is wrestling with health care issues and the billions of dollars that are spent on obesity issues per year, in a way what a public service to have a show that inspires people to be healthier.”

If you start exercising a little more, and eat a little healthier (maybe replace some of your soda with water and eat more fruit) you can expect to lose a pound or two a week. This is a Reasonable Expectation, and entirely beside the point. Exercising is good for you. It can improve mood, alleviate depression, strengthen muscles, improve your sex life and even relieve constipation. Eating healthy foods is good for you, they contain vitamins and minerals, proteins and carbs and even fats your body needs to do its job. Hydration is important as well, and water is the best way of getting there.

Funny how you never really hear it put that way. Only one doctor has ever said to Teh Hubby, "Hey, you have MS. You need to get your body as healthy as you can so that the effects of MS will be easier for you to withstand. It doesn't really matter whether you're overweight or not, you need to get exercise and eat nutritious food." That's a reasonable and logical goal: control your health as far as you are able. Good advice whether you have MS or not. Every other doctor says, "Hey, you're fat! Stop that! Fat is bad! Why should I sympathize with you if you're so fat?"** (As if excess weight causes MS. Hell, I'm underweight and have heart problems. Don't pretend a little adipose is the only cause of illness.)

But no, weight loss isn't good enough unless it's Biggest Loser worthy: dramatic, sudden and not even slightly real. Teh Hubby expects to lose 20 lbs in a month, when he loses 5, he gives up. Because the goal isn't being healthy, it's being skinny. I'm to be envied my slimness even as my health deteriorates.

These fuckers have sold shame to Teh Hubby, and millions upon millions of others, and then fat shame some more to excuse themselves. "We're saving the fatties, can't you see that? Pissing blood is so much better than being fat!"

Fuck you producers of The Biggest Loser. Go piss some blood.

*Extremely horrible people masquerading as polite members of society have actually asked me things like "Doesn't that bother you?", "Was he that heavy when you met?" and "How do you have sex?" The real answers to those questions are no, yes, and on every item of furniture in my house, including the kitchen floor. The answer such people usually get is "Fuck you, you horrible bigot."

**True story: one such doctor, in the same breath he used to fat shame Teh Hubby, turned to me and said, "And what about you? Do you have some sort of eating disorder? That's very unhealthy you know." I couldn't decide whether to laugh or slap him.


  1. I hate that show. I hate that it exists. I hate the quacks who work on it. I hate the producers. I hate NBC for airing it.

    As my doctor said to me this morning, "It's not about the weight. It's about the disease. Right now your disease is running your life and keeping you from enjoying yourself. Look at some of your friends: they may be heavier than you, or they may even be fat, but I guarantee you they're probably having a better time."

  2. Guh. I've never watched the show but I'm vicariously disgusted with it after reading this. I am also underweight AND I just read that overweight and obese people both generally outlive underweight people.

  3. Speaking as a semi-underweight kid, but with a friend who lives on the other end of the spectrum and has massive health problems that I'm rather worried about (probably not directly caused by, but his size isn't helping)...

    TBL has it's upsides: encouraging exercise and promoting a healthy diet. It also has it's many, many downsides: the "weightloss trumps all" mentality, the continual screwing with the contestents to make them cry or give up because that makes good TV, etc.

    In short, I'd rather watch TBL than most other "reality TV" shows, like Big Brother or Survivor, because TBL has one or two redeeming qualities.

    And yes, my understanding is that larger people on average live longer than skinny ones.

  4. There are quite a lot of advantages to just being where your body wants to be, assuming you are eating about the same amount of calories you expend, and some of that expending includes heart-strengthening exercise. For some people that set point is a lot higher than others, and for some, lower. I'm at the tipping-point low of "normal" for my height and bone structure, but if I'm eating a good variety of healthy food when I'm hungry and stopping when I'm full, I'm rather heavier than where I am now. You'd think I'd just... I dunno, be at that higher number, since it's healthier for me, mentally and physically?

    And yet... "we" persist with rewarding and deifying those who strive for the lowest number and the smallest size. (Except when "we" are busy screaming at Nicole Richie or Tori Spelling to stop being so damn anorexic and giving young girls bad ideas. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?)

    The only thing left to say about this one is *headdesk*.

  5. Oh, and James: reality TV with a positive message around physical activity? Dancing with the Stars. :D

    (That is, of course, if you can take ballroom dancing.) (And it did, of course, just end, so that's just excellent timing on my part.)

  6. Oh, and James: reality TV with a positive message around physical activity? Dancing with the Stars. :D

    Oh yeah, I'd probably be willing to watch that one for a bit too. And by willing, I mean if the choise was between watching Dancing with the Stars, watching something like Big Brother, and shooting myself in the groin, I'd... err... [considers for a few seconds]... well, I don't really... no. No, I would watch Dancing with the Stars. Probably.

  7. Once again, I read about another TV show I've never heard of, and how terrible it is, and how much time people spend watching it anyway, and I just smile, and turn the page....

  8. so when my hip did the blow-up, before the surgeries, i lost 50 pounds.
    i kept telling doctors i was suffering from "acute intermittent involuntary bulemia"

    my meds make me throw up.

    NOT A SINGLE DOCTOR had ANY problem with me losing 50 pounds in 2 months.
    and, ya know, i know that at 5'8" i probably shouldn't weigh 230 pounds.
    but unless i was *fasting* losing 50 pounds in 2 months is BAD
    and when i TRIED to get medical help about it, i kept being asked "why would you want to stop losing weight?"

    it's not as if i get any less shit at 180 than i did at 230. or as if i got any less shit at 125 than i do now. i have NEVER been at a weight where i was NOT yelled at by a doctor. at 130 pounds i need to "gain a few". at 135 pounds "losing a few would be good". same doc gave me both those statements, btw.

    weight is a number. there are MANY more important ones. sigh.

  9. I agree completely. It's a disgusting, exploitative show.

    One thing that bugs me is that if you don't lose enough weight, you get kicked off the show, which amounts to being kicked out of the program. One more "failure" to add to a string of supposed failures. How disheartening! Yet the show is touted as a way to give people an incentive to lose weight.

    Thanks for being a voice for sanity on this matter.

  10. It seems that weight is the "New Nicotine" I think I'd put it. It was just a matter of time, really, because SOMETHING has to be held up as a badge of shame.

    When I got back from Viet Nam in 1968 I weighed 97 pounds. The day I got married I weighed 103. (Wounds, illness, general debilitation) Stayed 125-135, and then I did something "healthy", I quit smoking. Turns out weight gain is a side effect. Just traded one set of trouble for another, really.

    Got to losing a couple of years ago, it was working, and I wind up with melanoma. Surgery follows, and interferon as a treatment. It is hinted that one put on weight prior to treatment because of certain problems it causes. The problems were worse than anticipated, they took me off, but I still had the weight. Bad boy! Bad boy!

    Due to dertain long term complications from past reconstructive surgery, I've had my mouth wired shut for a few months while proceedures are being done. I have acquired a distaste, well, actually, loathing, for things like Ensure and smoothies. And I haven't been able to lose a lot of weight. The medical people are vexed with me.

    I am convinced, seeing programs like The Biggest Loser, and other experiences, that Thoreau was right: "If you see someone advancing on you with the obvious intention of doing you 'good', RUN".

    I'd be more inclined to shoot.

  11. You've probably heard by now about the college that will refuse diplomas to certain of it's overweight students if they don't lose weight and/or take some (presumably NOT free) course?

    I heard one of their spokes idiots justifying why they felt entitled to hold a person's past four years and entire future hostage. It was the usual hazzanga about "for their own good", but then it got a bit more interesting: the college's role wasn't necessarily to TEACH you anything, it was a filter to keep undeserving riff raff getting ahead in the world. The cookies on societie's plate must be guarded from the the dirty hands of the unattractive or non-credentialed. Can't have that, no sir.

  12. I hate that show too. Lady fitness magazines are also bad. Rather than emphasize a "be healthy" approach, most of the articles are geared toward weight loss. To get any semblance of real fitness advice, a woman pretty much has to read fitness articles for men, which, of course, are all about how to get ginormous muscles.

    Also, regarding losing weight unintentionally whie sick-- sadly, I've heard several friends who have had food poisoning joke afterwards about how it was a "great diet." I even noticed that attitude in myself when I had oral surgery last year and couldn't eat solid foods for a week. I lost 10 pounds in a week and felt like shit, yet I was sort of happy to have lost weight. Even though I know, logically, that I am at an "average" weight, part of me is still a little insecure about not being a size 0. And I hate that.


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