As I’ve mentioned before, The Biggest Loser is my ultimate guilty pleasure reality TV show. Ethically, it goes against pretty much everything I stand for — it’s foundation is (sugar-coated) fat hate, body shaming, fat shaming and reinforcing the SHEER WILLPOWER diet. But I love a good makeover story – always have – and seeing individuals slim down from size 32 to 8 is fascinating and horrible at the same time.
Still, as I watch, my teeth tend to grind of their own accord, on a regular basis. I find myself talking back to the screen, countering some of its damaging assertions. Let’s tackle some of those, shall we?
Why aren’t you happy? (they actually ask this of people, in the beginning, assuming they are unhappy by default of their size)
The assumption is that fat people can’t be happy, and that unhappiness MUST be the reason one is fat. Personally, I EAT WHEN I AM HAPPY. You can have a happy fulfilling life, even if you are fat. Now, you might have become obese because you are scared, or due to internalized self-hatred (which can be separate from happiness) or, simply, because you have a compulsive eating disorder. Not all fat people are miserable!
I want to be beautiful!
Oy, this one. Always said by the women, and they always get the “weeping at the beginning about feeling ugly; heaped with pretty praise later in the show” edit. FAT PEOPLE CAN BE BEAUTIFUL. I know this is a SHOCKING notion, but it’s totally true! Getting skinny doesn’t automatically make you beautiful. Yes, losing your extra chin(s) and not having any fat rolls is awesome and lovely, and certainly confidence building. But the notion that skinny = beautiful is ANNOYING and DAMAGING. (also, JFC, you’d think fat chicks NEVER fall in love and get married… except they TOTALLY DO!)
I want my life back/I want the life I’ve never had
Well, damn, I didn’t realize that fat people didn’t have lives! They don’t have jobs, get married, have kids or anything that “normal” people do! Frankly, this dichotomy is fascinating — half the contestants are “doing it for their family” — they are married, with children and presumably have jobs and homes and hobbies. But they “want their life back.” The young ones, usually single, say they’ve never had a life, so they want one now. While being fat/obese certainly limits ones choices & experiences in life, the indication that a life fat is no life at all is terribly reductive and simplistic. You want an active life. Yes, ok. You want an unhindered life? Ok. Hell, just flat out say it — you want a life where people don’t discriminate against you and treat you like shit? OK. But the reinforcement of the idea that fat people can’t have lives and be happy = DAMN ANNOYING (and not true).
You’re fat – so you’ve obviously given up on life
Oh, this. How many contestants go on and on — or are told by the trainers — that they clearly “gave up on themselves”/life because they became so morbidly obese. What a bizarre notion. People who are fat/obese don’t care about their life? Really? If anything, I’d say fat/obese people care about their lives very much — often it’s emotional turmoil (and inappropriate emotional reactions to and relationships with food) that leads to substantial weight gain. That’s a whole lot of caring about life, people and problems. Frankly, if there are obese people who have “given up” and “don’t care,” perhaps it is a response to the constant onslaught of being told that they are worthless, lazy, stupid and disgusting for being fat. And the annoying converse: that all thin people automatically love life? That they can’t have problems or not care about themselves? And often “giving up on life” is equated with not caring about your health, so if we assume the opposite about “thin” people, it reinforces the fallacious thin = healthy myth.
He/she/you/I is/are/am going to be a TOTALLY DIFFERENT PERSON!
I’ve already covered this, but it’s worth saying again: LIES. You do not become a “different” or “new” person just because you lose a ton of weight. Unless by “totally new person,” you mean someone with a BRAND NEW eating disorder and neuroses you didn’t have before, because that’s the most common takeaway from losing so much weight in such a short period of time. If by new you mean “totally disconnected from your body,” yeah ok.
You may acquire new hobbies as the result of a body change. You may acquire new friends and acquaintances. But you do not become a different person. Your core being remains. If you were a nasty, miserable person fat, you will be a nasty, miserable person thin. If you hated yourself fat, you’ll hate yourself thin — just in a slightly different way (helllloooo Fear Of Getting Fat Again Former Self-Hate). If you were a happy, positive doormat fat, you’ll be a happy, positive doormat thin. Though, well, you might not put up with being a doormat once you get your hands on some thin privilege! The whole body & personality transformation myth is exactly that: a myth.
I like The Biggest Loser, I do. I obviously watch it (marathoning season 8, currently!), but hearing these tropes, trotted out time and time again, when I KNOW they’re not uniformly true AND can be damaging, I have to say something.
Do you watch? Is there something done/said on the show that bugs you, too?