I never make a habit of watching The Biggest Loser, but last night, I decided to see what the fuss was about.
I wish I hadn't.
These "contestants" were competing for immunity. They were jumping (harnessed) off obstacles in order to save themselves from being eliminated from the program.
At this point, I am asking myself, "How much weight do you lose from jumping from a warehouse roof?"
Among other tasks, they were required to shimmy across a body of water on a wire, without falling in, and jump into the water at a different time, from a tall structure.
The last part involved them running, flipping tires, swimming and riding aqua bikes in order to secure their place in the next round.
All while being hounded by their mentors.
Understandably, the people on the program know what they're in for. They know what to expect and they understand that it's not going to be a smooth ride. Weight loss is never a smooth ride.
But these people are sensitive already, enduring years of bullying because of their weight, trying and failing to lose it, trying harder and still not seeing results. But now, they have become contestants in a sick game show of sorts.
In the beginning, TBL was solely about weight loss, where the contestants participated in grueling activities and stuck to a strict diet. Their trials were then broadcast to the greater public, who had favorites, had ones they disliked and stories that got them emotionally invested and attached to the show -- much like your regular soap opera.
Now it seems that the show isn't just about the successes and the weight loss of the people involved, but rather a form of entertainment for the viewers.
It's no longer about helping these souls, but objectifying their health and well-being in order to gain ratings on the television.
The passion for helping people is gone.
I can't help but think there are people out there who watch the program judge the contestants and use the show as a means to make themselves feel good because they aren't as big as the people on TBL.
Moreover, these people are losing weight in extreme ways. They are dragging tractor tires up hills and working out on treadmills until they can no longer hold themselves up.
Again, they knew what they were in for, but the trainers should understand that rapid weight loss is not always healthy. Nor is overexerting yourself to the point of semi-consciousness.
When it comes to weigh-in time, the contestants line up obediently to be weighed. Some of them lose 5 to 6 kilos (11 pounds - 13 pounds) in a single week. Keep in mind that healthy weight loss is up to a kilo (2.20 pounds) a week. They are being told that this weight loss is not enough, they should have lost more.
This is giving them the unrealistic expectation that they should be powering through and losing as much weight as possible. Losing weight in this way is extremely unhealthy.
Being very big people, they are already running the risk of heart attack and stroke (some of them) and the strenuous exercise they partake in, cannot be helping that risk at all. On multiple occasions I have seen advertisements for TBL that showed a contestant collapsing and being taken away in an ambulance.
This is not a safe practice for healthy weight loss at all. Not to mention, once the contestants finish on TBL, they go home and how many of them would continue such a strenuous exercise regime at home? I doubt many of them have tractor tire they can drag up hills when they have the spare time.
The person may decide to adapt to a more healthy lifestyle when they return home and may exercise far more than they did prior to their visit with TBL, but there is still no guarantee that they won't put on more weight because they aren't adhering to the exercise and diet regime they had in the house.
This makes all of their hard work have a good albeit unhealthy result, but not long-term pay off.
Another thing that got me about TBL are the constant flashbacks to the contestants before the show.
They are stripped down to their underwear and shown gazing into the mirror. They are saying things like, "I have wasted my life covered in this gross fat." And then they are shot from awful angles from under their stomach and close ups on their thighs, further shaming them for their weight.
I reiterate: These are sensitive people. And contrary to popular belief not every fat person is a hardcore eating machine that sits on their butt and does nothing. Sometimes they are overweight because emotional and health issues, which is something left unsaid on TBL.
They are just painted as uncontrollable fatties who need help to get hot.
Now, I refer to the trainers.
Exercise fanatics that like to yell and scream at people in order up the success rate of the weight loss.
When losing weight, motivation is a key to successfully losing a few kilograms. Motivation. Not shame and torment. Not making someone feel useless and weak-willed and lazy. No. This is not helpful.
This is making out that these contestants, nay, these people are merely objects that others can berate and torment because they somehow deserve it for being overweight.
This is bullying. Something that most of the people on the program would have dealt with many a time in their life.
I need not mention that some of the clothing lines released by the female trainers only extend to a size 18 AU (usually a size 16 U.S.) because apparently people larger than that don't exist to buy their work out fashions.
The Biggest Loser is promoting weight loss, successful weigh loss even, but in a limited amount of time and in the most extreme ways possible.
Health is not a focus on TBL.
People will see this as an example of how they can lose so much weight in such a short time, and they will attempt it. Which is unsafe and time consuming.
There are ways and means to lose weight without torturing yourself for the entertainment of a national, often international audience.
Let us also keep in mind that when a person steps on the scales, their weight may be at one set number, but it can increase and/or decrease through the day. Things that are not being taken into account such as the person's water weight. It can also be the loss of muscle and tissue within the body.
TBL's key is weight loss. Not the loss of body fat.
Herein lies another problem: Keeping that weight off once they leave TBL house.
Since it was lost so quickly, it can be gained back just as quickly.
Is this the message we want to send to our young people and children? That fat people are nothing but slobs who have no self control, and that weight loss can be achieved quickly if you push yourself to breaking point every time you work out?
This is most definitely not what we should be promoting to anyone, especially our impressionable youth.
The Biggest Loser is not inspiring. It is not motivational.
It humiliating. It's dehumanizing.
These are people. Not livestock to be publicly weighed and judged on their weight and outward appearance. They are living, breathing souls, who deserve to be treated with respect.
Jessica Lovejoy is a Positive Body Image Advocate and writer.
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