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Posted on Feb 5, 2014 in Dear Diary | 22 comments

The Biggest Loser & America’s Obsession with Judging

So, I, like many of you, caught wind of The Biggest Loser finale last night. And even though I haven’t watched a full season of the show in many years, for reasons that I’m sure I don’t need to get into too deeply — promotes unrealistic expectations of weight loss, contestants do atrociously unhealthy things in preparation of the finale (purposeful dehydrations, starvation, etc.), and % of weight regained in subsequent years is very high (though, obviously, I can’t really comment on that since, well, you know). ANYWAY.

In case you aren’t abreast of the current controversy, Rachel Frederickson, the winner of this season, is being criticized for “taking it too far” and losing too much weight. She, at 5’4″, has lost 155 pounds — in the 7 months or so since filming began. That, my friends, is a LOT of weight lost.

And, granted, she does look incredibly thin. Losing over 60% of your original weight will do that to you! I’ll fully admit that my initial reaction when I saw Rachel’s transformation was pretty much akin to Bob & Jillian’s:

Shock. Awe. A not-small amount of secret jealousy. And “concern.” Because, yes, I am concerned about the implications that losing THAT kind of weight has on impressionable people who watch the program. But honestly, those kinds of implications have ALWAYS been there — I mean, losing 8 – 20 pounds every single week? Uh, yeah, talk about inadequacy-building. So as I sat there, reacting to Rachel’s results, very nearly jumping right onto the “She looks too thin! She must be anorexic! Unhealthy! Blasphemy! Bad role model!” bandwagon, I had to force myself to take a step back.

Are these feelings of judgement over how much weight Rachel has lost and how she looks really coming from a place of honest, good-will-towards-men concern? Probably not. They’re probably coming from a place of envy, of wishing that I had someone — or some huge monetary incentive — pushing me to lose 150 pounds (well, not really that much, but sure, like, 80 or 90!), and of wishing that I, too, could be that skinny. while I do of course HOPE that Rachel didn’t do anything too unhealthy or damaging to get there… would any of us honestly be able to blame her if she did?

After all, I can’t say she honestly looks much thinner than most of the celebrities whose images are thrust upon us daily. The timeframe in which she lost the weight makes it shocking, to be sure, but if she had lost the same amount over a longer period of time would people be having the same reactions? Plus, with all the articles I’ve read about the pre-finale dehydration that contestants put themselves through, I wouldn’t be surprised if she did bounce back a few pounds immediately anyway (though, to her credit, I do hope she is able to maintain at least a portion of her weight loss for the long run!)

I’m not here to drop opinions on whether she looks “anorexic” or “too skinny” or has taken this whole thing “too far.” I’m not even here to wax poetic about how The Biggest Loser in general promotes disordered thinking and puts an outrageous amount of importance on weight in general. I’m here instead to draw the eye a little bit further back, past the specific circumstances of Rachel Frederickson’s weight loss, and to the bigger picture of America’s incessant need to judge. The comments I see on Facebook and Twitter in response to the finale — and not just about Rachel, but ALL the contestants — are SO judgmental. Rachel lost too much weight, but Ruben didn’t lose enough! She looks great, he looks terrible, blah blah freaking blah. And, granted, these folks literally signed up for that when they agreed to be filmed as part of a hugely popular reality television show, and I would be lying if I said that I myself didn’t get some kind of voyeuristic pleasure out of watching these kinds of shows, the same way I enjoy watching America’s Next Top Model and all the rest of that crap.

But I don’t really want to be this judgmental. After all, it’s incredibly hypocritical for me to make any kinds of judgments on someone else’s weight loss journey when I’m going through one myself — and I have firsthand experience with having people judge me for having regained what weight I lost, so I know just how much it sucks. So, yes, obviously I do hope that Rachel’s journey wasn’t damaging or unhealthy, but I am also going to refrain from joining in on the chorus condemning her for losing “too much” weight. Everybody’s journey to health looks different, everyone has different challenges and setbacks. So who the hell am I to judge?

I guess this is just one step in me trying to adjust my perspective on what it means to be healthy, to be fit, to want to be thin, and to try to be an advocate for — and supporter of — healthy body types and shapes of all kinds. Both for myself, for my own desire to love my body and be happy with wherever I end up, and just to be one more person in this vanity-obsessed, judgmental society that has at least tries to see a different picture. That way, even if I do slip back into my old, petty, envious, judgey mcjudgerson ways every now and then, I’ll hopefully be able to take that step back, take a deep breath, and try again.

22 Comments

  1. Love your thought process. I can’t cast a judgment here, I’m not a fan of the show at all, so winner or loser, I hope the show inspires some, but doesn’t damage others. But we can’t make everyone happen.

  2. I admittedly do not watch The Biggest Loser. I’m a cheerleader for those who want to lose weight and mold healthier bodies, but the show itself has never been my cup of tea. However, I agree with you completely on all of the feelings and observations you pointed out. Like I said, I don’t watch the show regularly, but I know it’s premise and have several friends who do love to tune in. So I am familiar. One thing I want to point out: Look at the photo you post of Rachel next to the computer added image of her “before” body weight. Do you notice how off that is? First of all, the “before” image is TALLER than Rachel is and the “after” Rachel is wearing high heels! How does that make any sense? I smell a blatant ploy to make her “before” image even bigger than necessary to amplify her tremendous weight loss (which again, feeds into the question of “is this realistic weight loss?”)I mean, when you lose weight, does it change your bone structure? (Her shoulders look WAY wider in the before.) It looks like her “before” image has been blown up to create an even more shocking contrast to her “after”. Just my two cents.

    • You are probably right! That photo is a screengrab of the part of the finale where they composite video taken from “before” into the live finale so that the winner can “look upon” their former self or whatever, but it makes total sense that producers would skew the visual so that she looks EVEN bigger beforehand and the transformation thus seems that much more miraculous. TV, man… sigh.

  3. Very well said!

  4. THANK YOU. Seriously, it is hard to listen to all the comments. Look up Jessica Alba on the cover of InStyle and tell me her arms are just as skinny (but wait, she was probably photoshopped to look better!). If fat shaming in the name of health isn’t okay, neither is skinny shaming.

  5. Did you notice how tall her old self is compared to her new self? They blew up her old picture. Talk about unrealistic!! Ugh. I didn’t realize they ‘starved’ themselves and were dehydrated before that last show. This sucks. How long had it been since the trainers saw her last? By the look on their faces, it’s been a while. Now she’s getting all this backlash for wanting to be healthy, which was the entire point of going on the show. I really hate the media sometimes. How about we teach self love? How about we teach people how to BE HEALTHY?? Instead, we focus on numbers and how skinny everyone else looks. It’s horrible. There is no medium ground. One cannot simply ‘be’. Thank you for posting this!

  6. Love this post. I think the editing that goes into this show makes it unrealistic for the most part so I’m with you on that. The # of lbs they lose per week is not normal (or healthy in general) by any means.

    I root for everyone to get healthy but I hope that their emotional health has improved since this show and not just their physical health!

  7. I’m not gonna lie, I like watching the Biggest Loser. I find it motivating to a degree. However it really does concern me when all of this “Weight loss” and “weight focus” have so many implications on people’s health–not on the contestants. There IS a degree to which weight loss can be healthy and beneficial, but there is also a line that when passed can be very unhealthy and damaging. It is hard to know where that line is, because it is very individual. I cringed when I saw the picture of the winner posted here on your blog. In the same way I cringe when I watch shows like America’s next top model. I worry about the individual women and their health as well as the message that it sends to everyone watching for entertainment. It’s hard not to judge, so bravo to you for deciding to resist judgement!

  8. I’ll admit, I’m one of those who was probably too judgmental while watching the show last night. I’ve watched the show all season and found it really motivational to watch as Rachel turned into a strong, athletic woman, so it was somewhat frightening to see how frail she looked in comparison last night. Realistically, I’d guess that she did go to drastic measures for her weight loss, but I’d also guess they were no more drastic than many of the other contestants. She just happened to get down to a weight where those drastic measures became obvious. I can only hope that the backlash from this episode might have a positive effect and maybe help to change the weight loss process on the show in the future to something healthier.

  9. I don’t watch the show, I watched one season in the past, but haven’t in a very long time. I saw a lot of tweets last night and have seen a lot of posts today about the finale, and I just have to say that of everything I’ve read, you’ve hit the nail on the head as to what the actual issue here is…judgment… not who lost what or how, but the fact that we as a society feel that we have the right to judge them in the first place. This is a fabulous post and I will be sharing it! Thanks Gretchen!!

  10. For me seeing the picture of her this morning it wasnt judgement I felt but disappointment. I know in some ways I have no right to be disappointed but at same time she placed herself in position that she became an icon, inspiration for people that it can be done. That there is a way forward. After the triathlon Rachel looked amazing, she was healthy and fit, she was in size 8 clothes, she was everything women watching wanted to be. Now she looks unhealthy, like she would break, and all for money. I can understand its a huge incentive and I think most of us would be lying if we were to say we wouldnt do same thing, but I just think this is a knockback for those of us who have supported her all way through. Not sure if made much sense there.

  11. This is how I feel about it, too. I’ve said this a million times today, but that poor girl! She just did what she was told she was supposed to do, and she’s STILL getting shamed. It’s not up to me to decide her health based on what I see on the television screen. That’s up to Rachel and her doctor, I just think it’s majorly messed up that she went on a WEIGHT LOSS show and now people are shaming her for losing weight!

  12. THANK YOU for commenting about celebrity size! I’ve spent a good portion of today reading about how she now has an eating disorder, blah blah blah and it’s really bothered me. It feels like no matter what, nothing is good enough. Just given the numbers, yes, she appears underweight, but I truly can’t judge past that.

    I think the bigger issue is the way The Biggest Loser manages the show. Are people REALLY learning how to eat healthy?! I remember a few years ago a former contestent had gained all his weight back, so….did it work?

    • MANY former contestants regained most, if not all, of their weight. So yes, clearly there is some seriously terrible teaching going on. I’m sure they do barely any education on maintenance — after all, who cares once they aren’t on TV anymore right? Sigh.

  13. It was one comment that I read on another blog that said “Rachel likes to win” and it says it all. She indeed likes to win, no matter what. It was the only way to win. I truly hope she will gain at least some weight after the finale.
    Do you really sincerely believe it’s the jealousy that left Jillian, Bob and well, you, in shock after seeing Rachel? Because I don’t. I was jealous of Chelsea and Marie. Actually, I was jealous of every one of them. They had the motivation, the push, they all looked happier, they achieved things. I was scared when I saw Rachel. But then I had to remind myself, it is just a game. She won 250k, she took the title. That’s all what it was about. I am sure she doesn’t have an eating disorder, I am sure she didn’t go too far because she thought she was getting healthier. It’s just for the last weigh-in.
    Also, now when blogosphere (and twitter, and FB) has exploded with complaining about “the unhealthy Rachel’s weight”, I am sure NBC will have to respond to it somehow. It’s bad press to say the least, so let’s wait and see.

    • You’re right in pointing out that my wording is confusing. I didn’t mean to imply that Bob and Jillian were jealous in the least — what do either of those mad hotties have to be jealous of? Ahahahaa. But you’re right, if I am playing into the envy game, there are certainly several other contestants who I would much rather play the “Wish I looked like that!” game with. You also bring out a great point: there are a lot of people out there who will do anything to win…

  14. I’ve been keeping my mouth shut (or trying to!) because I don’t want to judge when honestly, no one knows what happened when she left the ranch so no one is in a place to make assumptions or accusations. BUT she also looks supremely happy so I’m hoping with the show now over, she find her balance (whatever that may mean for her).

    With that said, I think where the concern came from was the last we saw of her on the ranch, she was looking very fit and athletic, whereas now she looks less athletic and just skinny…does that even make sense?

    • So glad I read this above my comment because it definitely extends my thought. I am SO HAPPY that I have held back from judging and only have talked with my boyfriend about it. I hope she does find that balance! I also agree with how she looked on the last week on the ranch vs. during the finale.

  15. I am so glad that I read this when I did, especially after reading an article that my local newspaper published as well. Because of an interest in working in health and wellness, I was shocked and my mind immediately went negative, thinking she was too small and lost too much. I must my face probably looked a lot like Bob and Jillian. But really, as long as she is healthy, how are we able to say it is okay to judge? Media/society does put these general standards in our minds and we usually just let them take over instead of really looking into the situation on our own. Thanks for your thoughts and insights…she was one of my favorites this season just because of how amazing her mental/emotional transformation was.

  16. I agree with you Gretchen. I am in no place to judge another on their journey. I love the show. It always inspires me to make better choices, but in the back of my mind I also know that how they are losing is not realistic for ME. That is the key. Everyone will have a different path to find their healthy self. My path will be completely different from Rachel’s as well as yours. I can be inspired by both journeys and take from them what I believe will be beneficial for ME. Thank you for shedding some light on our country’s obsession with judging.

  17. Great post, even though this is about the American “Biggest Loser T.V Show” I am from Australia and we also have a “Biggest Loser Show” here as well.

    I absolutely agree with you, I think the show is very unrealistic and rebound weight is very real.

    In fact there have been several Articles in Magazines written about how some contestants end up with more weight then when they first appeared on the show.

    Starvation, dehydration and all those other dangerous tactics used to trick us all into believing, is down right wrong. I refuse to watch it anymore.

  18. It was crazy to see such a huge response for a show that’s WHOLE purpose is to the lose the most weight the fastest. She did exactly what she was suppose to do. right or wrong?!?! who are we to say. I used to watch the show for inspiration, and even though I do feel it is there, I eventually thought I only lost a lb or two, that’s nothing compared to their 8-20! that’s when it isn’t a help at all but is unrealistic

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