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.