Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Health Post: The Biggest Loser controversy

So this is not a "health post" per se but really processing my thoughts on the finale of the US version of The Biggest Loser especially the reactions concerning the weight loss of winner Rachel Fredrickson. If you haven't heard of the controversy, this NYTimes post breaks it down.

The first I heard of the issue was while watching The Insider. As usual, they had talking heads giving their opinions on Rachel, who lost more than half her body weight, and as is expected from The Insider, the opinions were OA, exagerrated and hysterical. So my first reaction was "Everyone has to calm down and leave the girl alone. When she was fat, she was pressured to join a reality competition to lose weight. Now that she's thin and won the competition, people on TV are labeling her as having an eating disorder and post infographs of the ideal body weight for her type. It's infuriating!"

And it's still infuriating, but now my anger is a little more complicated than annoyance at people who pick on a girl who maybe went too far. While the premise of The Biggest Loser was interesting, it quickly ran afoul of a basic truth that people still, even now, find hard to accept:

EVERY BODY IS DIFFERENT. WHAT'S HEALTHY FOR ONE PERSON IS NOT THE SAME FOR ANOTHER. EQUATING NUMBERS ON A SCALE WITH HEALTH IS ALWAYS A ZERO SUM GAME.

But because The Biggest Loser is The Biggest Loser and not, I dunno, the Healthiest Winner, numbers on a scale are exactly the metric used for winning. So what happened? Men, who have a weight and muscle mass advantage, have won the most seasons of the competition. Contestants who've lost as much as 40lbs during the competition -- no small accomplishment -- feel like lazy asses and beat themselves up for not losing as much weight as the next person with a completely different metabolism and body type. And then we get a girl like Rachel who, in order to win, lost another 45lbs after the ranch and ended up taking the crown. Is anyone really surprised that she went as far as she did?

People who've never been fat will never know the stigma being bigger carries with it. And no, the frustrating muffin top you have during your period doesn't count. People who are what society calls 'normal' will never understand how, when you're big, everyone -- even your own family who profess to love and protect you -- can make you feel less than who you really are: just a lazy glutton who can't control her appetite. You did well at school? You a leader at social activities? That doesn't matter. People look at your frame, and that's all that they see. They've made a judgment, and they will always hold your weight against you.

I try and think how Rachel feels. The pressure to lose weight was so much she was willing to expose herself on national TV to attain it. Once the weight started coming off, people began to praise her. To look up to her. She finally saw approval in the eyes of her trainers and friends. So she kept on losing weight. She would have approval and a sweet cash prize too. And now the tables are turned on her. "You did too much! You're sick! I can't look at you!" I mean, talk about damned if you do and damned if you don't.

The thing that annoys me the most about the tone of the righteous indignation at her weight loss is that somehow this is all on Rachel. As if the girl just work up one day and decided to lose basically another person for no good reason. The media that shames and then praises women who 'bounce back' (OMG we're not rubber bands!) after giving birth, who show us a middle aged celeb with all the time and money to look hot and say "hey, Moms, she still has it going on!", the very culture and attitude that makes shows like The Biggest Loser such ratings juggernauts, are they complicit in all of this? Oh no. It's all on this one girl and her uncomfortable body.

I'm not saying I approve and endorse Rachel's transformation. I don't condemn it either. Though I wish her the best and hope she finds a healthy balance that works for her, at the end of the day, it's her body. I just want to leave her alone. As should the pundits on Twitter and on The Insider. Can we as a species make a resolution to leave people's bodies alone? Can we not let people discover the shape and state of health that works for them, and stop pressuring them to conform to a standard that they may not be attainable? Can we do that?

Can we?

2 comments:

Kristine Omaan said...

...when you're big, everyone -- even your own family who profess to love and protect you -- can make you feel less than who you really are: just a lazy glutton who can't control her appetite. You did well at school? You a leader at social activities? That doesn't matter. People look at your frame, and that's all that they see. They've made a judgment, and they will always hold your weight against you. ....

So sad, but true. No words are truer,at least in my case. When will this ever change.:(
I find in you a kindred spirit.

Katrina said...

Hey Kristine! I really feel you. :(

You know, the perception of other people never really changes...but our reaction to it does. It sounds cliche and it's something I sometimes still struggle with it from time to time, but it's really believing in ourselves and our own worth and actively not letting people diminish that. In my case, I had to literally tell my mom, "You know? If I get thin, it won't make me a better person, a better mom, a better writer, a good Christian. I'll still be me, just thin." I think that was the first time I ever actively took a stand for my own worth and that was also the first time she realized that her weight loss encouragement was not actually helping me.

So...hang in there! Never stop believing in yourself, and good luck!!

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