Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Weighty Issues

I sometimes wonder about the efficacy of such reality television shows as 'The Biggest Loser' or 'More to Love'.

The former is post-scripted (briefly, to my dismay) with the notice "All participants have been supervised and monitored by medical professionals during their participation. Consult your doctor before embarking on a weight-loss regimen." The latter seemed to suggest alternately that you should be comfortable and confident with the person you are, but also that it's ridiculously difficult to do that when confronted with all sorts of media representations that lie beyond your control (not to mention that the intended "prize" of the show was the love of a man who was already self-confident enough, suggesting that women should be more concerned with self-image than men should).

Tonight on 'The Biggest Loser,' I realized a particular facet of the show that makes me decidedly uncomfortable. During the elimination round, practically everyone was crying. I understand the emotional bond that forms between people when they are thrust together for an extended period of time (further speculations on this subject as applicable to my studies abroad are in line). What struck me, though, is that during this weight loss program, the body is suffering all sorts of physical, hormonal, neurological, and psychological trauma.

Of course these people are going to be emotional! The body does strange and unexpected things during extreme weight loss.

My concern now has shifted from the dangerous D.I.Y. implications of "weighty issue" shows, and have come to rest on the social, psychological, and emotional exploitation of people who, on account of side-effects, literally can't control themselves.


  1. I have to say, being a person of large-proportions, that I watched the first episode of "More to Love" with trepidation. Doubting the entertainment industry to handle such an issue, when they've historically been so overtly biased against heavy people, is, I think, completely justifiable. As predicted, the show didn't fail to disappoint. Instead of treating these women as any "normal" women (and by normal women I refer to the contestant's thin counterparts on shows such as The Bachelor) the show's producers, with little sensitivity and even less human decency, paraded these women around like some sad freak show. Women who hate themselves, who've always been on the receiving end of discrimination, who have been the punchline of jokes their whole lives, who have little or no experience in dating situations, were put on display in a way no Bachelor contestant ever was. It made me sick, in just that one episode, to see how the producers mocked the contestants, exploiting their self-confidence issues.

    I am a fan of the Biggest Loser, though. I think it's proven itself to actually be a catalyst for change, not only for those who make it on the show, but for their families, friends, and, yes, for viewers at home. It succeeds in being inspirational where other shows have failed. And, unlike More to Love, it doesn't mock these people, nor does it seem to judge them.

    It isn't without its faults, however. Take, for instance, their blatant exploitation of the stories of two of their current contestants: one, a women who lost her husband and two children in an accident two years ago, and the other a thirty-year-old women who was raised in foster care after being taken away from her heroin-addict mother. I'd like to believe they were chosen and singled-out so as to show viewers that being positive and willing to make a life change is possible even in the most dire of circumstances, but I'm simply not that naive.

    And now that I've completely overwhelmed your blog with my unnecessary opinions, I'll just say that until overweight people can be viewed as "regular" people, I wonder if the entertainment industry can portray them at all without SOME sort of bias or judgement.

  2. JB,

    I agree with your assessments of the two shows. The primary difference seems to be the following: in M2L, the women will probably go home and not feel any better; in TBL, the producers continue to follow the contestants after they've been eliminated, and as such, demonstrate their *continued efforts*.

    The part of M2L that disgusted me the absolute most, however, was that *every single week* they had some challenge in which the women were asked to do "normal woman" stuff, and they were almost always confronted with pressures to be thinner: they had salsa, belly dance, and other athletic lessons from extremely thin women, and every week that I happened to tune in, they were being placed in "put on your swimsuit" situations.