The Biggest Loser is back on television. I really thought the show was done after the “winner” of last season, Rachel Frederickson, dieted and exercised down to proportions comparable to a concentration camp victim. She looked as if she had traded one eating disorder when she was 260 pounds at the start of the season for another, when she weighed in at a skeletal 105 pounds for the season finale. Trainers Jillian and Bob’s stunned reactions said it all when Rachel walked on stage for her big reveal during the finale. Josh and I, too, had to collect our jaws from off the floor when she emerged from behind the curtain. It’s kinda scary what people do to themselves for a reality show.
And this season, they’re back at it again, but this time, the show is using obese, former athletes (many of them college, Olympic, and professional athletes) as contestants rather than obese, mere mortals. I think the idea the show is playing with here is that athletes already have bodies and brains that are designed to be pushed to greater limits. They take coaching and discipline well. I anticipate that many of these contestants will see more dramatic reductions in weight and increases in muscle mass than contestants from previous seasons. Their “before” and “after” photos are going to knock our socks off.
The thing is, though, it’s the same show with the same, distorted messages about health and weight. I don’t think that an extra 100+ pounds on a person is healthy, but I also don’t know how healthy it is to lose half your body weight in the course of six months. In Rachel’s case, she lost 60% of her body weight. This season, Biggest Loser host Alison Sweeney says that the show provides these former athletes a “final chance to recapture their glory days.” Really? That’s like saying your best days were in high school. Buh-bye, best days. It’s a slow slide to death from here. And the stereotypical messaging about “fat” just keeps coming. During week one, contestants emphasize how “disappointed” and “disgusting” they feel now that they’ve “let [themselves] go.” One poor guy feels he can’t be a role model to his little brother, because he’s fat. Gina, a former cheerleader, says “I feel like I hold the family back because I’m overweight.” Right, because a thin wife and mother is so much better than a fat one. Just ask Christina Crawford, Joan’s daughter.
And by the way, since May, Rachel Frederickson has gained twenty pounds. According to an article in Us Weekly, Rachel, along with The Biggest Loser national audience, also recognized that she was too light at 105 pounds and felt that gaining twenty pounds put her in a healthier weight range. But health isn’t really The Biggest Loser game, even though it’s embedded into the brand’s messaging. No, it oversimplifies health, equalizing it to numbers on a scale, and that’s not healthy for anyone.