The Scourge that is “Biggest Loser”

Why mince words? “Biggest Loser” is one of the most offensive television shows of all time. It perpetuates truly hateful paradigms in the guise of a sickening insistence that the show “is changing lives.” I could say that the most disgusting scenes are when the trainers are humiliating the contestants and they do that in so many ways! But I think the worst moments on Biggest Loser are when the contestants are talking about who to vote off the show and who “needs to be there.” It’s truly shocking to imagine that we live in an era when anyone would believe someone “needs” to be on a competition weight loss reality television show.

Broadcasters devote a percentage of their airtime to public service announcements and “programming in the public interest.” The National Broadcasting Corporation is not performing a public service with Biggest Loser. It is a show produced for profit and even more so than other shows. Sponsors pay to be featured on the show. You think they’re always eating at Subway because it’s nearby? And Biggest Loser is a huge brand—books, DVDs, meal plans, supplements, an increasing line of food products, and of course ridiculously expensive weight loss resorts that reportedly have months-long waiting lists. Biggest Loser is not a television show. It is an INDUSTRY.

I followed a few discussion threads yesterday on the upcoming season of Biggest Loser which will feature teenagers on the show. Dr.Yoni Freedhoff, founder of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa, has such strong feelings about this that he has urged a boycott of the show’s advertisers. Dr. Freedhoff’s blog can be found here: I’m sure he’ll be blogging further about this issue in the coming days and weeks. Dr. Arya Sharma’s “Obesity Notes” blog has also featured sharp criticism of the show.

What really struck me yesterday were the people I saw posting in enthusiastic support for the show and saying they’d be willing for their own children to be on it. One that truly upset me was a mother who said she’d like her overweight autistic teenage son to get on the show. Another parent said that teens who were on the show should be “Ambassadors for Healthy Kids” because, in her view, past Biggest Losers winners become “role models.” Actually, besides the fact that adults can make decisions for themselves, they become paid spokespeople, they pitch Biggest Loser branded products, they appear on “reunion” shows, they make public appearances—they get handed a new career essentially so that would be a tad bit of incentive to decide they will be “role models.” I digress.

I do not cover them in my book but let’s ponder for a moment what causes full-blown eating disorders. Struggling to meet particular standards and expectations? OK so let’s entertain this idea that we expose teenagers to the brutal public scrutiny of a reality show and then expect them to go be role models. Shall we count the days and months before that young person is demonstrating disordered behavior?

I felt so disturbed by the willingness of parents for their children to be on Biggest Loser that I had to leave the discussion thread and fight the urge the rest of the day not to go back. I knew I would rip into that parent quite viciously if I did not let myself cool down. I am not a parent but I’ve been a fat teenager and I can’t comprehend the idea of a parent wanting to put their child through that. And I’m speaking as someone who never dealt with feeling inferior or insecure at any age!!

I share Dr. Freedhoff’s apprehension about this latest Biggest Loser ratings gimmick. Oh come on, don’t be so naive as to believe that NBC decided they wanted to reach out and “help” fat kids. When a television show changes its formula, it means the ratings are slipping. I can only hope this stunt will bring Biggest Loser that much closer to the end of its reign of humiliation.

I have posted an excerpt from my book concerning weight loss reality shows. I do not identify which shows I am making reference to but it’s pretty transparent. It’s two in particular.

Powerful Hunger reality show excerpt