Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Who really is the Biggest Loser?

"The Biggest Loser." Why am I watching this? For the uninitiated, it's a supposed to be a show to help people lose weight. A bunch of fatties are rounded up into teams and each team has a different trainer. The trainers seem like they really get to know and care about their teams. Every week they engage in different "challenges" that are basically ridiculous feats of strength and/or endurance that are designed to demonstrate the amazing things they can do with their changing bodies. One of the things that really bugs me is that the whole show leads up to the "weigh-in" at the end of the show - it's all about the numbers. I understand that it has to do with how the show is set up - the "winner" each week is decided by who had the highest percentage of weight loss, so, of course they're going to focus on the numbers.

In my experience, focusing on the numbers made me crazy. I used to be very focused on my weight, specifically the number. I would weigh myself at least twice a day and any time the numbers didn't go down I'd feel like shit. To me, it looks like the "contestants" on this show have to deal with the same thing, only they're doing it in front of the world. The weigh-ins are an exercise in humiliation. Everyone gets up onto this gigantic flat metal scale (that looks cold) and there's a giant digital readout next to them that flips forward and backward through numbers until it lands on the contestant's weight. So, it's basically a picture of a person and a number. To make matters worse, the men have to take their shirts off before stepping on the scale. The women don't, but they're already down to their sports bras while everyone else weighs in. The women spend more time in less clothing than the men.

Doctors are going on and on about all the awful things that can happen to you when you're fat, how fatties can't get knocked up (the doc made sure to say that even "overweight, not just obese" women can have trouble). They had a rubber heart they dipped into "vat of fat" (human fat, literally) to demonstrate how hard it is for the doctors to operate on a fat person's heart. Just gross on so many levels.

It's always about making the doctor's job easier, isn't it? That's why we often have to give birth on our backs (against gravity).

For this most recent bunch of episodes (a midseason time filler), the teams are composed of pairs of friends/family (mother/son, brothers, mother/daughter, and so on). Tonight's challenge involved each pair in harnesses and hooked up to what looks like an oversized weather balloon. They have to go across a large distance and the balloons produce wind resistance and require more effort on the part of the contestants. Not a big deal in and of itself. The problem I have is that the pair that comes in last gets penalized 2 points at the next weigh-in. They work their asses off and finish the challenge and get penalized for it. It's like that motivation-by-humiliation tactic.

Unfortunately, the show is also inherently sexist (besides the clothing thing). Men tend to lose more weight (sheer numbers) and tend to lose it faster than women. The creators of the show tried to get around this by relying on ration of weight lost to total weight. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have worked because no woman (in 3 seasons) has won. Even in the last season, 3 of the final 4 were women and the one man still won.

The only reason I do watch the show is because I find the psychological transformation fascinating. Though I don't always agree with the means, the resultant empowerment and increase in self-esteem is really cool to witness. It's really cool to watch a woman who clearly doesn't think she's worth a shit learn how to have compassion for herself, which is a far better gift than weight loss.


AntiBarbie said...

That show really pisses me off. It dangerous for people to be dropping weight as quickly as they are. It puts a lot of stress on the heart and once they are off the show they almost ALL started putting back on the pounds right away (which is great for your system too) rapid dropping and then rapid gaining. *sigh*

The only thing most of these people have done is totally fark up their metabolism and reset it at an even slower rate.

Miss Lu said...

Woot shameless self-promotion has helped me find yet another blog to follow. Thank you for being so shameless.

I totally agree with your comment about the cringe-fest that is the "weigh in". Ugh. I wish the actual NUMBER wasn't such a powerful tool to make people feel like shit. This is a tough subject for me as someone who is in the healthcare industry/field. Part of my job is to find ways to encourage healthy lifestyles in such a way that the person does not walk away from me feeling worthless or defeated. Weight is one area where I struggle to walk that line between being honest about real risks.. and tearing someone down.

crazybitch said...

Sometimes I think all you can do is be a reliable source of good information and people will do with it what they can. They'll do it or they won't. If they won't, it isn't because they're trying to make the provider's life difficult, they're usually doing the best they can (and the reasons for that are myriad). The best thing to do is provide info and not be judgmental so they will be willing to come to you when they're ready (if they ever are).

Feminist Gal said...

Although i agree with the majority of what you say, i still find myself watching this show! I don't know what draws me to it, because watching those people take off their clothes and step onto scales makes me cringe (not at the people but at the amount of embarassment a person will put themselves through!) I tend to fast forward (i love tivo) to the end each week, after they kick someone off, to see them months later at home. I love the transformation the whole experience has on them, mentally, physically, and familially (is that a word?) because they are usually "happier" people by the end.
It's one of those means to an end things... i may not agree with the means but it sure does produce a successful end for each individual (not because they are "thinner" but because they are happier).

Found you via feministe :)

crazybitch said...

Yeah, I still watch it, too. The psychological aspect is what still engages me. It is nice to see people so happy, I just wish they didn't have to pin so much of it on the number. . .