Today, when my fourth grade daughter brought home her weekly Scholastic News, which she has to read weekly for homework, I was horrified to see a full page article endorsing the new “The Biggest Loser” episodes with kids.
Kids don’t belong on reality TV at all, not to mention on a fat-shaming show that stereotypes and stigmatizes children based on their current body type.
At one point in last week’s season premiere, Jillian Michaels talks to the three kids about bullying, and tells them she’s here to help. While Michaels may have the best of intentions, her brand of helping means changing the kids to conform to the bullies’ standards, not challenging the norms that make the bullying okay in the first place. It’s fine if teens want to eat healthy and get in shape—go for it you healthy teens!—but exploiting fat kids on national television in an environment that is known to be unrealistic and risky just so NBC can get more ratings is all kinds of wrong. And the more research we see, the more we learn that fat and health aren’t as closely related as we thought—which makes The Biggest Loser: Chubby Kid Edition even worse.
this odious piece of programming’s definition of mentoring means exposure to fat shaming, intensely restrictive diets, and excessive exercise.The Biggest Loser is synonymous with fueling a national environment that promotes fat phobia, body shaming, and unhealthy means of weight loss…But attempting to integrate youth into the most fat-shaming, weight loss glorifying TV show in America just to expand the target audience is horrifying. Our society is already massively confused about the relationship between size and health and riddled with misconceptions that one is an indicator of the other.
There’s certainly an argument to be made that reality TV has no business putting kids in the limelight. There is just no telling how it might impact young lives 20 years from now.
At the very least, the idea of putting kids on this program to improve their health is highly debatable. In fact, when my daughter told me that there was an article that made her uncomfortable, I assumed she was talking about the debate section of the mag, where one kid supports something and another kid is against it. But, no. “The Biggest Loser” piece is on page 2, presented with zero controversy. My daughter told me that she felt sorry for the boy, because people were making him feel bad for being fat. She said, “This is horrible. Why would they do that?” Am I supposed to tell her NBC just cares about his health?
With Carnie Wilson’s “Unstapled” and Kirstie Alley’s “Big Life” debuting this season, I count six reality shows about fat people including “The Biggest Loser,” “Biggest Loser: Couples,” “Ruby” and “Celebrity Fit Club.” As America’s weight obsession baloons into ever larger proportions, so do Americans.
Wilson and Alley’s new programs are strikingly similar, both featuring women who famously, very publicly lost weight (Carnie with a stomach stapling broadcast live on the internet, Alley as a spokesperson for Jenny Craig) then gained it back, now returning to our screens to lose it once more.
A long article in this week’s People Magazinedetails Carnie’s new show. This time she will be guided by Oprah phenom and protege, Dr. Oz. After dramatically weighing Carnie on camera, Oz reported to his audience that she is “morbidly obese.” But no worries: Oz and “his team” have prescribed a 90 day program that includes “daily excercise and food journaling.”
Carnie tells People, “I made these beautiful, lean ground meatballs,” but Dr. Mike Rozien, Dr. Oz’s “enforcer” told her: “Dump the meatballs.” People then asks her, “Do you like to excercise?” She says: “I loathe it. I just want a big tub of buttered popcorn, and I want to lie on the couch and watch a movie.” Carnie goes on to say, “I don’t eat what I bake. I’ve never had a slice of my own cheesecake. I’ve only had a bite.”
Carnie sounds to me like a woman who has never once in her life lay down on her couch with a bowl of buttered popcorn without feeling horrible and guilty and ashamed. I’d bet the same is true for her meatballs– lean or not. And can you imagine baking a cheesecake and only allowing yourself one bite?
Carnie doesn’t have too few rules about food, she has too many. I worry about her recovery, because I honestly believe that there are more concentrated crazies in the eating disorder/ recovery world than anywhere else on the planet. Think about it– who wants to grow up and become a nutritionist? Food obsessed people. And those are the ones supposedly advising the “sick.”
I know because I was a sick one, not overweight, but bulimic. In my journey to get better, I was told by almost every therapist-expert-nutritinionist from New York to California that I would never recover, but be “in recovery” for life. At best, I could “manage my disease.” Now I think I understand why they say this. Health, to many eating disorder experts and maybe to America, means being just the perfect amount of sick; we’re supposed to be obsessed with food and dieting and our appearance; we’re supposed to have the knowledge and skill to calculate fat grams, calories, time spent excercising and BMI equations like modern day Einsteins. Understanding basic nutrition can be useful, but obsession with it– “healthy” people writing down daily food intake, multitple TV programs on fat people, a first lady’s national campaign that includes the President publicly calling his young daughter chubby– becomes unhealthy, especially confusing and damaging when it’s portrayed as it’s opposite.
Even though I was told I would never get better, I am 100%, over ten years later. What got me healthy was escaping from all the “experts” I encountered over the years; and all of their rules, restrictions, regulations, and diets they all prescribed– all different and contradictory, by the way, just like today with Dean Ornish vs Atkins vs the ever-changing food pyramid vs counting fat grams or calories or whatever’s going to be the trend in 2010– eating local? Works for me, I live in California.
When I was submerged in the eating disorder/ recovery world, I was told off the wall stuff– just like what Oz may be telling Carnie– that I was “addicted” to certain foods (or “allergic”) like sugar and flour; these were white powders that had an effect on me just like cocaine. I paid people $175 an hour to tell me this– that just like a coke addict, if I took one bite of any food that had white powder (bread, muffins, cereal– we’re talking wheat here) like any addict, I would lose all control, eat and eat and eat and never stop. This, by the way, is what every bulimic fears: if she starts eating, she will consume the whole planet. This is a central misconception she must abandon in order to get better; that there is, in fact, always a natural boundary, an end, a stopping.
This is how I recovered– already briefly written about in this blog but summarized here. I stopped writing down what I ate. I stopped trying to convince myself sugar and flour were like cocaine. (by the way, right when I got healthy, I did testing for food allergies, something not one nutritionist or therapist ever recommended to me– guess what? not allergic!)
I stopped thinking being thin was good and being fat was bad. I read an amazing book caled When Women Stop Hating their Bodies and went to a program called Beyond Hunger in Marin. This is what they taught me there: if you eat a loaf of bread, go out and buy more loaves. Same with a bag of chips. Fill your house with anything you’ve ever wanted in abundance and eat whetever you want and replenish it. As I did that and for the first time in my adult life, allowed myself to eat what I wanted, whenever I wanted, without feeling bad or guilty, I got back in touch with real hunger and real fullness; my eating disorder vanished.
It’s true that I was never “overweight” but I believe obese people, so often, along with bulimics and anoexics, regulate food more than most other people, are more conscious and more knowledgable about health and fat grams and calories than the rest. Most don’t need a national campaign to educate them further.
Oz tells Carnie she “needs to break her addiction to food….she fears passing on her addiction to her daughters. That will motivate her more than a magazine.” Carnie agrees, “I have to be a teacher to my daughters. Lola started to notice commercials on TV with people who are trying to lose weight and she looks at me. She’s thinking about this stuff and its getting to her.”
I wish Carnie would learn to listen to her body and teach her daughters to do the same instead of listening to all the noise on commercials and reality shows, including, sadly, her own. People with eating disorders don’t need more instruction and facts, they need less. Food is not a drug or a moral barometer. Food is food is food. Can we have a reality show about that?