i can't believe i watched the whole thing
October 20, 2004 11:23 AM

Where is that from? "I can't believe I ate the whole thing" - that's from something, right? Maybe a commercial from the eighties. But - for what?

In all seriousness, I can't believe I watched the entirety of NBC's deeply pointless Biggest Loser last night. My excuse is that I was also doing my clubbells, which took me a lot longer than the 40 minutes it was supposed to, but still not nearly an hour and a half (the length of this show). The workout is mentally involving, and while I like having something to look at, I don't pay a lot of attention. Yeah.

Trust me, I paid enough attention to this show, though. It was about as contrived and ridiculous as the average "reality" show, with the added bonus of spreading some misinformation about fat and weight and such. It's essentially one of those "people live in a house and vote each other off" shows mixed with the most aggressive fat camp ever mixed with that show where people eat bugs and stuff (lots of shots of giant piles of donuts and fried chicken looking really icky). They fat camp it up, they get weighed, the team who loses less votes someone off. They cry and vomit, often at the same time.

I started out thinking it wasn't that bad, silly but not stupid - that is, that the concept was overworked, but the essential message was okay. Because they did start off talking about living more healthily (a self-involved fixation for a lot of us, self included, but one with a positive intent). For instance, the players were all greated with all the food each of them had eaten for the prior week, laid out on a table. There were a lot of donuts and cheeseburgers. And sure, eating a dozen donuts over a week, not so good for you (particularly not so good for your energy) no matter what you weigh.

From there, though, it became more and more apparent that, whatever "healthy" meant to these folks (both those producing and those participating), that was ultimately much less important than the appearance of "healthy", aka THIN(ner). Very Darcy/Mr. Wickham of them.

One of the most telling moments in the show involved one of the women breaking down because she DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TO EAT (her caps, not mine). And we were just talking in the body_positive community about the possibility that America has collectively dieted itself out of touch with real eating. Fascinating - there it was on screen. The bummer, though, is that the approach being taken on this show (layering on rules) is exactly why people have a hard time knowing how to eat in the first place. It doesn't seem to me (from years of dieting and watching others do it) that dieting rules only beget more dieting rules and rule-breakers.

But the approach, despite trainers' assertion to the contrary, is clearly not centered on giving people a new approach to life - dude, they work out basically 8 hours a day. Which could be a new approach - essentially making exercise and food-counting the only things you have time to do - but is really just an intense diet program, one so intense that most people couldn't maintain it as a lifestyle (and therefore, presumably, these people will go back to being their old fat selves - possibly ditching the whole thing the first time they gain a pound). This is only emphasized by the insane weightloss people experienced the first week - some of them lost as much as 5% of their body mass, indicating they could have lost muscle as well as fat. Ick. The shows powers that be took measurements and body fat percentages and such, but the participants were only accountable for the pounds, thus reinforcing the idea that a scale number is a good measure of your health and value. See? Not just silly, stupid, too!

I wonder what would have happened if a size acceptance advocate had snuck on to the show as a participant. I guess they would have been voted off, whether they also lost weight or not - because a key part of the show seems to be the participants' willingness to humiliate themselves. Seriously. The trainers think of exercising until you vomit as a good thing. If a thin unfit person did this shit, we'd think (quite rightly) s/he was bulimic. But if a fat person does it, I think we're supposed to assume they're being served appropriately.

Sigh. Not watching THAT again. I will say, other than the panicked attitude towards their size evinced by the participants, the show is no worse a blow to good health and reasonable thinking than anything on the morning news. And it's probably no worse at trading on humiliation that any other "reality" show for trading on humiliation.

Why do we like this stuff? I have to find someone who watches such things and ask. I don't get it.

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