The Biggest Loser works by equating physical appearance and morality. In doing so, it hides the real social and economic factors fuelling our obesity crisis. The latest from Jessie and Clare Stephens.
So. Much. Has. Happened.
It all began with the Blue Team boxing. You see, the Blue Team have serious, deeply embedded issues with one another that require at the very least ongoing family therapy with a qualified psychologist. But The Biggest Loser doesn’t believe in psychology. They believe in burpies, and when that fails…squats?
So, in order to remedy a lifetime worth of tension between the three sisters, Shannan throws them in a boxing ring. It’s at this moment that Jodie reveals herself as a certified genius, who realises that boxing ain’t gonna solve anything. Jodie just straight up does not want to exercise (#wefeelyou), and then she gets cranky at Shannan because “how come everyone cheers for Ali and Mel??”…which is awkward because um…obviously a personal trainer isn’t uh, going to ‘cheer’ for someone who has refused to exercise for a week.
Nonetheless, Jodie remains the unsung hero of this season.
Shannan gets mad and shouts; “your weight has squashed the life out of an otherwise beautiful person. There is a beautiful person trapped inside this body!”
Oh hell no. He did NOT just use the old ‘there is a hot, thin, moral, better version of yourself trapped inside your fat body’ argument.
Shannan implies that beauty is the antithesis to fat. One CANNOT under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES be fat and beautiful. So, under Jodie’s fat and lifeless exterior – which still seems pretty damn lively to us – is a beautiful, but most importantly, thin person who people would actually like.
The metaphor of a fat body somehow imprisoning a thin one is ludicrous and inexpressibly offensive. The implication is, too, that under the weight there exists a fundamentally different person.
We are taught as infants that our exterior perfectly reflects our interior. Fairy tales almost always conflate beauty and morality on the one hand, and ugliness and evil on the other. Think Cinderella vs. her ugly stepsisters, or Dorothy vs. the wicked witch. We once had a lecturer who, while discussing our (flawed) tendency to see ugliness as representative of immorality, pointed out that the wicked witch was actually pretty bloody clever. She genetically engineered monkeys to fly. What did Dorothy do? She literally had to follow one road the entire time…and she got lost.
Our point is that Michelle, Commando, Tiffiny, and Shannan are not better or more moral people, simply because they have smaller bodies and fit the mould of being conventionally attractive.
So let’s get this straight Shannan: There is no better version of Jodie ‘trapped’ inside her body. No contestant is going to emerge an intrinsically ‘better person’ because the scale reads a different number. Shannan’s absurd remark is a stark reminder of how critical it is that we separate interior and exterior beauty, and stop reading bodies as representative of the quality of human being that lies beneath.
It is obvious by now that Jodie is a legend who essentially hands us these articles week in and week out, and in the last couple of weeks, she has identified an important question that has been lingering throughout this entire series. That is; whose fault is fat?
Jodie would argue (okay, did argue) that it’s all Mel’s fault. You see, Jodie started gaining a significant amount of weight when she moved in with Mel. Thus, Jodie’s weight, Ali’s weight, the Blue team losing every challenge, World War II and world hunger, are all, in some way, Mel’s fault.
But in all seriousness, the obesity epidemic probably isn’t all Mel’s fault.
A substantial proportion of people (including, of course, the producers and trainers on The Biggest Loser) would argue that the responsibility of weight lies with the individual. Never mind that our built environment is completely conducive to obesity, or that our working week is getting longer and we are therefore becoming more sedentary. Never mind that junk food is often cheaper than healthy alternatives, or that sugar and preservatives are hidden in foods that we are told are good for us.
Oh no – never mind that.
The contestants are reminded day in and day out that fat is their fault. It is a result of their poor choices and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.
But are there other factors to blame?
Approximately half of this year’s Biggest Loser contestants are unemployed. The ones who are employed work as nurses, childcare workers, truck drivers and maintenance workers. They therefore work hard, long hours, in blue-collar, relatively underpaid industries. Instead of considering the root cause, and the environmental factors that will continue to produce fat bodies, The Biggest Loser takes a handful out, and makes them run on a treadmill #problemsolved.
A lot of health professionals would agree that if you remove people from the pressures of their everyday life, and place them in a controlled environment that is completely focused on weight loss, they will lose weight. That isn’t the problem. The problem is that weight loss in the real world doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and there are endless factors that influence behaviour and psychology. Perhaps it would be more helpful to be sympathetic about these factors, rather than to ignore them, place the blame solely on the individual, and punish them with bizarre challenges.
A very special mention this week goes to the blossoming love between Mel and Pablo. At the weigh in last week, Johnee totally embarrassed Mel by telling EVERYONE that she said she wanted to go to Argentina with Pablo. Eugh…who doesn’t want to go to Argentina with Pablo. The show is definitely trying to demonstrate that love only comes to those who (lose) weight, but their love is beautiful nonetheless.
Until next week.
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