Upon first hearing about the series The Biggest Loser, I remember finding myself offended at the title, especially combined with the assumption that a whole lot of fat shaming goes down on the show. The commercials were all epic music and good looking incredibly fit trainers screaming at overweight people. Referring to the contestants as “losers” was also not something I really foresaw myself eventually supporting.
And then I had a Tuesday night off at random and, as I had cracked open my pint of Ben and Jerry’s Karamel Sutra (per usual), I clicked the television on right as The Biggest Loser was starting. I was not one to watch television (at that time in my life), and I was not one to watch a reality television show in general (I had never seen one at that point; however I am consistently a late bloomer). Guys, I was sucked in. I am a snap judgment, book-by-its-cover kind of lady, and by hour two, I was bawling with the intense emotions the show brought out of me and likely, of all of the other viewers. Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels were not the bad people I judged them to be, just because they yelled a little. Sometimes you have to get scolded to motivate yourself, you know? I rode along that season, I lost fifty pounds that year and I have every single book Michaels and Harper have ever written.
(I also have a serious crush on Mr. Harper. And kinda Michaels, too.)
So then I heard that children are going to be on this season of The Biggest Loser. I was asked to speak on it. I researched, I felt torn, I see all sides. Publicity stunt, or legitimate form of help for America’s children?
“We’re going to be attacking childhood obesity this season,” Harper states. He goes on to explain that the kids do not stay on the ranch, as the adults do. He discusses the fact that he and the other trainers want to teach the kids how to be more active, how to eat healthier and how to build confidence. It is not, Harper claims, about “getting the weight off” or the number on the scale like it is with the adult contestants on the show. The kids— two of them are thirteen years old, and one of them sixteen– are not subjected to public weigh-ins as the adults are each week, and they are also permanently safe from being eliminated from the contest, which makes it a little more humane because they do not have to fight for their “chance” to lose weight and change their lives.
Initially, when I heard that “kids” (and though I can be called a hypocrite here, hearing the word “kid” stirs up a younger-than-a-teenager image in my mind) would be on the show this season, I felt a little queasy. I, like most women, have struggled with weight issues for I guess what we would call most of my life. When I was about ten years old, I plumped up considerably. My pictures went from adorable little cherubic faced girl to considerably chubby girl to straight, what we as a society, would call “fat.”
If there is one word I hate, it is the word “fat.”
Alas, I was fat, by definition and appearance. I never thought much of it, though. Middle school went by, and I have fond memories from it. I am still friends with the girls I met in seventh grade, and they were all “skinner” than I was, though I genuinely never noticed. To be honest, the most “body conscious” thought I had as a young teenager was the dark circles under my eyes for I had yet to discover concealer. And then high school happened and I lost twenty pounds my freshman year because I, on own accord, decided to quit drinking soda not because I wanted to lose weight, but because I realized I never drank water and it kinda creeped me out. I switched soda for something more pure and I never looked back and still to this day, pretty much never drink the carbonated sweet, sweet liquid.
But I still was not “skinny,” and I was not “in shape,” and I hated sports and still hate sports, even watching them, unless it is for the halftime performance at a football game (Beyonce, hello!) and never wanted to play them and I hated running and never wanted to do it, nor did I ever even consider running for exercise and beside walking to school and walking my white German Shepherd, I never “worked out.” It was only in college, where yes, I gained not the freshman fifteen, but more like the freshman twenty-five or thirty pounds (because I have to outdo everyone, I’m a Leo) by eating my flex points in Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream pints (literally two a week, no exaggeration, plus dorm food is the worst), when I finally realized I was overweight.
I finally realized it: I was fat.
It was not a struggle from ten years old, but it was present in my life. My grandmother reminded me that I was fat every time I saw her (which was not often, thank god) and my fit, softball playing older cousin pointed out that I should play sports or be more active because I was chubby. Luckily, I disregarded their opinions often because I did not care for either of them. I have always been a happy person, I have never been fat-shamed by anyone I love or respect—in fact, my blonde bombshell of a mother never mentioned anything except how exceptionally beautiful I was and am, so it was not an issue for me.
Granted, I do not think I could have been called “obese” at any point in my life. These children on the next season of The Biggest Loser are what we are classifying as part of the “childhood obesity epidemic,” one of the more controversial “epidemics” going around our nation, I would assume. Some people claim that there is no such thing as a childhood obesity epidemic, but then we have our First Lady’s campaign, “Let’s Move,” so.
We do have an issue in our country, and I do not really think that is up for debate, though we also have come a long way in recent years. Vegetarianism and veganism, food allergies, dairy preferences are all notions that we understand on a more widespread level. Vending machines are being taken out of schools, soda is not being sold in many schools anymore, etc. I am twenty-five years old and childless, so I do not know if I can speak to all of the changes public school administrators have been making in the past ten years or so, but I know that I cannot imagine very many public schools selling the spongy cheese pizzas I used to eat back in my day.
I am speaking from an entirely privileged place here, it must be stated. My perspective is from a Pacific Northwest young woman who, yes, grew up dirt poor and went to schools that did not prioritize the needs of children even slightly; however, I know schools are much worse than what I ever experienced. I cannot even imagine the poorest schools in the most neglected portions of our country and what they may or may not be eating on a daily basis.
Credit: Trae Patton/NBC
So, here is the dilemma:
Allowing children to be on a television show like The Biggest Loser is simply providing children with the opportunity to change their lives for the better (for the best, even) when there is maybe little to no hope for them at home. Oftentimes, struggles with weight are not simply about a slow metabolism and less-than-ideal eating habits, but it is truly about the lack of knowledge and resources that children have. Obese children often come from obese families, and to teach yourself or to train yourself or to change your lifestyle individually as a child is a near impossible feat.
And then there is the other fight. The one that says that America calling children fat is horrific. Children should never be shamed into eating disorders anymore than they already are. Two of the three young contestants this season are girls, and we do not need to push young girls into body image issues anymore than we already do.
I used to play a game when I was bored in class in high school, and even more obsessively in college—in class, at work, at parties. I would look around the room and make sure I was not the fattest girl there. If I was, sometimes by far, it would be impossible for me to have a good time or to focus on anything else. I would not eat at the party, I would not focus on the lecture, I would not be very nice to the customers I was helping. I am an extremely confident, uniquely beautiful woman: I stand out in any room thanks to my racial build up, perfect curls, and fairly exceptional rack. Even when I was fat, I heard the “you have a beautiful face” compliment all day long. If I felt (and if I am being honest, at 5’8, 165 pounds, and a size 10 still feel) this way, how in the world do you think the sixteen year old girl on The Biggest Loser is going to feel?
Yes, the kids will assuredly lose weight on the show, and maybe even feel good about it, but I can also almost guarantee the rest of their lives will be consumed with fat-obsessed thoughts as they fluctuate that damn number forevermore.
I am fine when I am heavier, heaviest. It is when I begin to lose weight that I am the most self conscious. Currently, at the lightest weight of my adult life, my thoughts are almost wholly expended on the number on my scale.
I feel good, I look better, but I have too much potential to obsess over my weight. So do these children.
What are your thoughts on children starring in the latest edition of Biggest Loser?