‘Biggest Loser’ Controversy Poses Question: Is Reality TV Responsible?
Many viewers tuned in to NBC’s The Biggest Loser finale Tuesday night, and even those who didn’t likely heard what happened on the show the following morning. The $250,000 grand prize winner of The Biggest Loser, Rachel Frederickson, 24, went from 260 pounds to 105 pounds, and lost 59.62 percent of her body weight. The voice-over artist who lives in Los Angeles is 5 feet, 5 inches tall, and after being unhappy with her weight all her life — especially within the last six years when she gained more than 100 pounds — she is now facing criticism for being “too thin” and taking the show too far.
Critics of Frederickson and the show have zeroed in on the looks of trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels’ faces when they saw Frederickson’s transformation for the first time Tuesday, charging that their shock illuminates the severity of Frederickson’s situation. Following the big reveal, viewers took to all social media channels to make their claims heard, either arguing that Frederickson is perfect the way she is, took the show too far, or should blame The Biggest Loser for its irresponsibility, but the question still remains: where should the blame be placed?
Many Americans charge that The Biggest Loser encourages extreme and unsustainable weight loss, unrealistic ideals, and self-deprecation. Trainers can do what the want within the confines of their own gyms, but when on a public stage, many believe that they have a responsibility to know what what kind of message they are sending to viewers when they applaud contestants and award them $250,000 when they lose more than 50 percent of their body weight.
Jillian Lampert of the Emily Program, a nationally recognized eating disorder treatment program based in St. Paul, agrees with this sentiment, and said via the Associated Press, “I think about all the kids watching those shows and all the parents watching shows like that and talking about their weight. What do kids think when they see us as adults make shows about people who live in larger bodies and then give them money when they achieve living in a smaller body? What does that teach kids about the value of their body? That worries me.”
Lampert certainly has a point; however, the truth of the matter also is that if we’re going to talk about poor messages being conveyed on a public stage, we can’t place all of the blame on The Biggest Loser without at least making a mention of others who make a living on that same stage: Hollywood actors and actresses. Many of the biggest Hollywood stars are the same height as Frederickson and maintain the same, or a smaller weight than her, yet they are still praised at awards shows and television appearances when they arrive looking slimmed down in their dresses or tuxedos. So, where does one draw the line? Why is it okay for them to especially thin and not others? That is where the line gets blurry.
One argument is that we never know Hollywood stars’ body weight measurements and their real “natural” sizes; therefore, we have no room to judge, whereas in the case of The Biggest Loser contestants, we see them go through their transformations from the beginning, and then are given their exact body measurements, including height, weight, and BMI. Many viewers who complained that Frederickson was too thin used her BMI metric in their argument, because at 5 feet, 5 inches tall, a weight of 105 lbs puts her body mass index at 17.5, while anything under 18.5 is considered by the National Institutes of Health to be underweight.
The problem that the Washington Post highlights, though, is that obsessing over these numbers reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how the human body works. Every human’s physical and emotional standards are different based on their different body compositions and nutritional needs; therefore, onlookers are realistically unable to say whether someone is dangerously underweight or not, because everyone is different. The interesting part about that understanding is that people seem to agree with the sentiment when it comes to Hollywood actors and actresses, but not when it comes to reality TV show contestants. It’s also as if people on reality TV shows are supposed to be more “human” because they are those “reality” shows, but in all fairness, celebrity or not, everyone who appears on the public stage is human, it’s more a matter of whether we want to accept it or not.
That’s not to say that we are sure Frederickson is at a healthy weight for her — we simply don’t know, but that’s the crux of the situation. We don’t, and never will know, just as we don’t know if Hollywood stars are healthy, and thus are unlikely to speculate about it on every social media portal available. It is true that the show’s contestants may not be able to sustain their weight loss because The Biggest Loser’s trainers require such intense, unsustainable regimes, but at the same time, that’s their business and not ours. What’s more, a side-by-side comparison of the fitness routines of the show’s contestants versus that of Hollywood celebrities might not show that many holes.