I’ve never watched a full episode of The Biggest Loser. I only have one friend who’s really into it (though I don’t believe she even watched this season), and the only other person I know who liked it was my grandma (who is now deceased). Regardless, it seems like a pretty inspirational show. People change their lives for the better, have happily ever afters, etc. etc. etc. The concept is really great. But in a society where we teeter back and forth between being too thin and too fat, does The Biggest Loser prompt people to feel like… big losers?
Rachel Frederickson was just crowned this season’s winner, dropping from 260 to 105 pounds. Before I read the first of many articles I would eventually read about her, I saw her “after” photo. She looked good–toned, fit, thin. I assumed she was in her early-mid 30s. It turns out that Rachel’s only 24. That was the first unsettling fact to me.
Then, I learned that she now weighs only 105 pounds. Then, I learned that Rachel is 5’4”. I’m 5’4”. I’m not nearly 105 pounds. Yes, bodies come in every shape and size, and weight is just a number. Body fat is proportioned differently depending on the person, and no one should feel the need to conform to a number on an outdated BMI index. But there is an undeniable fact that everyone is aware of, and it is that being 105 pounds and 5’4” usually means you’re too thin.
Obviously, controversy sparked from every corner of the body-centric world. Two very valid arguments arise: the first, that The Biggest Loser is a weight loss show and Rachel accomplished (very well) exactly what she went on the show to do. This side argues Rachel shouldn’t be penalized and she didn’t take things too far. The second argument pleads the opposite: that Rachel clearly has a problem; one drilled into her head by a show that monitors contestants as if it was the NSA for fat people.
Those of you who blame The Biggest Loser for turning an obese young woman into a petite someone who other women will envy–you are wrong. You cannot blame a television production based on helping unhealthy people lead healthy lifestyles for a contestant’s weight loss. At the same time, you can’t say that Rachel’s weight loss is okay just because you “wouldn’t call her skeletal,” as Betches Love This likes to put it. “Have you ever seen an actual anorexic person or like, a Holocaust survivor?” The “Betches” continue, “That is fucking skeletal.” They also say that Rachel “is the size of a mother of three who spends a lot of time at Soul Cycle or like, Kate Middleton,” and therefore we shouldn’t be concerned.
No, no, no, no, no. We can be funny all we want–we can make fun of ourselves, of the pettiness of young women, of the ridiculous obsessions we have with things like social media and men, but we cannot make jokes about body image. Just because someone doesn’t “look” like they have an eating disorder–like they aren’t “skeletal”–doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering mentally.
Last week, I called my mom in hysterics because I felt comparable to a very large whale. Moms are used to the complaints of their daughters, many of whom are perfectly fine and healthy but suffer from a paranoia and awareness of the body that is unnecessarily overwhelming. My mom, however, could sense the extreme level of shittiness I was feeling. When I told her that it pained me to look in the mirror and to have more than one sit-down meal a day–that the thought of giving in to a plateful of food rather than the Chobani and then the apple and then the Fiber One bar snacking regimen I had perfected to a tee–she knew I was falling into a trap.
My mom asked me why I hadn’t spoken to anyone about this–my friends, a therapist, etc. I told her something I consider to be one of the most wretched mindsets of our image-infatuated generation: I just didn’t look like I had a problem. I’m not “thin,” I’m curvy with a butt and boobs and legs, and I’m pretty sure I’ve been like that since the fourth grade. What are the odds that someone takes me seriously when I walk up to her and tell her I’m having trouble eating? You can claim someone would listen to me, and if it was a real problem, someone would be able to tell. But unfortunately, I can fill you in from experience–that isn’t the case. It seems like you can’t have a problem unless you look like you do.
Okay, so if I lose 30 pounds, will you believe me then?
Luckily, I swung out of my funk and adjusted back to a normal, healthy routine. But there are thousands upon thousands of girls that won’t. Did Rachel Frederickson’s drastic weight loss pose a bad influence on self-conscious teens? I didn’t watch The Biggest Loser, but I’m assuming they only showed her losing weight healthily. They probably didn’t showcase her anorexia, or her bulimia, or any other eating disorder she might have. As I said before, her size doesn’t have to correlate to her mental state, and her mental state doesn’t have to correlate to her size.
In truth, the people who tend to be sensitive to the appearances of people in the media will be affected by Rachel’s weight loss just as they would the body of any other celebrity. The less sensitive people won’t. The job of The Biggest Loser is to help its contestants become healthier. The job of me–and of every other young lady, and even the job of every young man–is to make sure that I am healthy, that my friends are healthy, and that my family is healthy. Rachel’s weight loss was startling to me, too. But can we please get over the battle of too thin versus thin enough and realize the bigger picture?