The Biggest Loser has named a new champion. Rachel Frederickson won the show by losing 60% of her body weight, going from 260 pounds to 105 pounds. This is a Biggest Loser Record. She lost the most and so she walked away with $250,000 because TBL is a game show wherein people manipulate their body size for money. It’s not a health show, it’s a game show. A terrible, terrible game show.
Since the show aired there has been much speculation about Rachel Frederickson’s health, I won’t be engaging in that – when I say that we shouldn’t make guesses about people’s health based on their weight, I mean it. Besides, The Biggest Loser isn’t about health. If it was a health show and not a game show they wouldn’t eliminate people from the show, they wouldn’t insist that sweets are “unhealthy” and then have challenges where people can earn calls to their loved ones if they are willing to binge on baked goods, they wouldn’t allow people to drink gallons of water in a sitting to game their weigh in, they wouldn’t allow people to dehydrate until they urinate blood to game their weigh-in, they wouldn’t create a weigh in system that could be gamed, they wouldn’t force people to work out until they vomit or until they lose consciousness and the paramedics have to be called, they wouldn’t suggest that people ignore the advice of doctors and nutritionists, and they would take contestants seriously when they say that they are developing an eating disorder and not tell them to save it for the cameras.
The Biggest Loser uses the concept of health as an incentive, a smokescreen, and profit generator. They use threats about, and promises of, health to convince fat people to be physically and mentally abused for profit. They use the idea that they abuse fat people “for our own good to make us healthy” to help their audiences justify watching the physical and emotional abuse for entertainment.
Think emotional abuse is too strong a word?
The Domestic Abuse Project defines abuse as a systematic pattern of behaviors in a relationship that are used to gain and/or maintain control and power over another. More specifically they go on to say that emotional abuse includes:
- cursing, swearing and/or screaming at you
- attacks on self-esteem and/or insults to your person (name-calling, put-downs, ridicule)
- controlling and/or limiting your behavior
- using the difference in physical size to intimidate you
- criticizing your thoughts, feelings, opinions, beliefs and actions
- telling you that you are “sick” and need therapy
Sound familiar? The following quotes are from Jillian Michaels to Biggest Loser contestants:
- I’m bored with the pathetic story!
- If you quit on me again, you go home and no one is going to chase you! No one!
- You’re not getting it here (pointing to her head) that’s for G*#D#@* sure!
- Get on the F$#&*%$ treadmill!
- You’re not acting strong, you’re acting pathetic!
- Anytime you lay down I want you to think Dead Father, that’s what I think!
- Get on the treadmill now! (Pounding the treadmill to punctuate each word)
- Get the F*#& up!
If you can stomach it, you can check out this video:
The Biggest Loser is a game show, it’s a game show that physically and emotionally abuses fat people for profit, under the guise that fat people deserve and even need to be treated abusively because we are fat. Studies have shown that watching TBL may actually discourage exercise and increase stigma against fat people.
While people are allowed to do what they want, to me there is no justification for watching it that makes it ok. It doesn’t matter to me that people agree to go on the show – convincing a disenfranchised, marginalized and stigmatized population that they deserve to be treated poorly on television does not earn you a cookie, or a Biggest Loser branded carrot stick. as far as I’m concerned.
The Biggest Loser isn’t about health, it’s about money. Money made on the backs of fat people who have been lied to and mistreated and exploited for nothing more than a game show.
Like my blog? Here’s more of my stuff!
The Book: Fat: The Owner’s Manual The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details
Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details
Dance Classes: Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details
Fit Fatties Virtual Events: If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here. There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.
56 thoughts on “What The Biggest Loser is Really About”
Thank you for writing this. This one really bothered me a lot. We have all these anti-bullying campaigns, and yet, no one seems to care that this segment of people are being abused and bullied. That this one group, because we’re fat, deserve to be abused and bullied. Pisses me off.
I agree! It’s a biggest scheme game show.
This is horrific – if this was being done to prisoners or school children if would be abuse. I choose not to watch TBL, am now glad I don’t. For me one of the saddest things is that those people will already have very low esteem from society’s constant messages about fat people, and so would find it almost impossible to tell this bully to get lost!
The SADDEST part of the whole thing, in my opinion, is that the show is brainwashing practically everybody. Teaching vulnerable fat people to hate themselves even more than they already do, and feel they deserve abuse. Teaching non-fat people that it’s not only OK to abuse fatties, but it’s practically their patriotic DUTY to do so. Kids all seem to know this by the time they are 5 or 6.
By selling the idea to people who are not fat, and hence have no motivation to research the issue beyond what they hear from the media and, sadly, “mainstream medicine”, they have created a whole herd of people who will turn the screws on fatties every moment of every day. And they will be so thoroughly brainwashed it is completely impossible to talk logical sense to them. I know we have all expereinced this problem.
And for what? I think it’s primarily about selling weight loss products, most conspicuously pharmaceutical drugs and surgeries, but also including food products, diet programs, etcetera.
I think this has been a long term plan implemented in order to cash in on fat people. With obesity now being classified as a disease in and of itself (at least according to the AMA), and universal healthcare coming to fruition, I think it will facilitate huge numbers of gastric bypass surgeries that would never have been possible if taxpayers were not footing the bill.
The whole mess just give me a headache ….
Very well said, Saxman! VERY well said.
What makes me crazy mad is that I know of p.e. teachers who use this show in the classroom for health class in the unit on nutrition and weight
I have watched the biggest loser every season since it first aired and I can say with conviction that I will never watch it again. It’s now glaringly obvious that this show is not about changing peoples lives. It’s about stigmatizing fat people for monetary gain and pure entertainment. This most recent finale was purely shocking and saddened me greatly.
I can’t stomach it. I can honestly say that I’ve never watched an episode. Your description of it was enough to warn me off for sure. Thanks for promoting awareness of t his form of abuse. It’s abhorrent!
this show has been on for more than a decade, other than a very few malcontents from the earliest years…and a few “successes” why don’t we ever hear about the great majority of the regular contestant?
Yes, yes, they signed contracts…but no tell-all stories?
There’s an excellent (albeit very sad and disturbing) interview that Golda Poretskey did with Kai Hubbard, who was one of the contestants. Since I refuse to watch the show ever, I’m not sure what season she’s from, and I forget whether or not she won, but that’s the closest I’ve seen to a “tell-all” story
That story is actually linked in the post above, the “save it for the cameras” part.
I met one of the former contestants once. He seemed really uncomfortable talking about the show, so I changed the subject pretty quickly. Maybe there is an element of shame — or maybe more of wanting to distance oneself from it — as well as nondisclosure agreements that keep people from speaking out.
The Biggest Loser isn’t about health, it’s about cruelty.
If there were money in watching methods that involved good sense and kindness, that’s what reality shows would be about. Sign me up for that universe, it doesn’t seem to be this one.
I’ve said it before: I want to be enjoying the 20th season of a show called The Biggest Gain. In this week’s episode we meet Ahmina, who is trying to overcome her fear of falling through the water (yes, this is a thing, my husband and I both have it) in order to learn to swim at age 33; Bob, a veteran who is coming out of a long spell of depression after becoming a paraplegic and wants to regain as much as possible of his former physical fitness; Charlene, who is battling agoraphobia; and Darius, a minor-league baseball player who turned down a non-athletic scholarship in order to follow his dream. By the end of this run, Ahmina will be able to float calmly in the deep end of the pool although swimming without a flotation device still activates her panic reflex, Bob will triumphantly lift his entire body weight for 10 reps using the armrests of his chair as braces, Charlene will be filmed reading a book in the local park for the first time since the bullying she experienced as a child drove her indoors, and Darius will have decided to become a machinist’s apprentice due to a job loss in his family. All four will be praised for their courage and relate their new insights in in-depth interviews, and Ahmina’s tears of joy when she realizes that the water really is holding her up will go viral on Youtube. All expenses are paid for the contestants, but viewers will vote on who gets the $250,000 prize for the Biggest Gain.
Dude! I totally want to watch that show! It might even help me find the courage to deal with my debilitating fear of fire or the equally debilitating fear of heights I’ve had all my life.
After all, I got over my terror of dogs. It took a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of patience with myself, but I did it.
Yep, if The Biggest Gain ever goes on the air, I’m having them help with the fire thing.
you rock. i’d actually watch TV again if this type of transformative show were on instead of the small-minded, nasty types of shows that bring out the worst in people.
though to riff off this a little bit further: i’d actually like it to not be “the biggest gain” with an overall winner awarded by popularity. i’d be even happier with “the big gain” and everyone being a winner who achieves their goal. less competition, more cooperation, and encouragement of oddballs.
I would not only watch this, I’d try really hard to get everyone else I know to watch it. I HATE reality shows, they’re so cheesy. But this…I’d watch.
THAT would be some good TV. We need TV that uplift instead of pulling us all down!
Disturbing but very enlightening, Ragen, and you summarized it well at the end: “The Biggest Loser isn’t about health, it’s about money. Money made on the backs of fat people who have been lied to and mistreated and exploited for nothing more than a game show.”
thanks for all your information here. But let me say something – these people signed up for the show. They are just as guilty for wanting to be exploited – AND FAMOUS. I do not agree with the show, nor their methods, in the very least. Yes, it’s abuse pure and simple. But they did agree to it.
As I understand it, there’s a good bit false or unclear about the information the contestants are given.
If you’ve not had a chance to read it, check out the link (http://www.bodylovewellness.com/2010/06/09/kai-hibbard-biggest-loser-finalist-part-1-of-3/) she included to the interview with Kai Hibbard. It’s very enlightening as to the tactics used to get folks to sign up for the show.
While I agree that we all have a choice to what we do with our lives and for our actions, I also think the producers employee underhanded techniques to convince folks to appear.
I do not doubt it for one minute. Thanks for this, very much.
Oh, no no no NO, Mollie…..
Say it isn’t so. Say you are not really blaming the victims here?
It seems to be the trend these days for people to think “any contract you can get somebody to agree to is fair and enforceable, no matter how lopsided or exploitive it is”.
That is a ridiculous attitude. It’s the ridiculous attitude that THE MERCHANT OF VENICE was written to address, though admittedly in an over-the-top example.
It’s not OK to blame the victims here, no matter what contracts they may have signed. That does not, in any way, excuse the abuse.
I’m just going to sit over here adoring you for mentioning the Merchant of Venice.
I agree & disagree with you. Maybe fame had something to do with it, but so did the “if only I was th just n my life would be better because (insert reasoning here).
Thank you for pointing out what should be obvious to most people if they used their common sense for just a few seconds. TBL is about $$$, cash, moolah, dinero, money, a big paycheck at the end of a torturous journey. And it’s done at the expense of respect for anyone considered fat by the individual viewer. What each viewer considers fat varies from person to person, and now they feel like they are “helping” fat people to become healthier by mimicking the behaviors shown by the trainers. I call bullshit on this!
For those (in comments to other columns) who’ve said it is meant to be an inspiration to fat people, to encourage them to become healthier. I call bullshit. This show does nothing to promote health. It promotes a host of disordered behaviors in the name of making someone prettier/handsomer by society’s standards. It reinforces the stigma of fat people as ugly, lazy, inferior. Saddest of all, it is a reflection of how many believe it’s okay to demean and humiliate another human in the name of entertainment.
I agree wholeheartedly. And that’s not all. It’s discouraging people of size who think they might want to go to the gym – to get healthier, not thinner – because it gives others the idea that they have the right to speak to fat people the same way JM does.
That’s a big part of the problem. After all, if JM is “just trying to help” (although anyone who tries to “help” me with that kind of language and demeanor is really taking their chances), then it just reinforces the idea that every other “truth-teller” bully in the world is doing it to help, too.
Which they’re not, any more than JM is. The only difference is that she’s doing at for the $$$ rather than just to be an arrogant jerk and make herself feel superior (as far as we know).
Unfortunately the world is full of people who can’t tell the difference between tough love and emotional abuse.
I’m kind of nauseous now… I didn’t realize the show’s abuse went as far as trying to get the contestants to sabotage themselves just to talk to loved ones. How do they expect anyone NOT to come out with an eating disorder if they’re trying to convince them that being thin is more important than the love and support of their loved ones?
I was forced to witness part of an episode a couple of weeks ago — I was stuck in an ICU waiting room and another family had commandeered the TV and it was on. The contestant I felt the worst for was a woman who had agreed to go on in part because she was having trouble conceiving and her doctor blamed it on her weight. All I could think was what it was going to do to her emotionally when she very likely comes out thin but still infertile. It was horrifying.
With most reality contest shows, I figure the consequences of appearing are mostly pretty benign. Sure, you might wind up making yourself unpopular with your weaselly behavior, or you might injure yourself (after all, I’ve seen people sew their hands on Project Runway as well as slice their fingers on Top Chef, and someone could easily break a limb in some of the challenges on The Great Race), but mostly no long-term harm done. You can even change your hair back the way it was after you get bumped from America’s Next Top Model.
But on TBL, you are setting yourself up for an eating disorder and/or exercise addiction that could destroy – or even take – your life. Nobody has died yet on Top Chef or Project Runway or The Bachelor. Only a couple people on those shows have had to go to a hospital. Most of the injuries have been treated onset by medical personnel who are standing by with sutures, burn salve, etc. And in later seasons, we see old favorites trotted out for the cameras, or we see them popping up on other reality shows, or they do interviews because the 24-hour news cycle sometimes needs some fluff to fill in a couple dull days.
After the first couple of hoopla interviews with the winner of that season’s TBL, you pretty much never hear of these people again. You don’t see them show up to root on the new contestants. You don’t see them interviewed about their continued thinness or what a great experience it was.
Considering how often I see Nick from Season three of Project Runway media whoring himself happily after all these years, you might think it odd that nobody has seen the winner of TBL from even a couple years ago hawking exercise equipment or even just telling a daytime talk team how great life is now.
But I don’t think it’s odd. Because I know that those people have mostly gained back the weight – and more likely than not, more than they started with – and/or are dealing with health issues created by that show. I know the first because that is how roughly 95% of all weight loss regimens end. I know the second because I read Kai Hubbard’s interview with Golda Poretsky, and am aware of the ‘training methods’ used and how dangerous they are.
Most people, however, seem unconcerned with the fact they never see or hear about these people again.
That point at the end is a very good one. Even before I found out all the awfulness beneath the surface awfulness of TBL, I’ve always wondered what happened to the contestants, since I’m pretty sure that the contestants from Project Runway or Next Iron Chef are still around even if they didn’t win.
But Biggest Loser contestants? The winners of those shows tend to be around for a tiny little bit and disappear without a trace. I’ve always found it kinda creepy.
There is a horrifyingly grotesque amount of material for a dystopian novel right here…
Of course this horrible show is all about money. As accurate and poignant as Regan’s and others words against TBL may be, nothing written is likely to have any impact on the (criminal in my opinion) creators of this show. We need to hit them in the only place they have any feelings — in their wallets.
How? By boycotting every advertiser on TBL.I’ve never watched the show, so I request that any one who has, in the past or recently, please list advertisers/products that support this inhumane show. Then we can publicize that list, to be boycotted.
I overestimated myself and decided to watch the video — and totally regret it. It triggered a HUGE crying jag and panic attack as I had flashbacks to grade school and high school when I was treated similarly (in my mind, anyway) by a abusive PE teachers. And I believed I deserved every bit of it. Well, times have changed and I know better now, which is why in addition to the horror I felt watching this video, I also felt RAGE, which is totally new to me. I just can’t stomach that someone such as JM could treat people the way she does and still sleep at night. People like her make it hard for me to leave my home because I know she’s not the only one and I can be attacked at any time.
At least one good thing came from watching the video, you felt anger which shows how much things have changed for you in that you now know that no one deserves this kind of abuse, especially yourself. Take time, be good to yourself, and I hope you recover from this setback.
you probably WERE treated like that – and probably believed that you deserved it. Hang in there!
That is the best point ever. The Biggest Loser really isn’t about health, but money.
That video…my god. No wonder people have a negative view of exercise if they think it’s this brutal, body-punishing, spirit-crushing thing where people get screamed at by personal trainers all day. And worse, that there are people who think they deserve to be yelled at and called names. That’s…the most heartbreaking part.
A-fucking-men. That is all.
I watched a few episodes of this the first season or so it was on, and one thing struck me right away: the way they dress contestants for weigh-ins. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but, then, the guys were in shorts (no shirts, if I remember right) and the women were in shorts and sports bras.
Many of these people came in with horrible body image issues, and the first step was to parade them half-naked in front of America. Really? For what? It felt like a sideshow, very “Ew, look at the gross fatties!” It seemed like an attempt to strip them of their dignity, make them ill at ease, and shame them right off the bat for what their bodies looked like. From that point, I viewed everything on that show with a skeptical eye.
And then as the show nears its end, the contestants are dressed in tight fitting elastic-y exercise clothes, to minimize the chances that viewers will be able to tell that just because the contestants have lost weight that doesn’t mean their bodies look the way people think “thin” people look. There is a lot of loose skin for many people who have lost significant amounts of weight, but seeing that would make the end results look less dramatic.
My first boyfriend’s mother was obsessed with this show and I sat down to watch an episode with her.
I remember thinking “This is televised abuse”, even then, when I was *full* of internalized fatphobia and was no where near being okay with fat acceptance.
Such a disgusting program.
Jillian Michaels is an ugly, ugly human being. I realize that I’m passing a judgement here, but I don’t think there is enough money in the world to make me be that mean to someone else. And she relishes it, apparently. Or maybe she’s just a really good actor…
Either way she is a really good actor, because sometimes she comes across as incredibly understanding and loving. It’s impossible to know which version is “the real her.” I couldn’t watch the video above because I don’t want to see her being Cruel Jillian.
The most disturbing thing to me in the linked interview with Kai Hubbard is the fact that TBL encourages contestants to deliberately dehydrate themselves. Dehydration is dangerous and can be fatal. It causes hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels). I was in the hospital for three days with hyponatremia three years ago after I had a bad reaction to a new drug my cardiologist had described. The symptoms, when it’s reaching dangerous levels, read: Confusion; fainting; grand mal seizures; coma; death. I got to the ER after the “fainting” stage with sodium low enough that the doctors were worried about seizures. I was in step-down intensive care, on IV lines, monitored around the clock, for three days and had to have my sodium levels checked weekly for a couple of months afterwards. This is serious stuff.
Worse, when your sodium is that low it has to be brought back up slowly and carefully, because if the levels rise too quickly it can cause IRREVERSIBLE brain damage (Central Pontine Myelinolysis). The whole process of treating dehydration requires careful medical supervision.
Bottom line — deliberately inducing dehydration is extremely dangerous, and TBL is knowingly putting contestants at risk of permanent disability and even death.
That’s the most frightening part to me. I’ve known people who had to be hospitalized due to dehydration, and it’s a horrible thing to see.
In fact, I nearly fainted myself once when I was walking around outside in the heat and hadn’t eaten (A fat person? Skipping a meal? Such madness!) or had enough to drink. Realizing I was losing consciousness and didn’t even have the wherewithal to tell anyone was one of the most frightening moments of my life. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone — much less suggest it was a good idea to do it on purpose.
I’m glad you came through that okay, Laney.
In retrospect, one of the scariest things about my own bout with dehydration/hyponatremia that I talked about above was that the confusion stage meant I didn’t realize I needed to ask for help. Looking back, I can see that my judgment was entirely impaired, but I didn’t say anything to my partner or let him know that I was feeling ghastly, horribly ill. It was only when I fainted that he realized he had to get me to the hospital right away. If I’d lived alone, I very likely would have died since after I fainted, I’m not sure I would have been lucid enough to get to the phone and call 911.
Reading Kai’s description of how contestants induce dehydration in themselves and then “chug water” after weighing is just terrifying — this is a major catastrophe just waiting to happen. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some contestants have ended up in intensive care for dehydration and we just never hear about it.
I was just looking at the AFAA website, I can no longer find any reference to their Biggest Loser tie-in certification although I did find the separate website for it. I wonder if they got enough flack for that they at least knew enough to try to hide it a bit…while still using it. ~:/ Of course, they still have their Jillian Michaels CEU corner. ~:p
As an AFAA certified trainer, I was horrified by this, as they even did it at a time where I think that ethically they should have been severing ties with Michaels as well. So much about the abuse was becoming more acknowledged.
I still haven’t sucked up the expense (or the fact I’d have to go to a testing center which I’m utterly phobic about…those places are designed specifically to trigger any and all testing panic before you finish getting in the door) to get ACSM certification. But more and more I think I have to. Not that ACSM isn’t totally weight-loss focused either. I do dream of a day when a fully accredited HAES-focused certification might exist (and, obviously, if I somehow missed one PLEASE tell me! or for that matter anything that’s even just a little less weight focused…even a little…I’m really looking to dump AFAA).
I wasn’t going to comment on The Biggest Dickweed (thanks, FFF) acting like they always do, but then the TV news- the NEWS- brought in several health experts to try and calm the uproar over the unusually large loss (while shilling for various weight loss programs), and one of them said… I can’t believe this…
“You can’t say that just because she’s 105 pounds, she’s unhealthy. It’s important not to judge people’s health by looking at their body size.”
Then he spent the rest of the time he was allotted judging large bodies as automatically unhealthy.
What do you think you do when you assume someone with a large body isn’t exercising or eating right but someone with a small body is? What do you call that, if not judging peoples’ health by looking at their body sizes? BTW, it’s not her size being scrutinized; if she was naturally 105 pounds, no decent person would be calling her out over it. It’s that she lost 155 pounds in a few months on a program KNOWN to dehydrate, starve-followed-by-binge, and overwork its members (and that’s *only* the *known* unhealthy aspects of the program. With that gag order and contractual legal protection, I’m sure they get up to worse). The difference between what activists have been doing and what fatphobes do when they judge fat people is that activists have tangible reasons to believe Rachel might have been kept in unsafe conditions.* They, on the other hand, just don’t like to look at fat people.
*I don’t know. I don’t watch the show. I know they’ve been caught red-handed using unsafe practices to make the contestants look like they’re losing more weight than they are, and that past contestants have regained to a man, and thus their actions are not to be supported, but otherwise I try to stay as far away from TBL as possible.
I stopped watching after the first episode, when I realized that they were not giving out any real information about eating healthy foods and exercise. These ‘contestants’ are tortured, much like on the show SURVIVOR and they are playing with their metabolism and crash diets in ways in which they will probably never recover from.
It is horrific how TBL treats their contestants . I was also terrified when I took a look at the comments on the video , and noticed how many people saw JM’s behavior and said “I want to be a personal trainer , and she’s my hero.” Looking to her abusive behavior as an uplifting inspiring act instead of the emotional terrorism that it is . I think the biggest loser paired with other shows about fat people , are doing society a huge disservice . I saw “My 600lb life” ,and boy was that a mistake , the lady who was being portrayed on there was talking about being involved in a size positive organization. They made it sound as if the size positive organization was responsible , for her specific health issues . Like being positive about your body is a crime. I really feel that tv shows about weight , are trying to portray what the diet industry is doing 24/7 365 , Correlation as causation with no real research to back it up .
Reblogged this on Sly Fawkes and commented:
Nobody will think they’ve gone too far until someone dies. Even then, a lot of people will not think they’ve gone too far. Yet people continue to think that fat hate either does not exist or is deserved. Sometimes I don’t want to live on this planet any more.
The fact that this crap exists shows that nobody really cares about anybody’s well being. So long as everyone looks a certain way, everything is sunshine and unicorn farts!
When people say “Oh that is how tough love should be!” I send them over to this blog and Body love wellness, and tell them to read it all and then get back to me. A lot of people are horrified at what is really said behind the scenes and what is done to these people.
One of my friends was saying how great it is, she lost all this weight and what not. I looked at her and said “Yup and she will gain 20+ back just from eating actual food and drinking water. Because the reality is, these people get so dehydrated they piss blood and are allowed only energy drinks/bars at times. Yeah good on her for putting her body through hell and living to tell about it.”
I’ve been posting comments elsewhere in an effort to turn the conversation from shaming Rachel Frederickson to discussing the wrongness of a show like TBL, and the messed-upness of a society that thinks fat people are so gross and sub-human that the way they are abused and mistreated by the show is just fine.
I’m happy to say that the feedback on those comments has been positive.
my understanding is that contestants that leave TBL are contracted (including agreement to rediculous fines and fees) to never speak about the show or the situations they experienced.