Why I Hate America’s Biggest Loser: The Shame Culture

There’s a war being fought, and lost, every day in America.

This war has no guns, drones or stealth bombers.

No distinct battlefields.

In every kitchen across the land, at the dawn of every day, the war wages on.

 

The war is women’s fight against their bodies.

 

A battle you can’t see is the most insidious – self-generated thoughts, negative emotions dripping down like sap, and off-handed comments towards herself and others, a woman in this war is raging singlehandedly, against a dark shadow over which no one else can conquer.

 

Some mornings she wakes up with renewed resolve to “do better,” avoid the trigger foods that she suspects are keeping the extra weight on, her energy depleted and her favorite outfit hidden in the back of the closet.

 

But she’s foggy and facing a long commute, a full load of responsibilities and a sugar-coated landscape of Starbucks frappuccinos, People Magazine covers, and a convenient world that offers easy alternatives to real physical movement.

 

At the end of her long day, she may have successfully avoided the sugary, salty, fatty snacks. At the end of the long day, her exhausted brain craves escape and pulls her to the couch to sit with the TV.

That’s when America’s Biggest Loser comes on.

 

Just when her will power is the weakest, when her exhaustion is fully realized, and her brain should be powering down for a quality night’s sleep, this enticing, “hopeful and empowering” reality show draws her in. And the battle lines are re-drawn.

 

It’s the Fatty against the food.

 

If you haven’t seen The Biggest Loser, you’re not alone, but you’re one of the few. This hugely popular TV show started in America in 2004, and has grown into the bulky behemoth of 15 seasons and spread like a virus to over 25 countries.

 

Here’s the premise: a group of overweight contestants are brought on to the show and try to lose the most weight. Those who lose the least amount, or heaven forbid, no weight or gain weight, are kicked off the show.

 

Producer’s note: I think it would be more interesting to keep them all on the show until the very end to see if there isn’t a dark horse who comes from behind to take the lead in the last episode, but nobody asked me.

 

The contestants are separated into teams, guided by celebrity trainers who take them through workouts, and given challenges with food and behavior tests, all in an effort to be the one who loses the most weight.

 

I’ll admit I don’t watch the show much, because I find it stomach churning, but I did catch a recent episode where one team was locked in the Room of Temptation for several hours. The room was filled to the brim with sweets, pastries, and snacks.

 

And then the team is asked to sit there and wait…and not eat. It was torturous. 

Here’s my suggestion: In real life, if you’re going for weight loss, throw out all the stuff in your house that tempts you. Do NOT set up your own Temptation Room. The world is full of temptations enough, and many of my past clients work or live in spaces that constantly offer sugar and snacks that trigger them to cheat.

 

Then there are the weigh-ins. At the end of each show (I’m assuming – I’ve only been able to suffer through a few shows myself), each contestant is weighed in front of everyone. The drama is contrived and makes the contestants look embarrassed. Women are weighed in a sports bra and men take their shirts off… as if the t-shirt will add extra pounds.

 

No, this is a way to shame and embarrass the contestants, to add to the spectacle. Towards the end of the season, the biggest losers keep their shirts on – is this a prize? You’re doing great, Biggest Loser, so we will no longer shame you!

 

But that’s what this show and others like it thrive off of – shame. Embarrassing stories and weigh-ins, being caught on camera cheating and quitting, getting voted off if you aren’t strong enough.

 

This is my biggest beef with this and other shows like it:The Biggest Loser adds to the damaging culture of public shaming, which is more harmful to us all and doesn’t counter-balance the few who lose weight and win the show.

 

Shame is damaging. The painful feelings of humiliation and distress that the contestants go through are torturous for them and the viewers. Public shaming labels overweight people as bad people, which only makes their self-loathing grow, fester, and lead to more binge snacking.

 

And this is why The Biggest Loser is harmful for the contestants and home viewers: when we participate in public shaming, we feel the negative effects in our own bodies, which leads many straight to the fridge for some comfort food.

 

The Biggest Loser & reality TV shows shame us/aim us straight to the fridge for more comfort food. Stop watching, lose weight. [Click to tweet this if you agree]

 

We have enough self-imposed shame in the war on weight. Tuning in and consuming shame-based media like the Biggest Loser makes us feel bad. In our hearts and bodies.

 

I say it’s time to opt-out. Stop watching TV shows that bring shame on overweight people.

Go on a media diet.

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