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Dear Dub: Who’s Winning the “Biggest Loser”?

Since Body Beautiful Week is doing a great job reminding us to be kind to our bodies, this article will be about a way that society is telling us not to be. Women and men alike are being manipulated, shamed, and blatantly coerced into a normalized manner of thinking about themselves.

The thought of writing an article about weight loss makes the tendons in my wrist tighten, and a guilty knot wrenching my stomach. I’m ashamed of the struggles I’ve endured to hide behind slanted smiles and quiet folds of a napkin of half-eaten bread. I am ashamed for falling into these terrible narratives we fit ourselves into, and I am ashamed by how I deny myself so much and feel it is still not enough. I am ashamed of how long it took me to seek help and how I let others let me think it wasn’t bad enough. I can- not deny that I feel incredibly hypocritical at times, as I am in awe of the beauty of other women’s bodies but cannot find it within myself to hold myself in such regard. I have the distinctive memory of watching daytime television with my grandma and, as Golden Girls transitioned a parade of commercials about weight loss products and diet foods, I became increasingly cognizant of my thighs, stick- ing and expanding over the plastic sheet on the corduroy couch.

These products boast they can discipline the female body as they plump the influence of one corporation or another. We are taught to swoon at aspartame and calorie snack packs. We are taught to feel guilty. We are taught to watch one another because we are besieged with the impulse to keep track of other women in the media, whose weight fluctuations are tracked like stocks— they are the physical epitome of market value for women. The Biggest Loser serves as an ultimate manifestation of the manipulation of media to distort our perceptions about ideal bodies and sustainable weight management. Don’t get me wrong, I watched this show for years and bawled, laughed, and did crunches at all of the appropriate mo- ments. For a country struggling with crippling obesity and media obsession, the Biggest Loser offers the ultimate fantasy–retreat to a “ranch” for a few months and lose the weight you’ve never been able to lose on your own by exclusively and doggedly dedicating your mind and body to shedding pounds with advanced fitness equipment and constant media attention. Undeniably, it’s entertaining, heart-breaking even, but for reasons that illustrate the dark undertones and prevailing narrative of body shaming in the United States. The contestants are con- stantly mortified for their bodies, and trainers and med- ical professionals wag fingers about how near death obese contestants are.

People are turned into spectacles, filmed as if they’re animals, sweating and purging their bodies and minds of pre-determined weaknesses that haven’t permitted them to obtain happiness. Despite the show’s slick marketing that convinces viewers it is about empowerment through fitness, it is headlining the dominant and corrosive discourse that fat is an enemy, an infection that must be eradicated. This is a show about disruptive bodies that must be controlled by any measures, and then the obese might become more acceptable members of society. The 2014 winner of the biggest loser, Rachel Frederickson, weighed in at the final show at 105 lbs., having lost 60% of her body weight in a few short months. Her body instantly became available for public scrutiny, as now she had disciplined her body too much. Frederickson was doing exactly what we asked of her and what too many of us would if we could. We have so many rules for the body, often unsaid and constantly in flux. By no means am I an authority on this; I am struggling to overcome constant media inundation just as much as you and pretty much every other person in our society. But one of the firmest decisions I am personally mak- ing is turning off the television

About the author

Kristen Jovanelly