Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Biggest Loser Picks on Kids

[Content note: discussion of fat shaming of kids and unhealthy weight loss methods.]

Here's two things:
1) The Biggest Loser is one of most visible and successful sources of fat shame in this country.
2) I can't stand it when society bullies fat kids about their weight.

Up to this point, The Biggest Loser hasn't really done much with kids. They've kept their horribly dangerous methods and body bullying mostly limited to adults. Of course, these fat shaming messages make their way to kids when they watch the show, or when the trainers scream, "Do you want your kids to grow up to be like you!?" at the contestants. But the actual sites of their fatphobia has only been aimed at people at least legally able to consent to their participation.

Not so anymore.

In recent promos, it's come to my attention that the show will be working with kids, although they are not actual competitors. I was pretty outraged about this, so I was relieved when I saw that Ragen Chastain had written a petition against this abhorrent turn of event. (Go sign it!) As the petition states:
"The Biggest Loser" wants to put children on a show under the direction of trainers who insist that contestants ignore the advice of dieticians (sic) and doctors while screaming supportive words of encouragement like “I’M BORED WITH YOUR PATHETIC STORY!” and “GET ON THE F*CKING TREADMILL” in their faces. 
Healthy habits are good for kids of all sizes, and humiliation is bad for kids of all sizes, and if we want to help kids develop a lifelong love of healthy habits, we can do way better than this.
You know, fatphobia in general makes my blood boil. I'm just so incredibly sick of being told that only a certain kind of body is right. But when that message is aimed at kids, it goes to a whole other level of WRONG. And, unfortunately, so much of fat shame is routinely aimed at our youngest citizens.

Kids are a vulnerable population. That is why we have laws that protect against child abuse and require a minimum age of consent. We all know that a young mind is an impressionable one. Many of us carry the psychological scars of what happened to us in childhood for the rest of our years. And when it comes to the pressure to be thin, there is a reason that the average age to develop an eating disorder is 12. Your sense of self is just being formed and outside forces (like the media or what adults say about your body or their own bodies) can have an enormous effect on you.

I wish that we could stop The Biggest Loser all together. Unfortunately, it is an extremely popular show (a testament to how deep fatphobia runs in our society) and NBC, motivated by money over social conscious, will chase viewers and ad sales at all costs. But the very least we can do is keep children away from their dangerous methods.

I assume I am preaching to the choir on this one, but please, please, please do not support this show, and if you know people who do, please encourage them to think critically about what is really happening. I understand how alluring the show can be. I watched it as recently as 2007. But we've got to understand what is really going on. Millions of dollars are pumped into the program to make it convey a sense of "inspiration" and "accomplishment" while carefully editing out their disturbing side. They have the illusion and formula down to a science. That's why it's our job to tell people who watch the show that the constants aren't being healthy. They often dehydrate themselves to "lose weight." They are on a seriously restrictive diet and exercise six hours a day. Ask them to think critically about that. Ask them to really think for a minute about what it must be like to be screamed at by the trainers. And tell them to think about the messages we are sending our kids.

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