The media has always held thin body image as ideal for women and it reinforces the belief that we should all strive for a healthy and active lifestyle. Why is it that so many young women and men across America are dissatisfied with their size? Among many other influences, television plays a crucial role in the formation of the belief that we should all adhere to a healthy and thin image. Often times, television shows like The Biggest Loser and Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition portray weight loss as an easy obstacle that anyone can overcome if they are simply dedicated and work hard enough at it. Additionally, weight loss and improvement shows also reinforce the notion that image trumps all and outweigh the importance of eating habits or actual health and wellness.
In the most recent season of The Biggest Loser, contestant Rachel Frederickson won the competition for losing 155 pounds, causing an overwhelming amount of controversy surrounding her drastic weight loss. “First she was too big. Then she was too small.” She weighed only 105 pounds at the final weigh in, ultimately winning her the competition (Takeda, 2014). The media and self improvement television shows are constantly reinforcing the notion that we must be thin and look skinny, yet, when we do lose weight and become thin we’re told that we’re too skinny. This is essentially what happened to contestant Rachel Frederickson, and after the media attacked her for being “too skinny” she gained 20 pounds to again satisfy the media (Takeda, 2014).
The general public believes that the causes of obesity are unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity (Yoo, 2013). While this may be the case, many self-improvement television shows depict weigh loss as an achievable goal and claim that anyone who has the willpower can lose a large amount of weight. In class, we watched an episode of Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition where we saw a young man struggle to lose an incredible amount of weight. At the end of the show, I remember him claiming that if he could do it, anyone could. I feel statements like these make us feel as though weight loss is easier than it actually is and it’s something anyone can achieve. Another aspect of the show that was interesting to me is that at the end of his transformation, they focused solely on his image and how great he looked. It’s a bit conflicting that at the end they focus solely on his look and skim over his actual health issues, given at the beginning of the show we see him as morbidly obese and instantly label his body as “abject” and undesirable (Zimdars, 2014).
In shows such as Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition and The Biggest Loser, considerable emphasis is placed on the end result, and we often are not exposed to the contestant actually working towards their goals and making healthy lifestyle changes. For example, in the Extreme Makeover episode we watched in class, we didn’t see the contestant making healthy meals or changing his diet or daily routine. The show focused much of its attention on the end result of his image and how he looked and felt great. It’s evident that many of these shows focus on image rather than overall health, and this can also be seen in Rachel Frederickson’s case on The Biggest Loser. In an interview after the show, she claims, "I work out for an hour, six days a week. I love classes like SoulCycle," she shares. "I also loosely count calories” (Takeda, 2014). By talking solely about her workout routine and her loose calorie counting, it’s easy to understand that image is more of an essential component than overall health or dieting in many self-improvement television shows.
While Frederickson’s transformation can certainly be viewed as a self-esteem booster, how can losing over 150 pounds in such a short amount of time be healthy for one’s body? Producers of the show claim she was carefully monitored and say that “the well being of our contestants is our No. 1 priority” (Tauber, 2014). All of this got me wondering how does the contestant must feel about her transformation and rapid weight loss. In an interview after the show, Frederickson claims that she may have been “too enthusiastic” about losing weight (Monde, 2014). Although she passed all medical tests and was carefully monitored, many people thought that her rapid transformation was shocking and speculated whether or not she suffered from troubling signs of extreme weight loss (dehydration, disrupted menstrual cycle or hair loss), but she claims: "No. I've never felt better. I keep saying it: I am healthy” (Tauber, 2014).
Body image and weight loss are personal issues that many Americans struggle with every day, but the media loves to glamorize the “skinny” lifestyle. We see it in magazines, television shows, movies, award shows; practically every media outlet contains images that reinforce our belief that being thin is desirable and being overweight is completely unattractive. While being thin is presented as the desirable option in regard to body image, we label overweight people as undesirable and something we do not want. For example, a supplemental article I found about Frederickson’s transformation focuses solely on her appearance: “Dressed for the mild Los Angeles winter in skinny jeans, knee-high boots and a zip-up sweater just three days after the big reveal, Biggest Loser is mostly upbeat to address her new size 0-2 body” (Tauber, 2014). This undoubtedly shows that image is one of the leading factors in self-improvement television shows.
This notion of being too fat or too skinny is a conflicting in that we are always being told different messages about what is acceptable in terms of body image. The media has always portrayed thin as being desirable and fat as abject and undesirable. In shows such as The Biggest Loser, we see a contestant who loses an incredible amount of weight (the main goal of the show), but is then criticized for being too thin. It’s almost as though we are never truly satisfied with our image and the media and television’s portrayal of weight loss and positive body image is one that leads us to believe that image is everything and it overshadows the importance of a healthy diet and overall wellness.
Monde, Chiderah (2014). ‘Biggest Loser’ winner Rachel Frederickson admits she may
have been ‘too enthusiastic' about weight loss. New York Daily News. http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/biggest-loser-winner-admits-enthusiastic-losing-weight-article-1.1611287
Takeda, Allison (2014). Rachel Frederickson, Biggest Loser Winner, Gains 20 Pounds:
"I'm at My Perfect Weight!". Us Weekly. Retreived from http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-body/news/rachel-frederickson-biggest-loser-winner-gains-20-pounds-im-at-my-perfect-weight-201434
Tauber, Michelle (2014). Gone Too Far? The Biggest Loser Controversy. People (81)
Yoo, Jina. (2013). No Clear Winner: Effects of The Biggest Loser on Stigmatization of
Obese Persons. Health Communication (28) 3, 294-303.
Zimdars, Melissa. (2014). Fat as Abject. University of Iowa. April 16, 2014.