By Allison Haste
The days of the fat lady freak show exhibits are gone…or so we like to think. With 16 seasons to date and over 7 million viewers, it’s hard to deny the popularity of NBC’s The Biggest Loser. The show follows the lives of several people in a competition to lose the most weight and win a cash prize. Although the days of paying money to gawk at a fat person in an exhibit are over, what really makes The Biggest Loser any different?
First of all, the nature of The Biggest Loser lends itself to the freakification of its contestants. Inherently, reality television is exploitative because it leaves the image of the people being presented up to the choices of the producers. They can cut and edit the film however they want in order to make the contestants’ actions fit their script. They can take the contestants’ actions or words out of context in order to twist them into how they want them to be perceived.
Kai Hibbard, the first runner up from season 3, has spoken out to several news outlets about her experience with The Biggest Loser. She claims that there were several occasions where she or other contestants of the show were injured and told by a doctor to rest, but the production team told them that they were not allowed to rest if they wanted to stay on the show. Hibbard told The New York Post about a particular episode in which the contestants were led to a stall in a horseracing track, and then had to race one another like animals on the track. Hibbard describes this challenge as being humiliating, so she chose to walk rather than run in the race. However, she felt that The Biggest Loser production team edited the footage to depict her as being lazy for not running the race, rather than a protest of the event.
So what makes The Biggest Loser an acceptable form of entertainment? People are comfortable watching the terrible things that the contestants are made to do because it is all done under the guise of caring about their health. The extreme diet and exercise programs are made out to be a lifesaving transition into a healthier lifestyle. The show’s success depends on the viewer’s idea that fat always means unhealthy and that thinness always means healthy.
To The New York Post, she said, “there was no easing into it. That doesn’t make for good TV. My feet were bleeding through my shoes for the first three weeks.” She described the workouts that they were to do every single day—sometimes for 5 to 8 hours straight. In addition to the excessive exercising that the contestants did, their food intake was severely restricted. According to Hibbard, the contestants were only allowed to eat less than 1000 calories per day. These practices led to dramatic weight loss of up to 30 pounds per week. According to most doctors, weight loss of about 1-2 pounds each week is considered safe and sustainable.
Clearly, this show is not about anyone’s health. Being pushed to exhaustion and deprived of nutritional food does not make for a healthy individual. Although most people are aware that the weight loss tactics demonstrated in The Biggest Loser are not healthy, the show portrays the contestants as needing these drastic measures because they are so fat and unhealthy.