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“If you are thin and beautiful you can rule the world…”

The quote above is taken from the YouTube clip below. This documentary provides an incredibly powerful insight into adolescent, and pre-adolescent, girls and their relationship with their bodies:  


 

Now consider the messages Australian teen girls will be receiving this week if they tune into channel 10’s The Biggest Loser. I wrote an Opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald on this show last year: The Burden of treating girls bodies as the enemy.  

What do I find so concerning about this program? I am not questioning the importance of maintaining a sensible diet or a fitness regime. And it is obvious that the contestants do need help in getting their health back on track. But is public humiliation, excessive dieting and exercise, and the constant obsession with numbers (calories, kilos, carbs…) helping either the participants or the viewers long term?

One of my Facebook buddies is so incensed by this show that she has set up her own Facebook page to stimulate discussion on the real issues:  Shame on you channel 10 – ‘The Biggest Loser’ should not be shown. What messages are we sending, one member of this group questions, when contestants gasp in dismay at the thought of having to consume lollies worth 80 calories as a possible ‘punishment’ for failing to get immunity?

Surely we don’t need more thinspiration. We are already bombarded with images of ultra-thin models and celebrities and surrounded by advertisements for the multi-million dollar diet industry.

What we need is more balance.

More connection to our bodies. 

More celebration of diversity.  

  

Published inAdvertisingBeauty IndustryBody ImageEating Disorders

10 Comments

  1. 80 calories. Sorry to be blunt, but please eat my shorts. (Maybe less than 80 calories? the fabric has to count for something though…and that thread! ooh what an indulgence that is)

    That type of fear is supposed to be found in eating disorders units. In those places you hear girls screaming “I WILL NOT HAVE 80 CALORIES OF ENSURE/SUSTAGEN! 80 CALORIES!!! That’s 15 minutes of walking. That’s the equivillent of an ENTIRE apple. 80 calories! Nooooo!”

    I’ve cried over 80 calories before. It’s not fun.

    About 3 years ago when the whole “pro-ana” thing really hit the media (or maybe it just hit my media, I’d never heard of it before then). I logged on to check it out…see what kind of crack these girls are on (apparently it’s extremely low serotonin from starvation and something to do with a river in Egypt…de nile or something like that?) and one of the first things I found was a “let’s beat the biggest loser contestants” challenge. The basic idea of the competition was that they would try and “beat” the contestants each week. Kind of like a “they lose 4kgs, we lose 5kgs” kind of thing going.

    I guess the thing that gets me the most is that binge-eating disorder is a diagnosable eating disorder, although considered part of ED-NOS (eating disorders not otherwise specified). Why aren’t we dealing with the psychiatric reasons behind the disordered-eating behaviors? Even if they don’t have diagnosable eating disorders, it’s still a degree of disordered-eating.

    Why aren’t these people in counselling? Why aren’t they seeing qualified dieticians? Why aren’t they regularly having blood tests and seeing a GP? And if they are, why isn’t this also shown?

    I don’t know if that kind of thing is still going on. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it was.

    You know what makes me even more angry? I was in coles today, and as I tend to have the compulsion to do, I checked out the diet pills/health food isle (did I spell that last word right? hmmmm. It looks funny. None the less, that should not detract from the point that diet pills are sold right next to “health foods” and organic oats).

    You know what they had there?

    The Biggest Loser meal replacements.

    So now we are supposed to drink smoothies. We are supposed to drink water (because milk is like drinking fat, right?) and this powder instead of eating.

    How is this ethical? How is this justifyable? How is this teaching people how to be healthy, how to eat healthy and how to exercise properly?

    And most of all, what kind of message is this sending? Drink smoothies and you’ll get skinny. Real food makes you fat.

    Oooh. Scary.

  2. Sonia Lyne

    I completely agree … yes the show has some merit, as obviously obesity is a problem that affects health and longevity of life and it is assisting these people. BUT …the way they concentrate only on the physical will inevitably do more harm than good. Why do we need to create a show that makes losing weight a competitive and unrealistic experience?

    To be honest I watched it initially and at times I had tears in my eyes when the participants shared their emotions of joy or desperation. It didn’t take me long to see through it all and start to wonder why they only focused on the physical. Why not include any details of their general well being/ psych assessments, the effects on their self esteem or any ongoing emotional support. Of course I know the answer … it wouldn’t increase the ratings.

    How will they up the ante for future shows? At the expense of the contestants I fear an increase of demeaning and humiliating tactics that will, as I said previously, inevitably do more harm than good. How can this be beneficial for anyone who is struggling with their weight ?????

  3. I think they’ve already “upped the ante”. Weighing in at just over 170kgs is a woman who is “the largest woman ever to appear on the show”.

    Bigger contestants. More work outs.

    The girls got their calories taken down to 1,100 calories on Wednesday night. The focus wasn’t on nutrition, the conversation arose after “did you chose eggs or barbeque chicken because that’s what you have to eat for a week” (urm…variety is part of a healthy diet). they chose eggs and that was a good choice – you can control how it’s cooked (none of those little fats sneaking their way in).

    It just makes me wonder…with all the exercise they’re doing…aren’t they burning off everything they’re eating? Because that can cause ketosis which can eventually lead to organ failure.

    But don’t worry guys, because they have paramedics on site.

  4. jana

    Thanks for your post Danni and the other people who have commented. I’m sorry but I don’t agree with the biggest loser show comments! These gorgeous people are morbidly overweight and their lives are at stake! They haven’t been able to get the weight off alone and so this regimented boot-camp style is a good option!! they don’t seem to have the self-motivation and discipline to stick to a regular weight-loss regime so are going for this go hard or go home approach. they know what they’re getting into. don’t feel sorry for them!! Do they want the weight off or not? If they do, they’re going to have to work HARD! They can’t lose much by still eating chocolate and whatever and just walking 400 metres a day. So they calorie count – this is educating them! I understand that calorie counting can be dangerous but I think its a good thing with these people who admit themselves that they have no idea about nutrition and calories, etc. and what amounts of calories do to the body. I’m not into calorie counting normally, but sorry, if you’re that overweight, it’s necessary!! If you’re in hospital, I believe you go on a calorie-controlled diet? These contestants are majorly unhealthy and require urgent attention – which is what the biggest loser is providing. yes, the humiliation of the weigh-ins are embarrassing but they seem to let out emotions and become liberated by facing it and then being accountable to change as Australia has seen them. they ALL looked happy after doing this. It’s like if you want to give up smoking or something, you tell your friends so it’s out there. i think you’re all going too far about the biggest loser!! and those diet shakes – aren’t they protein supplements? To be used as SNACKS? not as meals! yes, not all their problems will go when they lose the weight – but that’s easily fixed with a few counselling sessions (which I’m sure the show provides behind the scenes) and off they go!! you have to look at it like someone trying to quit smoking or all those people/celebrities going into rehab!! it’s a similar thing – they are addicted to food!!!!!

  5. Jana, they are called “meal replacement shakes”. To me that indicates that they are to replace a meal.

    If it’s “easily fixed” with a few counselling sessions, why aren’t these shown on the show? Please don’t say “because that would be a breach of privacy” because the entire show is breaching privacy anyway. If people are that intent on humiliating themselves, why not take it a little further? Why not talk about the real issues. The causes, rather than the consequences.

    Just like an anorexic has to work damn hard to put on weight, just like your average dieter has to work hard to stick to their diet, just like a bulimic has to work hard to stop bingeing/purging…of course these people are going to have to work hard. But at what cost? And does it really need to be done on national television?

    There would be outrage if they ran a “which anorexic can gain the most weight” show. Why are people not similarly angry about shows like The Biggest Loser?

  6. jana

    Hello Ella! I like all your points!! 🙂
    Re the shakes: I’m thinking they’re talking about a fitness person’s high metabolism diet where you eat 5-7 small meals throughout the day… this would be one of those meals (aka a snack in our terms).

  7. Jane

    Ooh Danni – That You Tube video made me so sad and angry too. When we look at these girls we see their beauty and we think they are divine beings – unfortunately they don’t think this of themselves. What I loved was the girls questioning what they saw in the media and realizing how it covertly impacts on their psyche.
    In our home we watched ½ of the first episode of Biggest Loser. After that I turned it off and talked with my 2 young boys about the messages it was giving us. Namingly that all big people are unhappy and feel they are not enough. As I am a size 18 and HAPPY I do not want my boys thinking that their mum is less than in any way. I want them to see people for who they are and not their outer-shell. I want them to learn to look deeply.

    I also would like to make comments about the previous post. Violence against women is never ok in any shape or form. I am disgusted with these advertisements depicting women in a subservient and powerless position. I will NEVER and I repeat NEVER purchase ANYTHING that presents women in this manner. Shame on you D & G, Top Model and the ridiculous and revolting Pussycat Dolls – as my eldest son says “That’s just WRONG!!”

    Danni I am also dying to get out there and plaster our new stickers on products and adverts that promote girls as mindless consumers of “make me beautiful” products. Bring on Girl Power!!!
    Thanks for your insights xx Jane

  8. olivia

    I’m probably going to come across as a total cow right now but laziness and overindulgence are not generally seen as attractive traits – whether the person who currently has these traits is slim or what our society has deemed as overweight.

    To be frank, looking at “the real you” when it comes to overweight people usually involves those two traits, which many people don’t see as attractive – in a non-physical way, if that makes any sense. I’m not talking about physical beauty here. So the “real you” in overweight people is many times ‘lazy and overindulgent’… whether we like to admit it or not!

    And don’t get me wrong – I am a little overweight according to the BMI and admit that the reason that is is because I’m a little lazy and overindulge to excess.

    I’m just saying that I believe we should all be the healthiest and fittest we can be – I’m not saying there’s an ideal size, but an ideal health status (healthy and fit). I don’t feel we should be making ‘girl power’, feminist-style excuses for unhealthiness, majorly overweightness and unfitness being a good thing…

  9. olivia

    P.S. I realise also that laziness and overindulgence are only 2 traits and people have many, many more ‘positive’ ones to look out for too! Also, some people are overweight from sadness (which really is an inability to cope/lack of support, etc.). We should get to the core reasons – read between the lines. All my comment was trying to get across is that let’s stop making girl-power excuses for being unhealthy and overweight when it’s really a health issue, and not a body image attack.

  10. Emma

    I agree with you about the biggest loser thing, but i disagree. I agree because i had to spend 2 wks in hospital for food allergies at the end of ’08 and i knew heaps of ED’s by the end of it. One girl started becomong anorexic because of the biggest loser.

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