Mark Chu

The ‘Biggest Loser’ is us

Illustration by Tina Park

TV makes hating a sport.

The screen makes us jeer and cringe and judge. We hate best when we’re sitting down.

It’s so ingrained in our culture, into our media. It’s integral to our sense of comfort.

There is so much hate on TV.

Take The Biggest Loser – a national exercise in humiliation.

The premise of the show is totally unkind. Gather together a group of overweight people and make them lose a massive amount of weight in a ridiculously short amount of time at the expense of others’ longevity in the competition.

The new format goes to a whole new level. The Biggest Loser: Challenge Australia, takes on an entire town – Ararat. What can we expect? Assume everything: drool-inducing temptations; degrading close-ups of exhaustion; embarrassing weigh-ins; and triumph at the expense of loss.

There’s not even the guise of kindness amongst us anywhere anymore.

Think back to last season. Does it get much more humiliating than forcing an obese girl to walk into a room full of doughnuts and popcorn and hotdogs and have her jaw wipe the flaw as she mopes about, wondering whether or not to eat something in order to gain an “immunity”?

They say, “It’s showing them what life is like on the outside.”

It’s a perverse humiliation.

Showing them life on the outside would be as simple as walking down the street with contestants near their homes, a much easier and cheaper conceit for the show producers, without caricature. However, we all know reality TV exists only in a hyper-reality. There is nothing real about it as it grows more desperately unreal and hyperactive.

There is cruelty to this reductive ‘Play School’ approach where adults are forced to play childish tug-of-war games and dragged through mud.

The stench of exploitation is strong, with a bucketload of disrespect for contestants on a show that claims to preach dignity.

It infantilises the contestants regardless of age, reducing them to nothing more than their weight, or rather, their excess of weight. To engage the entire town of Ararat in this way would be a great shame, a cruel move even.

Perhaps this new season will be the birth of kindness in reality TV?

Perhaps the show will encourage exercise over an extended amount of time – months, years – and truly provide long-term help? There is dim hope given the Victorian State Government’s targeted health plan will concurrently take place with the show.

Perhaps the show will track long-term health through dignified and responsible means as individuals come to grips with understanding exactly what “health” is, and why people have choices, and how it might be possible to actually not mind being overweight, and to be able to live a relatively normal life being overweight, or average weight, or whatever?

This would be kind.

Previous iterations of The Biggest Loser have been not so kind.

Consider the show’s title. What sort of a deranged pun is this? What does “Biggest” mean? It’s surely an allusion to the size of the competitors, or an attempt at some sort of faux-word-reclamation.

But it’s not reclamation.

The term ‘loser’ doesn’t specifically apply to fat people – it’s not a case of overcoming a targeted prejudice, of inverting bigotry.

Indeed, the show defines its contestants as losers – literally – suggesting that obese people must hate themselves because they are large, encouraging such attitudes of self-hate that to be fat is to be a loser.

A lot of the contestants seem to undergo a similar metamorphosis which lends itself to the series finale mentality of, “I hated myself when I was fat.”

But why did they hate themselves?

The show seems to harvest people who have little self-esteem based on their previous weight, developing this culture without any acknowledgement that being large – or even very large – isn’t necessarily bad. Such fundamental mentalities go unquestioned.

It will be surreal seeing Ararat’s population represented through the lens of The Biggest Loser. Surely the population’s psychology will be more complicated than what we end up seeing on the show? Mayor Ian Wilson is making a high-stakes choice in defining the identity of his town in the eyes of the whole country. A complex analysis of the psychology behind obesity is important when presenting the nation with the character and identity of a town, rather than the flattening of inhabitants into self-hating food monsters with no lives.

If we really want to understand weight we have to recognise the breadth in possibility for those who are larger than normal. Surely in a world that wants to, and should, ask questions about moral and lifestyle issues such as euthanasia, smoking and abortion, there should be similar considerations extended to weight?

Surely being fat is a choice just like anything?

Notions of beauty ought to be reconsidered. Even more than that, the importance of beauty should be questioned. Not everyone is beautiful – nor should they be. There are greater virtues than physical appearances – kindness, intelligence, humour.

The Biggest Loser potentially reduces its contestants to mindless idiots, saying that a fat person isn’t human, can’t think, can’t feel, can’t love themselves.

“You have to lose weight to regain your humanity.”

It’s both untrue and hateful.

And hatefulness is worst when disguised as care and concern and health consciousness.

The weigh-ins, tedious segments as they are, force the contestants to stand on the scales in gymnastics-style uniforms – surely the only reason for so much skin exposed is to humiliate the individual, albeit with a stern-faced faux-solemnity to offset the gawking audience. The town of Ararat should not be subjected to this.

Every time we watch The Biggest Loser we merely confirm that we hate fat people, albeit subconsciously and often subtly: that we like to mock them, watch them struggle and suffer, and witness them lethargically battle each other and themselves. We love to poke fun at them from the comfort of our couches, mocking the idea that a fat person could ever be happy, and ignoring the possibility that a fat person could be more than their weight, punishing them for their lifestyle and their size.

The Biggest Loser hates well, and we hate with it.

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6 Comments

  1. Alex said:

    False premise according to who? You’re criticising viewers for imposing their standards on fat people, yet you’re just imposing your own standards on others in your argument. Every TV show that doesn’t meet your standards then has a false premise. There’s nothing stopping ‘viewers looking at their own viewership from an alternative vantage’ point for any media. Isn’t that the point? You’re just undermining yourself by saying ‘people should be able to do take an alternative view, unless it’s the biggest loser because I don’t agree with its premise’.

  2. Mark Chu said:

    Sure, people should be able to watch or appear on The Biggest Loser, but that doesn’t mean the program isn’t responsible for a level of falseness in its premise, or that viewers can’t look at the their own viewership from an alternative vantage point.

  3. Dylan said:

    I’m interested to hear what some of the residents of Ararat who do not want to be involved in the show think about it all. It’s gutter television, but it’s usually people choosing to come on to the show which is their prerogative. This time, however, I’m thinking some residents may be tarred with a brush that they do not wish to be.

  4. Marty said:

    Would be interesting to see if previous contestants have manager to keep their weight off? Losing weight is a long term commitment and can’t be achieved with that sellout dickhead Michelle Bridges shouting empty rhetoric at you for 6 weeks…..

  5. Alex said:

    Sure, people should be able to choose whether to be fat. But by the same token people should be able to choose to watch and appear on The Biggest Loser – even if it doesn’t match your worldviews about weight and lifestyle choice. Otherwise you’re just deriding the latter group for not meeting your own standards from a self-created moral high ground.

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