Friday, January 8, 2010

Humiliation to the extreme

It's been a week since the new year has started, and there are still umpteen articles about resolutions, ads about weight loss, commercials about joining gyms, etc. And then of course, it was also the season premiere of the Biggest Loser Couples show. In the early years of the show, I admit, I watched many episodes until I gave a closer inspection and really saw how unrealistic, unhealthy, and humiliating the show was. I want to focus on the latter in this post as I was horrified how they upped the ante so to speak.

In general, I watch bits and pieces of the show, usually the first and last episodes for curiosity sake, but I do not consider myself any avid type of watcher of the show like some people I know. The season opener was similar to their other shows in introducing the couples. This time we saw Bob and Jillian call the contestants, the contestants exhilarated on making it in the show, jumping up and down, screaming, etc. Then, Bob and Jillian tell them that their first weigh-in is public in front of their hometowns! Each and every contestant had a gaping horrified look on their faces, much like the one I had on mine. Despite the fact these people decide to go on national television to lose weight and announce to the world how much they weigh, how much more humiliating can you get than to be in front of friends and families?

Each contestant apparently agreed, and you saw them go in front of their hometowns (most seemed to be in a park or gym) and step on the scale. Then, they had to read aloud the number and say how and why they were going to change. Can we say AA but with triple the amount of humiliation? Was this necessary? No! My guess is this was completely a way to rev up the ratings and add to the humiliation factor, especially since this is considered the heaviest set of contestants. It was interesting to look at the audience footage as some had mouths wide open at the numbers, while others cried.

This entire concept of humiliation makes me ponder the question of why, and why do so many Americans tune in to watch? Many say they feel connected to the people--that they understand them. Others say they find inspiration.. Then, there are probably others who just tune in to watch Jillian Michaels yell at them.

Just as I'm thinking about all this, a new press release came out saying how negative experiences from a coach or instructor can turn people off of physical activity for a lifetime. The press release doesn't give many details of the study, other than it is published in the Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise. However, it does raise a good point in how our environment contributes to our attitudes on sports, exercises, etc.

One might think that many contestants would not want Jillian Michaels as their trainer as it seems like she is just constantly yelling and berating at them (I think a lot if edited to only show this side of her, because I seriously doubt she is always like this, just my feeling, could be wrong though), but in fact, when given the choice, there are a bunch of them that have in past seasons. So what is the deciding factor? I think it is they feel like she is the one that produces results.

This whole thinking reminds me of Bela Karolyi, the famous gymnastics coach. In Joan Ryan's book, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, many of the gymnasts said he called them awful names, talked about their bodies distastefully, etc., but yet, many continued to train under him. Why? Because he produced results, he produced champions, he seemed to be the best at the time.

I think this is kind of the same mentality of the Biggest Loser contestants. They feel like this is the only thing that is going to help them, that this show is what they need to lose the weight for good, that humiliation will produce results. I don't know, maybe it does for some, but I think there are other, better, more productive, healthier ways.

The other deciding factor for them in losing weight is simply the grand prize of money. Last year, I posted here about a study from the Journal of American Medical Association displayed similar results. Therefore, in this case, for most, when money is on the line, people go to extremes to lose weight. Somehow, going through pain and humiliation seem worth it to them, and I think there is a feeling that that's what they deserve too for letting themselves go, for not being able to "diet" right, for losing willpower, etc.

I wish the public could see how this type of show is not fueling much health but just humiliation. Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority in thinking this way as the show is one of the most popular ratings wise and is doubtful to come off the air anytime soon. As I always tell my dog clients when they are watching dog behavior shows, "you can't believe everything you see on tv."

Note--*A friend of mine on facebook posted that she was watching the show and that Jillian kicks her butt on ifit, and how she loved that she screamed at them. However, if Jillian was ever her trainer, she would cry. (This is very true) I replied to her that I was surprised since she had a severe eating disorder in the past. She replied back saying she thought it was a great show and helped people get their lives back on track. Everyone is of course entitled to their own opinion, I was just very surprised, that's all.


Telstaar said...

I don't like the Biggest Loser. Just my personal preference really for many of the reasons you said. In some ways it has the benefit of markedly obese people are actually able to see that they CAN lose weight, it IS possible and that they don't need to put off excuses to not get up and start trying... so you know there is that element... HOWEVER and that is a BIG however...

Very very few people are given personal trainers and chefs and benefit from massive amounts of experience and time and help in starting that process. We are putting aside the massive health risks in this instance also. So just logically it is setting the common person up for discouragement when they don't achieve the same results and simply because they don't have all the same resources at their disposal!

The thing that upsets me the most is just the unhealthiness of weight loss. There are sometimes weight loss challenges I've seen taht follow a group of individuals over a long period of time and for the most part go through healthy weight loss. I am for that! I many people who are obese and I feel for them, it is HARD being obese and the health risks are not okay! So I like programs, shows extra that demonstrate healthy weight loss... but the biggest loser just puts people's health at risk. Sure they have medical doctors, but lots of doctors don't even know that if you lost a 1/3 of your body weight REGARDLESS of starting weight, you are classed as anorexic! (Not necessarily having anorexia nervosa which is clearly a mental illness.)

So overall, i don't see the benefits outweighing the significant costs of the program and I've never watched more than about 30 minutes at any one time and never on consecutive nights or weeks etc!

(Nb. I also have people that have AN and BN and absolutely love the show but not even so much in an unhealthy way for them... so I know that people DO enjoy it... I just can't escape that they're real human beings...)

Amber Rochelle said...

I definitely agree with your post. I hate to admit that I watch the Biggest Loser quite regularly. It's kind of like a car wrek...I don't really want to see it, but can't stop myself from looking. It intrigues me. But I always find myself ranting about it afterwards. I could really get off on a tangent about my frustrations with this show, but alas, this is your blog and not mine!

Maeve said...

I've only watched a couple of episodes of the show because it entirely rubs me the wrong way. What gets to me is the fact that Jillian and Bob act as if being personal trainers makes them trained psychologists. The way they talk to the contestants to try and "get to the root of their emotions" just makes me want to scream. They don't know what they're doing and I think it has the potential to be damaging.

The scene that really put me off the show, however, was when Jillian (although it may have been Bob) said to the contestant "you cannot be fat and happy." The contestant didn't believe being fat was making him unhappy. Sure I get that being morbidly obese is usually some form of eating disorder and therefore it's likely you're not completely happy, but to tell someone they CAN'T be happy because they're fat... To suggest that happiness is dictated by a number on the scale... I turned off my television and cried for the contestants.

Eating Alone said...

From an ex big guy (shut up ED!). First I would fall on Jillian and she would break! Second when you reach a certain point it's almost imposible to change without intervention. I was at a Weight Loss center with a Dr. ever week, and weekly group meetings, meetings with nutrionists and trainers for like a year. No way I could have done it on my own. But it was done with love and encouragment. I lost about 50% of body in just under 1 year.

That said, I'm with you on the whole humilation thing. That pisses me off so much! But then reading what has happened to many of the past contestants putting on weigh again and just yo-yoing. This is not the way to do it.

Sorry, TBL is one of my hot buttons.

I Hate to Weight said...

it's even hard to read about this show. jillian michaels is a sadist.

i've watched the show twice, but i've read about it. it seems like the last winner lost something like a pound a day? it just seems that there is no way that this is healthy.

it's all disturbing. on so many levels.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if we get this in the UK, but I have banned myself from even thinking about watching any show like this. Stuff Like America's top model are also out. I struggle if I even hear people talk about diets, see magazine articles on them or celebrity workouts. It's just not worth the amount of pain it causes me.

That said I can definitely see the attraction, I was hooked on Extreme makeover for a while, until I realised how sad it was to teach people that they are worth nothing as they are, and help them get "Better" Very few of these shows seem to address people's insides as well as their outsides. Oh, aside from "How to look good naked", that I will watch!

Lola x

Anonymous said...

If you're worried about your weight, you leave yourself open to be exploited. But if you watch shows like that, you're exposing yourself to psychological warfare, allowing your human identity to be erased or brutalized.

People who are fat and are treated badly because of that have the same opportunity as people who are unjustly imprisoned: an opportunity to demonstrate, for the benefit of all of mankind, what distinguishes the human from all other forms of life.

Stick to your "guns", i.e., principles, which are the essence of human identity. If humans are made in the living image of God, what would that look like? What does God look like? Ken or Barbie?

Contrary to what the fundies preach, it is NOT a sin to use your intellect to discover the truth.

When people treat you like dog shit, demanding that you "change" to conform to their opinion of what you should be, you don't "change", and you say "I will stay as I am, because I am doing the best I can, and if that offends you, then it is my duty to offend you!" Because principles need only that we satisfy our own intellect of their truth, provided that we are intellectually rigorous, i.e., that we banish all selfishness from our scientific investigations.

Shows like Biggest Loser are Satanic rituals in which innocent people who are treated like dog shit because they're fat are offered relief from the bad treatment in exchange for humiliating themselves and "confessing" that Satan is right! They go on TV to "confess" that the manipulated popular opinion about body fat is right! For the spectators even more than the contestants, this is murder of human identity. This is brutalization of humans. This is broadcasting, "principles don't matter, only what other people think of you matters"!

Screw the cost/benefit analysis! The Devil's due is doo-doo. Stick to your principles, shit on Satan.

Tiptoe said...

Interesting comments from everyone.

Telestaar, it is a good point that people who do need to lose weight watch the show an d see that it can happen. We just hope they take a more moderate, realistic approach to it.

Amber, I agree, there is an element of "watching a trainwreck" that makes it tough for people to stop watching.

Maeve, I agree that the fact that the trainers go into psychological mode as if they were psychologists can be very detrimental. And yeah, the lines about equating thin and happy isn't a great approach to have and sends a wrong message to people.

Eating Alone, I agree that when weight loss is done under supervision, it can be done with success and without detriment. I'm really glad you were able to have that.

Melissa, I think many are just not seeing the unhealthy aspects, just numbers lost. And yeah, the ones that win go to extremes!

Lola, I don't think BL has come to UK, but I wouldn't doubt that there could be a possibility though.

Reality shows can be tough to watch, and we all have to decide what is right for us. I'm glad you are refraining from them since you realize they are triggering.

Doomgloom, I'm not really sure what to say to your comments. I get what you are saying.