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3 Ways 'The Biggest Loser' Could Be Less Problematic

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In the world of television media, every piece of news or viral announcement brings some new fresh hell for us to gawk at. Maybe that’s why executives at USA thought it was past time to bring back the network’s signature “success story” (read: gag me) reality show — “The Biggest Loser.”

The television series is returning this month for its first season in almost four years. It ended a successful 17-season run in 2016, mostly free of controversy, amid an underwhelming amount of media criticism over things like its fat-shaming premise and treatment of contestants. Perhaps the show’s unflappability is why Jillian Michaels — a trainer on previous seasons — thought it was OK to go after Lizzo for her weight.

It’s really not, Jillian, Lizzo is a gem and your show is a living nightmare. But if you’re reading this, take notes. Here are three changes the new season of “The Biggest Loser” must make to be less problematic:

#1: Change the Name

Let’s start with the name of the show, “The Biggest Loser,” which by itself is problematic.

First, there’s the double meaning. In this context, the biggest loser in terms of overall weight loss is actually the show’s winner (and a winner at life if the premise of the show is to be believed *insert dramatic eye-roll*).

And what of the contestants who didn’t lose enough weight according to fitness instructors and USA executives? They are eliminated in each episode as the season progresses, the losers.

Never mind that someone in an executive board room must have thought they were really clever coming up with the name, the problem is it attaches a negative stigma to an already marginalized group — fat people.

Fat stigma is a real problem for people of the larger persuasion. It’s not just a “sticks and stones will break my bones” kind of problem. No, instead, because I’m fat, I am less likely to receive quality medical care. The idea that skinnier is healthier is a pervasive bias that impacts fat people where we go for help, in doctor’s offices, specialist clinics and hospitals. It impacts other non-negotiable aspects of life too, like employability and starting pay. I, for one, don’t love getting paid less per hour while shows like “The Biggest Loser” reinforce the ideas that allow this systemic injustice to occur right in their title.

If you don’t believe me about systemic injustice, how dare! The origin of fat-shaming is actually rooted in racism and comes from the idea that some bodies are better than others, a perception that has impacted people of color in America for hundreds of years.

#2: Change the Premise

While network executives suggest that the new version of “The Biggest Loser” has been updated to reflect modern ideas about body positivity and weight loss, oddly, the premise of the show hasn’t seemed to change at all.

USA executive Heather Olander said, “We did want to take a look at the format and make sure it’s reflective of health and fitness today. We want the message to be about getting healthy and setting them on a healthy path.”

If you’re thinking this means the show has shifted its focus from weight loss to overall health, you’d be wrong. The show still intends to crown a winner victorious for shedding weight, giving rise to concern trolls who will tune in to the show to watch fat people run the hamster wheel for an hour before telling themselves, “This is OK to watch because these folks are better off now.”

…But are they?

The new focus on leaving contestants with a “healthy plan” stems from criticism of the treatment of contestants and a post-show study that collected data from 14 contestants who had lost large amounts of weight. The study analyzed things like weight and metabolic rate six years after losing the weight on the show. In all cases but one, contestants had gained back large amounts of weight and found their metabolism had slowed due to the crash diet and exercise plan implemented on the show.

…And for what? Better health?

Scientific American reported, “Conditions in the places where people live, work and play affect health outcomes to a much larger degree than health behaviors, which, all told (including eating, activity and other behaviors), account for less than 25 percent of differences in health outcomes.” This means that the act of being marginalized for your weight is more damaging to your health than your weight itself. *Unceremonious mic drop*

#3: Cease to Exist

Actually, if USA executives cared at all about the health and well-being of fat Americans, they’d lock the show in a vault — nay, throw it in a dumpster fire where it belongs. The best way “The Biggest Loser” could be less problematic is to disappear into the ether of bad TV with Roseanne Barr and the end of “Game of Thrones.”

Originally published: January 16, 2020
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