Not too long ago, I remember a series of memes circulating on social media that read something like this, “Would you slap your sister/mother/brother/ex in the face for $1,000,000.00?” These memes were shared far and wide with captions full of laughing emojis coupled with apologies from loved ones to sisters, brothers, and mothers with the understanding that monies would be split after the assault or how the joy of finally being rich would mitigate the sting of whatever pain the slap would render. Of course, when it came to exes, there was less care applied. No real explanations were given and splitting the earnings were out of the question! As I scrolled down my newsfeeds, I chuckled at some of the captions and responses, even questioning myself, to see if I would consider slapping a loved one for a windfall of cash! I mean, after all, I could stand to inherit a few hundred thousand dollars to pay off debt and finally get my mom a house in Nevada. I could also use some of that cash to fund initiatives dear to my heart and actually stifle injustice, offering liberty to some whose access to freedom is long overdue. Hypothetically, if this was an option, it would only require me to do something that I normally wouldn’t. I would never smack my mother or knowingly inflict pain on another person for gain. But if the price was right, I suppose there is a certain amount of rationale I could use to justify my actions.
Fast forward to today. Once again, I found myself scrolling down my timeline only to see a headline about The Biggest Loser casting happening in my area. Being incensed that the post was on my timeline in the first place (as an advocate for fat acceptance and Health at Every Size™ I do not entertain weight loss/stigma content), I quickly skimmed over the headline and realized a few things. First, I was seeing the post because as an employee of a medical school, I subscribe to local hospitals and our sister facilities (shame on the medical community for still pedaling rapid weight loss when we have the resources to actually adhere to what research about this issue is teaching us!). Next, I wondered how many people would see this same post and question their ability to endure a tumultuous process of breaking down their bodies and suffering for an outcome that seemingly would put them in a better place financially in the end. Was there a certain rationale these individuals could use to convince themselves that not only did they need the spoils The Biggest Loser offered, but also that the pain and suffering would be worth it? If they already had money would they consider doing the casting? More so, if they were not bombarded with messages about how their bodies should look or feel would they even stop to pay attention?
The Exploitation of the Poor and Desperate
For me, this was no coincidence. The exploitation of the poor is a tactic long used by those in power to reinforce and perpetuate stereotypes that further stigmatize a group. In the case of The Biggest Loser, being both fat and poor is a “golden ticket” of sorts that allow the show to pathologize fatness and perpetuate stereotypes of people in large bodies. As previous research has found, fatness is typically associated with personal failure over external factors. For poor fat people, it is our lack of knowledge about food choices that bear the blame, not the lack of funding or accessibility to fresh foods. Yes, it is the fault of poor fat folk that we do not go outside and be active, not environmental factors such as walkways, safe neighborhoods, or accessibility to gym memberships. If we just didn’t spend our money on Pepsi and Ding Dongs, we’d be better off and smaller! Don’t we know that all this sugar and fat can’t possibly be good for our bodies?!? If there only was a way this “curse” could be lifted…*insert eye roll here*
In Westernized society fat can be likened to the “ex” mentioned in the meme above. There is less explanation given to why fat people or those who consider themselves to be fat would, or even should jump at an opportunity like The Biggest Loser to be part of a circus that not only ridicules fat bodies but also encourages disordered eating at times to “win” an advantage for the team week after week. What’s even more interesting is that despite the hell people on the show willingly put themselves through, in the end, no one really wins.
The Biggest Loser Only Produces More Loss
By now, much has come out about the show and the outcomes of previous contestants (spoiler alert: They injured their bodies and gained their weight back). I am honestly baffled (and then again, not) as to why the show is able to air again considering all the controversies. One previous contestant, Kai Hubbard, has come out as a promoter of the Health at Every Size model, talking extensively about her journey to body acceptance after being on the show. In a report by the New York Times, Hubbard referenced her experience on The Biggest Loser and her encounters with disordered eating, consuming roughly 1,000 calories per day. She also spoke about working out until exhaustion, and how trainers took pleasure in seeing contestants struggle. Perhaps, one of the most telling things about Hubbard’s experience is that she recounts the pressure of believing that one should be grateful for just getting the opportunity to be on the show. Suffering was seen as a “necessary evil” to get to the prize even if the results did not last.
As I sat thinking, I thought how awesome the headline on my newsfeed could have been if it read that the medical facility promoting The Biggest Loser was instead actually standing up to share what we’ve known about fat and eating through research instead. What if those in power actually used their resources to get people onto a journey of wellness fit for their individual needs instead of some weird standard that really doesn’t measure health at all (here’s looking at you, BMI)? One thing’s for sure, the desperation associated with doing the abnormal to be considered normal would dissipate. Along with that desperation, so would a good chunk of the 60 billion dollars the diet industry rakes in on society’s behalf.
In the end, no one really wins. Not the viewers and certainly not the contestants. According to research, shows such as The Biggest Loser continuously reinforces the idea that a thriving life can only be had in a smaller body (tell that to icons like Miss Piggy, Winnie the Pooh, and Lizzo). According to this logic, if you are someone whose body does not fit societal norms in the least, you’re doomed. No marriage. No high paying career. No excitement. Even those in smaller bodies but outside of society’s beauty ideals are relegated to a lower standard of living while fat bodies are used as the poster children of what no one wants to become. As found, The Biggest Loser fueled fatphobia in those who watched the show even if the contestants were losing weight in the process. For those living in larger bodies, The Biggest Loser’s approach to weight loss also speaks against their best interest as fat shaming and weight stigma has been found to incite behaviors that are counterintuitive to wellness, and dieting has been found to have a 95% failure rate, with most regaining what they (and more) within 2 years.
Finding the Alternative through Health at Every Size
So how does one decide whether smacking their loved one in the face is really worth that $1,000,000.00? I don’t have an answer to this, but I do have a suggestion if we are applying this same scenario to something like extreme weight loss and its cousins, “Lifestyle Change” and “(Un)Healthy Eating.” Health at Every Size is a good start. HAES can be a model that leads people to body acceptance without the fluff of body positivity. It can be a resource that educates those recovering from eating disorders and others living in a larger body about the importance of body diversity and advocacy of self. It is an awesome resource for education around the dangers of dieting and the pseudoscience that fuels the notion that diets work and create exciting, “never have another problem again” lives.
In the end, weight gain is not the problem just as much as weight loss is the answer. The exploitation of lives for entertainment while a simultaneous fight to survive and thrive is. If the structures of power were our only answer and they have turned a blind eye to the monstrosities of the weight loss industry, perhaps smacking our parents may not be such a bad idea. However, HAES presents itself as a possible to answer to alleviate the pressure facing the thousands of people who viewed the same headline I did today. It is a viable alternative to rationalizing if putting bodies through suffering for several weeks and a possible payout will be worth it.
About The Author
Joy Cox, PhD is a body justice advocate using her skill set in research and leadership to foster social change through the promotion of fat acceptance, diversity, and inclusion. She currently sits as the Chair for the Association of Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH), and hosts the podcast, Fresh Out the Cocoon which focuses on the lived experiences of Black fat women.