2.05.2014

The Biggest Loser debacle means we should ask questions, not make judgements.

So everyone is talking about the Biggest Loser winner, Rachel, and her astounding and perhaps over-kill weight loss. I have so many thoughts on this, and I have gotten into arguments about this, and I'm still attempting to organize my thoughts, but they essentially boil down to the following:

1. We cannot tell if Rachel has an eating disorder. Again: Based simply on her physical appearance, we cannot tell if she has an eating disorder.

I know, she lost a lot of weight. Maybe she's healthy, maybe she's not. From just seeing her on television, second-hand, and without any knowledge of her diet and fitness habits, it is impossible to tell if she is anorexic, bulimic, etc.

I suppose I'm extremely sensitive to this since I have been called anorexic and bulimic and unattractive, based on my physical appearance, up through present day. Men sometimes make comments about skinny women looking unhealthy, co-workers joke about me getting blown over by wind (which I completely take as a joke, but I've heard it since I was about 8 and I know similar comments were made about the winner), students sometimes call me frail and ask me if I eat (the joys of teaching blunt teenagers), parents of my students tell me I need to eat more, etc. And I follow a healthy lifestyle - I work out 4-5 times a week, I eat healthy foods and in appropriate proportions, so I know my body is healthy, despite the jokes and the comments. Again, we cannot tell if she has an eating disorder just based on her appearance.

Would we think she was ill if we hadn't seen her before weight? If we didn't have a fuller face to compare? Or was it such a drastic change that it looks overly extreme?

2. The show promotes this kind of drastic weight loss. What did you expect from a show that rewards people for losing the most amount of weight? 

I understand the show tries to promote healthier habits: lean meal choices, appropriate exercise, but when the contestants go home they are left to their own devices and aren't monitored at the same level as they were at "The Ranch." Everyone expects people to gain the weight back; why is it so shocking someone could possibly go the other way? If someone is a competitor, they will take the drastic measures necessary to win. The very nature of the show sets up people for this.

Which leads me to the main point I want to make: while we shouldn't make judgements about the winner's appearance, we should be asking questions:

A. What is "healthy"? What does that look like?
B. What is a "healthy weight" for an individual? Not a generalization (BMI), but for individual bodies.
C. Is losing so much weight in such a short amount of time as portrayed on the show healthy? Is it sustainable? Is it a good role model for the average person?
D. What are the methods used by this year's winner? Were they healthy or were they not? These are the most important questions to ask, rather than quickly deciding she is or is not suffering from an eating disorder.

Soon enough, this issue will die down. But there will come along another woman for people to body-hate. Again and again we see it in social media: women who are overweight are slammed, women who are underweight are slammed, and who actually feels good about their body and health? (And I'm not even going to mention that guys typically do not get the same amount of criticism.) Instead of rash judgements and quick anger, let's ask questions that will actually get us answers and help all women get healthy - mentally and physically.

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