No, they’re not contestants. They won’t participate in weigh-ins and aren’t eligible to win the cash prize for dropping the most weight. Relax, America! The kids to appear on this season’s The Biggest Loser are just being “mentored.”

Image of The Biggest Loser child contestants on stage.

The three young “mentees” from Season 14.

The 14th season that premiered on January 6th featured two 13-year-olds and one 16-year-old. During a Press Tour, the coaches claimed their goal was to approach the youth in the opposite way they do the adults by “not breaking down, just lifting up.”

They said it was about getting kids to move again and for “kids to be kids,” and cited a focus on sports like rowing, cheerleading, and obstacle courses to include an element of fun. Sounds reasonable. So, what’s the big deal?

The BIG deal is that this odious piece of programming’s definition of mentoring means exposure to fat shaming, intensely restrictive diets, and excessive exercise. The Biggest Loser is synonymous with fueling a national environment that promotes fat phobia, body shaming, and unhealthy means of weight loss.

How can it be ignored that these teens will be exposed to the adult contestants being “broken down”? How can exposure to the conditions the contestants endure not be traumatizing and reinforce that the future of their self-esteem, willpower, and worth is related to their ability to control their weight?

If a show purporting to encourage healthy lifestyles in kids existed, that would be amazing. But attempting to integrate youth into the most fat-shaming, weight loss glorifying TV show in America just to expand the target audience is horrifying. Our society is already massively confused about the relationship between size and health and riddled with misconceptions that one is an indicator of the other.

We lack the education in our schools that show kids what normal, healthy bodies look like and lack curriculum to teach them the function of food as energy and the nutrients necessary to nourish us. We lack media literacy to assist them in questioning popular culture and considering marketing messages and motives.

Without strong systems in place to inform our children about these facets, their education is left up to shows like The Biggest Loser and a multi-billion dollar diet industry that pushes weight loss for profit.

Image of Biggest Loser child contestants with the coaches.

The kids with the coaches: a recipe for disaster?

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people cite the “growing obesity epidemic” as the reason for being fixated on weight loss, rigid exercise regimens, and controlled caloric intake that is often dangerously and sadly imposed on impressionable youth.

Fit and healthy bodies come in many different sizes and shapes and being thin is no indication of overall health or wellness. Not only does The Biggest Loser reinforce the that idea that thinness at any cost is acceptable, attainable, and worthwhile, its fat shaming methods sear in the size stigma even more.

Adults being bullied into weight loss and taught to control their bodies by any means normalizes this behavior for impressionable youth and encourages them to do the same. The presence of teens on the show simply provides youngsters with peers to relate to and could possibly encourage them to employ drastic dieting and self-shaming.

Regardless of their level of participation, their exposure to the conditions the other contestants must endure is unavoidable. To some, this may be the only contact they’ve had with diet and exercise that is made worse by the national fanfare and media attention. Seeing the coaches they may admire bully the adults around them and continue to link “health and weight loss”, the correlation is only solidified.

Furthermore, having kids across America potentially viewing their contemporaries on TV in an environment that showcases size shaming and dangerous weight control methods puts all kids at risk. Not only does this put them in danger of developing unhealthy behaviors, but seeing adults size shaming other adults simply encourages kids to do it to their peers.

Let’s use this as a conversation piece to critically talk about it with those around us. Let’s think about why any level of exposure to this show and its messages confuse the national dialogue about weight, health, and its many misconceptions.

We can even use this as a “what not to do” in our schools and with the kids around us, to educate them on body diversity, size acceptance, and healthy eating and living practices that have nothing to do with weight control or size shrinking.

Heather spends her days working in the corporate business world, and can be found sharing her own experience, insights, and pop culture commentary at www.msmettle.com.