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.”
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.
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.
At the heart of it, ALL reality television is about exploitation. The difference between adult and child participation is that the adult is better equipped to make an informed decision about their own exploitation. Putting kids on tv shows like this, or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, or Jon & Kate + Eight, or whatever, is a Bad Idea. While parents may think the money they bank for their families being on those shows is awesome, the end result is damaging. Kids in school live in a fishbowl as it is, but at least it’s a fairly small fishbowl.
THIS is worse. Put them in a fishbowl, let them experience fat-shaming on a national scale, and see how many years of therapy they require later. Those parents would be so much better served by talking to their pediatrician and getting a referral to a nutritionist.
I’ve watched enough segments of The Biggest Loser to know that the coaches sincerely despise obese people. You can see it in the abusive, belittling approach they take toward the contestants. As if people with chronically low self-esteem from our fat-shaming culture really need to be brought down even further.
So even if they claim that their approach will be different with the kids, that it will be about building them up, it will make no difference. Kids can tell when someone doesn’t like them, even if that person is smiling and pretending to be concerned about them. The show’s “coaches” are absolutely hateful human beings, and people should think long and hard before exposing children to such attitudes.
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