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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Critics Call ‘The Biggest Loser’ Irresponsible

This Feb. 4, 2014 photo released by NBC shows Rachel Frederickson on the finale of "The Biggest Loser," in Los Angeles. Fredrickson lost nearly 60 percent of her body weight to win the latest season of “The Biggest Loser” and pocket $250,000. (Trae Patton/NBC via AP)

This Feb. 4, 2014 photo released by NBC shows Rachel Frederickson on the finale of “The Biggest Loser,” in Los Angeles. Fredrickson lost nearly 60 percent of her body weight to win the latest season of “The Biggest Loser” and pocket $250,000. (Trae Patton/NBC via AP)

Rachel Frederickson is pictured at the beginning of the competition. (Paul Drinkwater/NBC via AP)

Rachel Frederickson is pictured at the beginning of the competition. (Paul Drinkwater/NBC via AP)

NBC is defending the winner of this year’s “Biggest Loser” competition. “The Biggest Loser” is a reality show in which participants move into a weight loss ranch for months, to go through a series of workout challenges and often teary therapeutic sessions with coaches and nutritionists.

Rachel Frederickson, 24, arrived weighing 260 pounds. She lost a good deal of weight, then joined two other finalists who went home and tried to either maintain or continue to lose the weight. Frederickson returned to lose a total of 155 pounds — nearly 60 percent of her body weight — and Tuesday night walked away with a $250,000 prize.

Her reveal ignited a flurry of criticism, with many on social media buzzing that she had lost too much weight. The whole episode has raised the question yet again about the impact of reality TV.

Indiana University gender studies professor Brenda Weber, who researches reality television, joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss “The Biggest Loser.”

Interview Highlights: Brenda Weber

On reactions to Rachel’s weight loss

“In 15 seasons of the show, it’s remarkable that this is the first time it’s actually triggered this kind of national conversation, because the logic of the show has been this from the outset: lose as much weight as quickly as you can, and that’s how you win this competition.”

“Everyone keeps going to the faces of the trainers, Bob and Jillian, in shock and disbelief … And in fact, in the last episode of the season, when Rachel had her final weigh-in at the ranch, she weighed 150 pounds. And so then the finale is six weeks later in real time, so she lost 45 pounds in six weeks at home, and it was a dramatic change, and that’s also a very unhealthy change.”

On how society views overweight and underweight people

“A lot of people feel like it’s unfair and inconsistent to say someone is too fat, and now say they’re too thin, like there’s no place for a person to win … especially a woman. The obese person and the anorexic person actually trigger very similar kinds of reactions, and it’s about these extremes that get written on the body, and they both code as rule-breakers, as being antisocial, they’re not willing or able to act like the rest of us are supposed to act, right? There’s a whole form of social judgment that accrues to these extreme bodies. But of course, what happens is, in the case of the very thin body, that kind of public censure doesn’t come in until it’s really, really extreme, whereas you can gain 10 or 15 pounds, as any number of pop stars from Britney Spears to Kesha to Lady Gaga have shown us, and you begin to get the public censure. You don’t have to have the body that’s 200 pounds overweight to activate that kind of critique.”

On the impact of shows like “The Biggest Loser”

“These shows aren’t isolated. They’re all participating in a larger network of conversations about how we ought to behave, how we ought to look. You don’t pay attention to this popular culture at your own peril. If you’re not willing to be critically engaged with it, then you’re likely to be manipulated by it.”

Guest

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

The show "The Biggest Loser" is phenomenally successful with franchises around the world, a reality show in which participants move to a weight loss ranch for months, go through workout challenges and teary sessions with coaches and nutritionist to try to lose often deadly weight. Talk about "Hunger Games."

Twenty-four year old Rachel Frederickson, a three-time former Minnesota state champion swimmer, arrived weighing 260 pounds, lost weight and joined two other finalists who went home and tried to lose more. But then Rachel returned. She'd lost a total of 155 pounds, nearly 60 percent of her body weight. And Tuesday night, she won the $250,000 prize.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BIGGEST LOSER")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Rachel, you did it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You deserve it.

YOUNG: She wouldn't say how she got down to 105 pounds. And the whole episode has raised the question yet again. What is the impact of reality TV? Brenda Weber is an associate professor of gender studies at Indiana University. Her forthcoming book is "Reality Gendervision: Sexuality and Gender on Transatlantic Reality TV." She joins us from the studios of WFIU in Bloomington. And, Professor Webber, you watched. You told us you were stunned along with everyone when you saw this very thin Rachel come out.

BRENDA WEBER: I also think in 15 seasons of the show it's remarkable that this is the first time it's actually triggered this kind of national conversation because the logic of the show has been this from the outset, lose as much weight as quickly as you can and that's how you win this competition.

YOUNG: It's quite emotional at times. These are very obese people. And in many cases, they know it's life or death. But then layered on top of that is - first of all, it's for everyone to see, to watch and see and it's often humiliating. And then there's this prize, this cash prize at the end. I mentioned "Hunger Games." I constantly think of that. But there are those who say that this is a wonderful example of spirit and guts.

WEBER: I think it's both a weight loss show, but it's also about more personal kinds of challenges that in watching them it becomes quite inspirational for viewers at home.

YOUNG: Who, of course, though, we have to say because I'm sure someone is thinking at - are sitting on their couches.

WEBER: Yeah, many are. And in fact, I think many do that with pleasure. I've talked with several people who enjoy ice cream and cake as they're watching "The Biggest Loser." I know others that watch it because they like the cathartic experience of crying. I actually exercise while I'm watching it.

But one thing that's really interesting, television, particularly reality TV, isn't limited to the television small screen anymore. So people Twitter as they're watching it. Now, there are all these biggest loser clubs and challenges. And that's sort of activated people in interesting and sort of unprecedented ways.

YOUNG: Well, then you come to this show and this finale.

WEBER: I think for one thing, you know, everyone keeps going to the faces of the trainers and - Bob and Jillian in shock and disbelief.

YOUNG: This is Jillian Michaels and...

WEBER: Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper. And in fact, you know, in the last episode of the season when Rachel had her final weigh in at the ranch, she weighed 150 pounds. And so then the finale is six weeks later in real time, so she lost 45 pounds in six weeks at home. And it was a dramatic change. And that's also a very unhealthy change.

And I think many makeover shows, not just "The Biggest Loser" but "The Biggest Loser" itself positions itself in this sort of role of being a savior. And I think even up on the wall of the gym, they have a quote from Bob Harper, one of the trainers, that says, you know, I'm here to save your life.

What happened to this sort of public conversation in the wake of Rachel's win was it shocked people because it triggered another kind of extreme. And what's really fascinating is that I've been reading, you know, Twitter posts and blog responses and things since the finale, and a lot of people feel like it's unfair and inconsistent to say someone is too fat and now say they are too thin, like there's no place for a person to win.

YOUNG: Especially a woman.

WEBER: Right. Especially a woman. The obese person and the anorexic person actually trigger very similar kinds of reactions. And it's about these extremes that get written on the body, and they both code as rule-breakers, as being anti-social, they're not willing or able to act like the rest of us are supposed to act, right? There's a whole form of social judgment that accrues to these extreme bodies.

But, of course, what happens is, in the case of the very thin body, that kind of public censure doesn't come in until it's really, really extreme, whereas you can gain 10 or 15 pounds, as any number of pop stars from Britney Spears to Ke$ha to Lady Gaga have shown us, and you begin to get the public censure. You don't have to have the body that's 200 pounds overweight in order to activate that kind of critique.

YOUNG: But you also say that this idea that this show set itself up as this transformative, progressive work, then when this overly thin body comes out, it puts a lie to that. Let's listen to a little bit of what you were talking about, how when Rachel first came on the show, talked about her weight, 260 pounds, and what that did to her. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BIGGEST LOSER")

RACHEL FREDERICKSON: 260, it's the highest I have ever been in my life, and it just means all of the loneliness, all of the hurt, and all of the emotions that went into getting to this number.

YOUNG: So we can hear some of the emotion that's expressed on the show. But, you know, Kai Hibbard, who was a finalist on season three, has since said that before the last episode of "The Biggest Loser," she dehydrated herself. She took off 19 pounds in the last two weeks before weigh in. She stopped eating solid foods, had two colonics, sat in a sauna for hours before the weigh in. You mentioned the look on the faces of the trainers when Rachel came out, but they must know what people are doing in the final hours, and especially in those last weeks when the finalists are alone and not on the ranch. You've spoken with former contestants. What do they tell you?

WEBER: Yeah. I think that there's a don't-ask-don't-tell policy going on. I mean, one of the things that people I've talked to who've participated on "The Biggest Loser" in particular have shared with me is that the way the show positions time on the show is inaccurate and so the weigh-ins are not weekly, which means you can amass bigger numbers in what looks like a smaller amount of time. And then everything that you talked about with Kai, right, that once they're off the ranch, all bets are off and they do everything they possibly can do in order to bring those numbers down.

YOUNG: Well, Brenda Weber, I could just hear people saying, what do I care? Who cares if people decide they want to go on these shows? Who care if some young woman lost too much weight and is now being, you know, heavily discussed in social media? Everybody who participates buys into it and deserve whatever they get in the end, and no good can come from this. But I'm thinking of the recent study that show that MTV's "Teen Mom" series, another reality show in which teenage mothers really show how hard their lives are, led to a decrease in teen pregnancy. Do you think there is a social benefit of "Biggest Loser"?

WEBER: These shows aren't isolated. They're all participating in a larger network of conversations about how we ought to behave, how we ought to look. You don't pay attention to this popular culture at your own peril. If you're not willing to be critically engaged with it, then you're likely to be manipulated by it.

In terms of the causality, "Teen Mom" in particular actually shows a very complicated version of what does it mean to be a teenage mother, and sometimes it says much about glorying and how cute these children are as it is, ooh, look how hard these girls have it. And similarly, I think "The Biggest Loser," it's one of the hugest and has been the hugest rating draws of reality TV's offerings for the last 10 years. I haven't seen that there's been a huge decline in obesity rates. There's been some, but that's much more of a systemic kind of awareness, right? So "The Biggest Loser" may have contributed to that, but I don't think it alone has caused people to either gain weight or lose weight, or to be less tolerant of large bodied people.

YOUNG: Hmm. Or, as we're seeing, thin people. Brenda Weber, associate professor of gender studies at Indiana University. Her book is "Reality Gendervision: Sexuality and Gender on Transatlantic Reality TV." Professor Weber, Brenda, thanks so much.

WEBER: Sure. It's my pleasure.

YOUNG: And if you have thoughts, go to facebook.com/hereandnowradio. Everyone else is. Or you can leave a comment with this story at hereandnow.org. From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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  • Robin Streb

    She looks about 10 years older with the weight loss – definitely not 24!

    • Duane_Dibbley

      I agree, she looks about 45 now in the face.

    • Guest

      She looks like a middle-aged woman. I mean she may feel good inside like those on weed may feel good and happy inside. But they don’t know that they look terrible and weird outside and other people see that.

      So a drug-user may feel so ecstatic and happy inside but they have no idea that to the people around them seeing the drug user physically, the drug user looks like a loser.

      So, it is not just how one feels. It is more than that because if it is just how one feels then everyone would be smoking weed to feel happy. But on the outside, that person looks like a drug-crazed smelly loser.

  • TJtruthandjustice

    This is so totally screwed up. According to the charts I’ve seen, this woman is significantly below what is considered to be a “healthy” weight.

    • Joe Barry

      At 5’4″ her BMI when she arrived at 260 lbs. was 43, or 100 lbs over a BMI of 24 which is the upper most boundary for healthy. Now she is 105 lbs or 5 lbs less than a BMI of 19 which is the lowermost boundary of healthy. So, 5 lbs underweight is “so totally screwed up”. Apparently, there is a tolerance problem for underweight people. I have a BMI of 18 which is even lower than hers and I’ve been trying to get my weight up for a while. I was hurt to find out that I am “so totally screwed up”.

  • loyal listener

    Professor of “gender studies”?

    LOL

    • Joe Barry

      The photographer’s name of the overweight Rachael is “Paul Drinkwater”

      LOL

      Who comes up with these names?

  • sue

    I think this is blown way out of proportion – I think she looks great, good muscle tone in her arms, etc. While he face did look much thinner – she did lose a lot of weight and it comes off ever part of body. it’s the make-up that makes her look older. Why has no one commented on the 2 men semifinalists? I think their “look” was very similar, : their faces were very thin.

    • Nunya

      Are you high?! She weighs 105! You need counseling if you think that weight on that girl, or that losing 45 lbs in 6 weeks, is healthy. “Good muscle tone in her arms,” OMG.

      • Karolyn Chester

        I weighed 105 until the end of junior year of high school. I lost 20 pounds in 9 months and ended up at 85 pounds. I’m currently at 92 pounds and is healthy. It doesn’t matter about weight, as long as she is healthy and feels confident, it doesn’t matter what others say or think. I think that it’s all fine if the person eats right and is healthy.

        • Sara

          How tall are you?? There is a such thing as under weight. If you are like 5’1 or 5’2 that’s a good weight to be. She is 5’4 and she should not be 105 lbs. It is not healthy. You people defending her need to pay more attention. Maybe watch the finale and see her moving around. The picture doesn’t look as bad as her live. She is not healthy!

      • Ann

        Yes, no muscle tone at all! That is the most ridiculous statement I’ve heard yet, Sue! You need to look at a healthy thin person, then her. She is sticks and bones. She needs to gain 20 lbs.

        • lori

          I have NEVER been more disgusted with seeing a finale of the biggest loser! the producers, trainers and everyone else involved with this show; especially the finale should be ashamed of themselves for allowing Rachel to lose that much weight – and THEN get on stage and show America how completely ghastly she looks. She doesn’t have any muscle tone – are you KIDDING me.. she has absolutely NO color to her face, her bones are sticking out everywhere – she is absolutely starving herself for $250K.. she looked MORE health at the 267 pnds she started at. Get it together Biggest Loser!! I just watched my last episode of that show.

  • Fr0sty

    This woman looks as if she is literally starving. I would encourage anyone who doubts the harmful effects of such behavior to consult the Minnesota Starvation Study and learn about what this woman has likely done to damage both her body and her brain. Current medical research suggests that anorexia has a large genetic component and can be triggered by episodes of rapid significant weight loss. The Biggest Loser needs to pay close attention to its contestants, especially the younger ones. Even if she hasn’t developed an eating disorder, to lose more than a pound a day suggests that there is nothing remotely healthy about her behavior.

    • Mark

      So completely full of inaccuracies and ignorance. Study first and then offer advice – don’t just regurgitate stuff you read.

    • kooky pirate

      There were 3 months in the last 45 pounds she lost.. from the last aired show to the finale. That’s a little over 3 pounds a week, with no job, a personal trainer and pushing it for $250,000. She did NOT lose over 1 pound a day.. or even close to that.
      There’s no way in hell an eating disorder develops from eating 1600 calories a day and working out hard. Do your homework.
      She should be praised for a great job. Quit your hating.

      • keltcrusader

        “And so then the finale is six weeks later in real time, so she lost 45 pounds in six weeks at home, and it was a dramatic change, and that’s also a very unhealthy change.”

        6 weeks does not equal 3 months and that means she lost 1lb per day which is CRAZY!

        • kooky pirate

          You would be wrong.. It was actually 3 1/2 months which puts her weight loss between 3.1 – 3.2 pounds week. This from yahoo..

          The facts: Frederickson lost the weight in seven-and-a-half months, four on “The Biggest Loser” ranch — under the daily care and supervision of the show’s trainers and medical staff — and three-and-a-half months on her own. She says once she left the ranch, she followed the 1,600-calorie-a-day eating plan she’d been given on the show, and began working part-time so she’d have enough time every day to take as many as four exercise classes.

      • hydebee

        your thoughts are crap -eating disorders can come from 1 day yes 1 day , it is the brain that does this!!!you are a idiot to say the least .

        • kooky pirate

          Hydebee.. please educate yourself. She ate 1600 calories a day. You can throw insults and hate all you want but you’re displaying a great amount of ignorance.

  • kooky pirate
  • nae nae

    I think she looks great! sure its a drastic change but that does not change how great she looks…. she looks healthier and she even have a glow!

  • Patrick Forsythe

    I hope they change the way they pick the overall winner (not just most weight loss) – or at least give a substantial prize to any contestant that reaches a predetermined, extremely healthy body weight or fat and muscle %. I worry that someone will really hurt themselves during the “at home” portion of show. This could help prevent that. The show has inspired a lot of people to get healthy; be a shame to have that legacy tarnished.

  • Jamie

    Not hating but this is what my step mom looked like when she was dying from cancer and couldn’t eat. Some may view it as healthy looking, some may say it is a skeleton look, looks to me like she is hungry.

  • Fitness physique

    I love how fat people jump at the chance to call this woman unhealthy. She looks great. No need to be envious of her hard work.

  • Chris

    She worked hard. People should stop being haters. Most of these negative comments are probably coming from fat bored housewives.

  • Kim

    She looks great! Hard work pays off!

  • SJLAW

    She went hard to win the money, 250K is big motivator. She’ll probably end up gaining some of that weight back on the beach, in Hawaii or wherever the 250k takes her. I find all of the faux outrage inconsistent, it’s damn if you do damn if you don’t.

    • Juana

      Right on! This show is about winning $250,000. She did what it took to win $250,000 as they all did, only in her case, it was simply more evident. On another note, Actors have done this for the movies and everyone supports their starring roles. This is no different. She will go on to gain the weight back as they all do. Rachel played the game. It’s simple as that.

  • Charlie

    this is crazy, its bad that she was lost 45 pounds so quickly, but 105 pounds at 5″4 is not underweight, thats just the kind of thing that fat people say to make themselves feel better. When I saw the picture of her on the show (without knowing her weight) my immediate though was ‘healthy’ but not ‘skinny’, lets be real here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eleanor-Dorst/100000491554177 Eleanor Dorst

    you know there are those young women who view this as being a “normal” body size, but, its not. Where are the professional people from the show who are advising her after she’s gone home. And is the lure of a quarter of a million to sabotage your health worth it?.. She looks anorexic and a lot older. The show should stipulate healthy guidelines not the lose a pound a day belief.

  • Mechele R. Dillard

    It is hard to imagine how anyone could see that finale and feel Rachel looks “great” or “healthy.” http://tvruckus.com/2014/02/07/rachel-the-biggest-loser-is-her-new-weight-healthy-finale-reveal-video/

  • Realitystaff

    It was a lot more than 6 weeks since she went home in the last episode to the finale. The show finished taping in October. That’s almost 4 months she had to loose 45 lbs.

    • keltcrusader

      “And so then the finale is six weeks later in real time, so she lost 45 pounds in six weeks at home, and it was a dramatic change, and that’s also a very unhealthy change.”

      Try again :(

  • Cyrus Gold

    Was there the same flurry of criticism when she showed up weighing 260 lbs?

  • coach_steve

    Everyone is a critic – one way or another. We have been watching Biggest Loser for many seasons. The contestents that go on there (a) cannot walk at a brisk pace without almost passing out, (b) lift moderate weights for 2 minutes without puking, (c) get their identity or comfort from EATING, and (d) are often close to or have developed type 2 diabetes.

    Check her blood, watch her perform, see her smile, see her swim again, check her pulse, clock her run….. I too sometimes get critical of “marathon runners” for example; then I check myself. Why? I cannot even run 2 miles right now.

    I say kudos to the trainers, the show, the contestants, for giving us a show that changes peoples lives in a wonderful way.

    And KUDOS to Rachel, Steve from Louisville

  • Mark

    I think she is hot !!!!!

  • Cabanator

    I think the controversy around this show and the conversation going on in the comments to this story show how widely varying views of what’s “healthy” are. I will admit that to me, this woman looks very thin, perhaps too thin. However, as a competitive runner, her body looks just like every elite marathoner that I know. Now, you may take the view that anyone training to be an elite marathoner is somewhat crazy, but they’re not so different from other elite athletes who train intensely and are obsessive about their diets. I would argue that despite what we may think about their looks, you have to be generally pretty healthy to withstand the demands of training and racing at that level, otherwise you will quickly crumble. I would also argue that most elite marathoners are far healthier than your average citizen. My point is that what’s considered “healthy” in terms of looks is often based on social norms and media-propagated standards, rather than on any measurable health metrics. Each individual should have regular check-ins with a primary care physician to monitor the important indicators of health–cholesterol levels, blood pressure, hemoglobin, etc. and judge their own health based on these critical factors, as well as how they feel, instead of worrying about what other people think about how they look.

  • Lisa

    The Biggest Loser has always been INSPIRational up until this week and then it became downright scary! Never has this show been realistic as something ANYONE should try at home. I mean who has a full time doctor, trainer, nutritionist, masseuse, and physical/sports/psycho therapists, hydrotherapy and everything else in addition to a cool 5-7 hours of time to “just train”. I’m not hating.
    I love this show and watch it every season. But that finale made me go whoa and opposed to wow!
    I am sure Rachel is in defense mode but hopefully soon she will make a statement that sounds like she realizes maybe she over did it. Right now she’s the poster child for all eating disorders (Overeating and Anorexia). My guess is she looks a lot unhealthier than she actually is. But if the camera ADDS 10 lbs…. I’d hate to see her in person. Good luck Rachel!

  • flwrhead

    Did a little math. If she’d lost 55% of her body weight, which would have still made her the winner, her ending weight would have been 117. The additional 12 pounds would go a long way towards making her appear healthy. As a 5’04 woman, I haven’t weighed 105 since I was 16 and got my driver’s license. I hope she puts on about 10 pounds, at least. I worry for her health.

    • kooky pirate

      Exactly.. and all she had to do to “lose” the other was not eat carbs for a week (eat protein and fat all week). That would have depleted her of glycogen and dropped weight 7 or 8 pounds. She no doubt started dehydrating herself for a couple/three days, as every body builder in the world does for another 7 or 8 pounds. It’s just like competing in body building. People don’t seem to get this. Right after the show, she likely had a bunch of pizza and juice and gained at least 10 pounds. Guaranteed. Nothing wrong with her method.. smart way to play the game.

  • Fat and Happy

    Biggest loser Doctors should keep examining the contestants the last 6 weeks before the finale and step in if they see a problem. Her relationship with her father has to have something to do with what is obviously an issue she still has.

  • kooky pirate

    My goodness she’s cute.

  • James

    I love how fat people like to chime in on what “healthy” is. Clearly, they have no idea. I think she looks hot.

  • Maerahn .

    Losing weight for health benefits is fine, and if that’s what this show was really about it wouldn’t be a problem. But as soon as you turn it into a competition, with big cash prizes… that’s when it turns into gladiatorial sport, with the same fight-to-the-death mentality encouraged in the ‘contenders.’ Weren’t we supposed to have become a more civilised society since then? Evidently not…

  • Silence_DoOkay

    From the point of being 150 pounds, she lost one-third of her body weight at home before the finale–in 6 weeks or so. It is impossible to do that by “working out”–She has to be anorexic and it shows. She never has been healthy mentally and exhibited manic behavior throughout the season.

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