Months ago, we learned that Jillian Michaels would be returning to The Biggest Loser to tackle a very important and delicate topic: childhood obesity. At the time, I questioned whether the show and the new mother of two would really help teens in a healthy way or just exacerbate other body image issues. Now, the press tour for the three teenagers participating in The Biggest Loser is starting, and it looks like our previous concerns were valid. In all of the talking points thrown around during the PR introductions, body acceptance is notably absent.
The three teens joining The Biggest Loser program seem like awesome young people who honestly want to have a healthier life. They sound like their thoughts have been run through a public relations meat grinder, but they’re still endearing. There are two 13-year-olds, Lindsay and “Biingo,” as well as 16-year-old “Sunny.”
Jillian Michaels start out their introduction to People by clarifying, ”This is not their fault. This is about an introduction to an active lifestyle and helping them feel better about themselves.” It’s odd that the concept of blame should even be mentioned, given that we’re talking about teenagers here, but at least Michaels lets the kids off the hook.
After that, each young person introduces themselves and explains how, when, and why they started to gain weight. They talk about the stress of divorce or economic issues or being the new kid. These are all very real issues that teens have to deal with, and these students explain that food became coping mechanisms for all of them.
Lindsay talks about being bullied for her size and ultimately quitting the cheerleading squad. Biingo mentions baseball and wanting to “be able to keep up with [his] friends.” Sunny mentions enjoying singing, but being self-conscious in front of groups of people.
For all three of these kids, the obvious answer from the show is that they need to lose weight. But there’s no mention of the fact that teens shouldn’t be made to feel self-conscious or bullied or lonely simply because they aren’t the right size. There’s no talk of being confident, no matter how many pounds you drop.
These three teenagers are dealing with serious stressors and real problems. I’m sorry to say that losing weight won’t be a cure all, no matter how much The Biggest Loser pretends it will.
Skinny kids get bullied too, just like Lindsay did. And no child should have to quit an activity that they enjoy because their peers make them feel uncomfortable or insecure when they’re trying to support their school. Biingo might not be a star baseball player, no matter what his number on the scale says. He should still be able to feel like a part of the group and have friends who make sure to include him. And Sunny shouldn’t equate her weight with her confidence. That’s a dangerous road to go down.
Body acceptance and healthy weight loss are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to promote both. It’s possible to say that you’re deserving of love and kindness and confidence no matter what size you’re at, while still trying to get healthier. I hope in the next round of publicity, The Biggest Loser makes more of an attempt to include a little acceptance along with their health-focus.