‘The Biggest Loser’ & Their Childhood Obesity Press Tour Completely Ignore Body Acceptance

biggest loserMonths 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.

(Photo: NBC)

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  • Tinyfaeri

    The Biggest Loser is probably not going to say “it’s totally OK if you’re morbidly obese, but if you want to get slimmer we’d love to help you!” Given our country’s current problems with childhood obesity and obesity in general, I don’t think they should. Of course all people deserve love and kindness in return for love and kindness regardless of their size. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Jilian say anything but that – she and the other trainers usually goes the “love yourself and show it by making yourself healthy” route. They spend a good deal of time trying to find out why the contestants have such low self esteem that they don’t want more for themselves, to live longer lives, to live happier and healthier lives able to do what they want to do.

    • chickadee

      Totally agree. And I think these kids have already experienced casual cruelty as a result of their weight and asking them to develop a teflon hide is less helpful at this stage than working on their weight.

      From what I’ve heard about TBL, they do, as you noted, address the reasons for poor eating habit with their adult contestants, and they are being much more careful with the kids (not to embarrass them on television and so on) so I expect that they will emphasize positive body images. But you can’t tell a kid who is clearly overweight that she should just own it when she isn’t happy the way she is.

  • once upon a time

    Yes, skinny people do get bullied, and no one does dick about it because the bullies say things like, “I’m only saying it cause I’m jealous! Duh, I don’t know why you’d be offended by me calling you anorexic, it’s obviously a compliment!”

    But take three teenagers who have actively sought out this program because they want to lose weight and you get articles like this, chastising anyone who suggests that obesity (i.e. an unhealthy weight, not someone who is large but healthy) is something that should be overcome, not embraced.

  • Fish Jones

    Person 1 is black. They’re born that way. Accept it.

    Person 2 is white. They’re born that way. Accept it.

    Person 3 is Asian-heritage. They’re born that way. Accept it.

    Yeah, there’s a handful of diseases that go up (or down) depending on heritage, but they’re fairly minute. Person 1′s likely taller than Person 3. No biggie.

    Person 4 is anorexic. You can’t be born anorexic. It’s a diet change, it’s part mental condition, part social reaction, and causes a mass of medical problems. And we’re supposed to “Accept That”?

    Person 5 is healthy weight. Most people are born with a healthy weight. Not everyone, but generally, if they’re not, the doctors freak out and try to fix it at any cost.

    Person 6 is obese. Maybe they do have a gene that means they should not eat a burger when Person 5 can. 200 years ago, almost no one was ‘genetically obese’. They may be born to fat parents, but that doesn’t make them fat the way it makes them White/Asian/Black. It just means they have parents that over eat.

    But we’re supposed to be “Accepting” of this?


    • BFD

      I’m not even sure how to respond to this, so I’ll ask a question. If we should not be accepting of fat people and/or anorexics, how would you suggest we do treat them?

    • SusannahJoy

      By helping them and encouraging them to be healthier, in a way that doesn’t shame them or make them think that their happiness/confidence/self worth is at all tied to weight.

  • Yves

    I think the show is a good thing. I got “chubby” as a preteen and always struggled with my weight after that. I lost some weight around age 17 and felt great about myself! And I was never really that fat, was never teased about my weight by classmates, but I was just concious of being a “little bit bigger.”

    I’m sorry but being the “fat kid” has to be horrible on your psyche, and “body acceptance” is a crock when you truely need to lose weight. I recently got back up to 217 lbs and was in denial. It was unhealthy and I looked horrible. I am now down to 184 and counting. Even as an adult it’s hard to be fat; mentally, emotionally, socially, and phyiscally. It can only be that much more difficult when you’re a kid going through all of that. No, BL is doing a service in trying to help kids get healthier and feel better about themselves. Michaels said it’s not their fault because it’s not; I really feel for these kids. She was a fat kid herself, she knows what it’s like. Why is it so wrong to improve their physical health AND boost their self confidence and mental health?

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