The Biggest Loser is the general public

“Tantamount to emotional abuse”.

That’s how someone close to me recently described the current advertisements and promotions for the latest season of The Biggest Loser Australia. And I can’t say I disagree with them.

The latest season, which premiered on Sunday, is dubbed The Next Generation and focuses around parents and their children working in pairs throughout the show. The youngest competitor is a 15-year old boy.

The promos for the show feature the contestants: wandering dejectedly around their houses, struggling to shop for clothes or arguing with their family. The most recent ads have even featured a gimmick in which the trainers watch ‘secret footage’ of the contestants’ home eating habits, including a young woman who finished an entire tub of ice cream in one sitting.

A screenshot from one Biggest Loser promo
A screenshot from one Biggest Loser promo. Note the decidedly unflattering camera angle and carefully placed, discarded dumbells.

The ads are, to put it simply, hideous. An article in The Age on Sunday outlined just some of the concerns surrounding this year’s season of the show.

In a letter to Channel Ten production company Shine Australia, [Ella Graham]… from eating disorders advocacy group Fed Up NSW Health, has warned that “fat shaming” contestants is negligent and that research shows the biggest risk factor for developing an eating disorder is a restrictive diet and excessive exercise.

It forms part of a wider campaign, which has been backed by public health experts and commentators, that says the reality TV show has hit a new low.

Despite the show’s insistence that bringing these issues into the open is a positive step towards making a change, this public airing of private, personal issues is simply making a freak show out of the contestants. The issue of “fat shaming” mentioned in the above article is a real one; these people are being made out to be pathetic, helpless and on a path to inevitable destruction because of their size – and anyone watching it is made to believe the same of themselves if they are not the size they’d like to be. Being overweight is portrayed as something to be feared above all else, and if you should find yourself in the dreaded position of being overweight, it is presented as the ultimate human failure and shame.

The family element in this season adds further insult to injury. The contestants are taken to an arena where they “make a promise” to their relative in front of “3000 supportive fans”. The entire premise of the show is that children growing up in an obese family will be more likely to be obese themselves. Whilst this may be the case, the horrific blaming and shaming of the parents in these pairs is disturbing to watch. Not only are they being made to feel bad about their own condition, they are now forced to take responsibility for their child’s condition too. Parental duty to care for your child is one thing. Emotionally abusing a parent for their role in their child’s weight is another entirely.

I am not denying that obesity is a serious issue that can lead to serious consequences. I am questioning the language and tone of these advertisements and the way they sensationalise what is in fact an incredibly unrealistic program. The Age article above also mentions that many former Biggest Loser contestants are treated by doctors after the show, as they re-gain the weight they lost whilst on the program. They can not maintain the conditions forced upon them in the show and as a result, they often digress for a large period of time. Rather than making practical, sustainable lifestyle changes, the contestants participate in ridiculous challenges such as dragging enormous weights by a harness attached around their waists. It is clear even from this example alone that the ongoing well-being and success of the contestants is not the primary concern of the show. The focus is on entertainment – if one can call it that. I mean, look at the title: is that play on words not enough to show that these people are being made fun of?

I have not ever watched this show. I never will. And I will continue to be concerned that this show gets ratings, as the contestants are paraded around like sideshow attractions and, along with the viewers at home, made to feel like being overweight is not only a burden but a weakness and something that defines you as a failure. The fact that it has made it to yet another season is frightening; it makes me worry that the judgemental, voyeuristic nature of television viewers is winning out. Surely there are more enriching and positive programs that could be given all the air time this show receives.

A compilation of recent promos for The Biggest Loser Australia


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