The Biggest Loser: Now, With More Fat-Shaming of Children!

Worried about those extra pounds you gained over the holidays? Don’t be! According to a study released last week by the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), those pounds might save your life. Well, sort of.

JAMA analyzed approximately three million adults for the study and found that those whose B.M.I. ranked them as overweight had “less risk of dying than people of normal weight.” In news that is probably not news to most of us, then, being kinda fat doesn’t mean you’re going to die. Surprise!

Now to be clear, this study isn’t saying that all fat people are going to outlive all skinny people. What the findings suggest is that weight isn’t as much of a mortality indicator as some scientists thought it was, and that sometimes a few extra pounds can help you live longer and be healthier. Or, in other words, health is about HEALTH, and not about WEIGHT. A healthy 200-pound person might just live longer than her unhealthy 100-pound counterpart for all sorts of reasons, none of which have to do with the numbers either person sees on the scale.

Okay, so we can stop having those bogus, concern-trolling conversations about how we’re worried over fat people’s “health” now, right? Maybe we should just embrace Health at Every Size and admit that a lot of our culture’s weight obsession has to do with fatphobia and a standard of beauty that prizes thinness above health? And that said thinness isn’t necessarily healthy (thought it could be—as common sense would dictate, every person is different)? Yeah, fat chance.

As if on cue, NBC’s The Biggest Loser premiered the same day the JAMA study was released. Already known for promoting dangerous weight-loss tactics under the banner of “health,” the latest season comes with a fat-shaming twist: kids.

the kids from the Biggest Loser

Okay, it’s one thing to shout at willing adult participants until they cry and run them on the treadmill until they fall off and vomit. Yes, it contributes to a culture of fat-shaming and many contestants gain their weight back, but at least we can hope most adults know what they’re in for when it comes to reality television, and these folks are trying to lose weight so they can gain $250,000. But kids? FOR THE LOVE OF JILLIAN MICHAELS’ ABS THEY ARE KIDS. Says the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) on the addition of these youngsters to the show:

The Biggest Loser, well known for its abusive tactics, should not be allowed to profit off the bullying and stigmatization of fat kids. That this series would be developed despite the evidence of the harm done to children by focusing on body size and weight loss is unconscionable. There is no doubt that the promotion of a healthy, long-term lifestyle is not the primary purpose of this television show, but rather to grab ratings and profits for the network and its producers.

The three kids function more as mascots than contestants so far, getting pep talks from Jillian and participating in workouts. Though NBC says they won’t punish at or yell at the teenage Losers the way they do at the adults—and the teens can’t be eliminated—what the hell kind of messed-up message does that send? The kids are right there while the adults cry and barf and get sent home for not losing enough weight! They get it! And if the show really is about “promoting a healthy lifestyle,” then why are the teens treated differently? Is it because The Biggest Loser is actually about sensationalizing and demonizing fat people, not about helping them? (Hint: Yes. Yes it is.)

At one point in last week’s season premiere, Jillian Michaels talks to the three kids about bullying, and tells them she’s here to help. While Michaels may have the best of intentions, her brand of helping means changing the kids to conform to the bullies’ standards, not challenging the norms that make the bullying okay in the first place. It’s fine if teens want to eat healthy and get in shape—go for it you healthy teens!—but exploiting fat kids on national television in an environment that is known to be unrealistic and risky just so NBC can get more ratings is all kinds of wrong. And the more research we see, the more we learn that fat and health aren’t as closely related as we thought—which makes The Biggest Loser: Chubby Kid Edition even worse.

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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11 Comments Have Been Posted

Not to mention

That kids base beliefs on what people do, not what they say. And she can say anti-bullying things all she likes, but what she's SHOWING the kids is that it's ok to bully people as long as you do it in the guise of 'helping'. Anyone who has been verbally/emotionally abused knows how frequent a tactic that is, "oh no, I'm not insulting you and trying to belittle you, I'm trying to *help* you". MMhmm. There's a great doctor here in Portland, Oregon; Dr. James Beckerman. Cardiologist, so he knows what he's talking about. Marathon runner. All kinds of goodness.(He's my husband's doctor). He was going to live tweet the season, but after the first episode he was so upset over the awful methods,and complete lack of respect for the health and mental well being of the contestants, he said he can't do it. You can look up his twitter feed to see his comments.

Not fat acceptance--body acceptance

I'm exhausted with the snide, between-the-lines rhetoric that demonizes thin folks. Wait, thin females. As a naturally think person, I've had to deal with people making implications that I have an eating disorder, that I over-exercise, that I must never feel ugly, and then to the other side of it--being teased about my "chicken legs" constantly when I was younger, about my boniness, etc.

Get over it, people.

And fuck the real women have curves campaigns.

It's called Body Acceptance.

And that includes all of us skinny bitches.

I'm so sick of talking about fat people. Perhaps it's old fashioned of me to say, but, if you want to feel better--fat, skinny, and inbetween--turn off your damn TV, sign out of facebook, and go get hang out with your friends.

Yes, body acceptance... and

Yes, body acceptance... and as long as there is a nation-wide movement to eradicate fat, fat acceptance too. You being tired of hearing it doesn't change my reality -- that it's an issue that has deeply affected my life and still does on a day-to-day basis. Not just on TV (which, actually, I don't watch,) not just on the internet, but with the people in my community. I know two people who are on board with body acceptance, and I live in a supposedly progressive area. Everyone around me is obsessed/scared of food, many struggle with disordered eating, and almost none are comfortable with their bodies, not to mention mine. I constantly hear about the "obesity epidemic" and that "overweight" is bad and how not to be it. That's very specific, so it's reasonable to be specific in addressing it. If you don't want to talk about fat people, rather than berating people for whom there's value in talking about it, why don't *you* sign out? Why did you even bother to read this article if it's so hateful to you? Of course you have a valid point that there is also hate and discrimination against bodies that are not fat, but you're wielding it as if it's a valid argument against fat acceptance. It's not.

I don't think her point was

I don't think her point was that we should stop talking about fat-shaming but that we harm skinny girls when we fat-shame as well. We put them on a pedestal and send a message that basically says "You're perfect because you've met society's standard for beauty so don't you DARE feel ugly or gain an ounce of weight!". I thought her comment was that meeting society's beauty standard causes harm too.

Yes! fat girls are shamed a lot more and probably experience a lot more harm than skinny girls but that doesn't mean we can disregard or ignore their hurt because others have it worse. Dove's "real beauty" campaign implies that skinny girls aren't "real" women. So first we put skinny girls on a pedestal and threaten them to stay there and then this Dove campaign comes out and says "HAHAHA skinny girls aren't "real"! They don't meet OUR standard of beauty and OUR standard of beauty is sooooo much better!" Skinny girls are screwed either way. So YES we should fight fat phobia in this country. It is ABSOLUTELY a problem but harming skinny girls so that fat girls can be accepted and feel beautiful isn't the answer.

I'm almost positive the point

I'm almost positive the point of her comment is that fat acceptance should not come at the expense of women with other body shapes.

You constantly hear about the obesity epidemic; thin women like myself constantly hear about how we have eating disorders, or aren't "real" because we don't have curves, and so on. Can you imagine the backlash if thin women went around saying that "real women aren't fat"??

I'm all in favour of fat acceptance—well, I'm in favour of body acceptance being a universal thing, of health at every size—but I'm sick of the most prominent vehicle for fat acceptance being bashing and belittling thin people.

I disagree.

Fat Shaming strikes me as something pervasive enough in and of itself to merit the attention. It doesn't always need to be made more inclusive and perhaps more palatable by couching it under the body acceptance banner. What I find fatiguing is this need to remind anybody who mentions fat shaming that thin women also experience personal bias. Talking about fat shaming does not vicariously demonize thin women, in the same way that talking about sexism does inherently demonize men.


Try again. Pretty poor effort too, evangelising weight loss in such a thread, after an article pointing out that health is about health, not weight.


Translation: I enjoy seeing developing bodies be shamed and mocked for their natural size, I think there is only one right kind of body and everyone should conform to it.

Pleasantly surprised at this season's TBL

Have you watched the show? The kids are not at the weigh-ins, are not at the adult work-outs, and are always addressed with respect and compassion. TBL is advocating a very healthy approach to children losing weight... through play! Also, the dietician visited the homes of each of these kids and went through healthy eating tips with their parents. I think if you watched the show, you would be pleasantly surprised with what you saw. No fat-shaming of the kids going on at all. I'm glad that the show is doing something about the epidemic, rather than standing behind a podium and just telling us this is a problem. Talk doesn't help, actions do.

Eating disorders waiting to happen.

Yes the kids may appear to be getting treated with kid gloves, but they are part of show that treats adults like degraded subhumans. If they did the same to animals they'd be arrested. If their tactics are so healthy why don't they do it to the kids too? Because its disgustingly inhumane! (hydrating until they urinate blood, forcing them to continue through injury etc). Once you go past 18 (or 21) into adulthood your ability to feel pain and mental anguish and the effects of being degraded don't just go away! So while the kids aren't being treated the same they're also getting the message that this kind of thing is OK - at least for adults.

And as has been said already, telling fat kids to avoid bullying by getting slim is the same as telling a red head to dye their hair a different colour to stop the abuse - NO. We need to stop making discrimination and bullying a viable and "normal" part of growing up for these teens - that's the kind of intervention they need.

In many places CrossFit has

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