Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Take the Biggest Loser off the air!

I read with interest Melissa Mack's article on The Biggest Loser in InDaily ("Take Biggest Loser off air: SA medical chief" InDaily 19 March 2013). 

The Biggest Loser has been running in Australia for a number of seasons, with greatly differing viewer responses. When the show initially aired from February 2006, and was a very simple premise. There were two teams (red and blue) who competed to lose the most weight. As I recall, they had two different diet plans; one was 'eat more' and one was 'eat less,' but both were focused on healthy eating and rigorous exercise. 

I LOVED it. I was only about 18 at the time, but I actually took a lot of satisfaction from watching these people lose weight, and gain self-confidence. The best part about the show, though, was that it motivated me to start running, and during the course of the show, I lost about 5kg. 

The second and subsequent shows attempted to maintain popularity by adding in 'twists.' The wikipedia article states that, in season two, "... the introduction of 'The Walk' whcih gave individual immunity winners unprecedented power as to how the game is played." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Biggest_Loser_(Australian_TV_series)

This sort of thing really bored me; I wasn't interested in the manipulation of the contestants, or the tricks the producers used to pit them against each other. The absolute abyss of this style of entertainment was during Season 7, when the show was aimed at 'Singles', losing weight in their search for true love.

This has to be the most horrific way to reinforce negative stereotypes about obesity. 'You can't find love until you lose weight!' This is exactly what Melissa Mack is talking about. 

Another objection I have to the show's new format is that it focuses on the contestant's emotions. It asks them, 'How do you feel about that?' 'Do you think that your relationship with your friend/lover/family is better/worse/indifferent because you are losing weight?' Who cares? When Season 6 had contestants made up of families, it was great to see the support, but it got very boring once they started doing the 'touchy-feely' interviews. 

The focus on diet also seemed to diminish. While the show used to focus on food groups, daily intake, and cooking styles, it now only looks at that in brief snapshots, giving the contestants daily rations. That doesn't help most people, who want to know about a week or a month of healthy eating, not a day or a meal. In Season 7, the 'Commando' gave the most scripted lecture on food habits to his team, before the camera briefly hovered over each individual ingredient. There was no focus on how that could become a tasty meal, or how it could be worked into a real-life daily routine. 

But I don't think that that is grounds for taking the show off the air. If they just stuck to their original premise, assisting people to learn good eating and exercise habits, then I think that the show has a great place in our television lexicon. You will continue to find people like me who watch the show, get motivated, and then go for a run and eat a salad. But we will start switching off, or skipping online all those bits about 'unprecedented power' and emotional interviews, if the show loses its focus.

"Thomas said she would like to see shows enforcing a positive perception of people with obesity engaging in healthy activities." I can't agree more. But this article seems to stray dangerously towards enforcing a positive perception of people with obesity! Yes, obese people are stigmatised and discriminated against, but surely shows like this can help change the perception of weight-loss from something done secretly and in shame to something done in fun and with enthusiasm!

Here is a bit of interesting trivia, which hasn't been spread about. Each week of viewing in Biggest Loser time, is actually two weeks of real time. Now THAT is an issue which could cause people trying to lose weight to despair! Maybe the warning should be about the realities of weight loss; it isn't a week-long or month-long effort, it is about changing lifestyles. 

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