This week, I was involved in/witness to a small Facebook debate. It all started when a FB friend posted an interview with Kai Hibbard, a Biggest Loser Finalist from season 3. In the interview, Kai shares horror stories about her experience on the show, and the damage she feels like it does to the psyche of the contestants. (Read the interview if you’d like–I’m not going to go into more details about it, because I don’t know how much of it I believe, how much was exaggeration, and how much of it was negatively skewed. As another commenter on this FB status said, “I think probably since this Kai gal’s season some things have changed on the show–or maybe she’s just a little wacko. There seems to be a HUGE focus on healthy eating and the contestants’ mental health now.”)
My FB friend posted it with the comment: “Aren’t they doing a children’s version [of Biggest Loser]? Gross…”
Then, someone else commented, “They absolutely should NOT do a children’s edition–I can’t imagine the life-long trauma that would cause a child. All reality shows are sickening and dehumanizing, but this is particularly ugly.”
Now, it’s no secret that I’m kind of a Jillian groupie. I listen to her podcast, do her workout DVDs, have pre-ordered her new book, and just started watching BL this year because I like her so much. I love her brutal honesty (come one, she says what needs to be said, when it needs to be said…), and from “getting to know her” through her podcast, I truly believe she is who she is because she is passionate about helping people change themselves from the inside out. So, I couldn’t help but defend the reality show’s focus for the season.
I responded (very diplomatically): “The Biggest Loser is focusing on childhood obesity, but the kids are NOT contestants on the show. The trainers are just working with three kids and helping them learn more about healthy eating and being active. There are no weigh-ins, no competition, no anything like that for the kids though.”
Someone else backed me up by saying: “Like Katie said, the kids aren’t involved in the typical way (public weigh-ins, etc) and I find it to be really awesome that BL is trying to make a dent in childhood obesity. Thank god someone is… They’re merely being encouraged to find active hobbies that they enjoy participating in and being given information about how to eat in a healthy way. Shouldn’t every child have the same opportunity?? Awareness is the first step and I say kudos to BL for tackling this sensitive, but extremely relevant, topic in our society.”
Then, the original poster responded: “Glad to hear they aren’t training overweight children to think of themselves as less than human. I agree encouraging them to live a healthy and active lifestyle is important…I just wish it wasn’t tied so closely to physical appearance.”
At this point, I completely agreed with everything that had been said in the conversation. I also think that teaching kids to care about physical appearance is very different from teaching them to appreciate a healthy lifestyle. And I think the show is going about it the right way.
But then, someone else felt the need to extend the conversation…
They chose to write: “There are no proven connections between weight and health. Everybody needs to eat well and exercise. Pushing children to lose weight leads to two things: eating disorders and weight gain.”
I read this update, and chose to
keep my mouth shut my fingers still not respond. Luckily, someone else did it for me:
“While there is a healthy weight range for every body, it should be recognized that there is absolutely a connection between weight and health. There is no denying that obesity is rampant in this nation. Even in children under 10 years of age, it is causing type 2 diabetes and other serious health issues, at rates that are increasing at a remarkable rate. Encouraging and teaching children how to live active lives and eat foods that make their bodies feel good promotes healthy bodies and self-confidence. Body image for a healthy adult woman who feels like she always needs to drop 10 pounds is quite a different issue than for a 16 year old who is set up to face her coming life with no idea of how to be, or any promise of ever being, healthy and active. No child should feel badly about their body and be left without the resources to take control. I know first graders who eat a family-size bag of hot cheetos in one sitting and come to school with a Blow-Bop between their rotting teeth in the morning. We’re talking 5-6 years old. Many of them go home after school and watch TV or play video games for 6 hours, then go to bed. But it happens because of a lack of education- their parents don’t know how else to do it, because that’s how they were raised. I feel it’s my responsibility to advocate for lifestyle education that gives kids the option to make the right choices for their bodies. I watch the Biggest Loser and hope while I watch that some of their parents are, too.”
(That poster was not me, but another first grade teacher who apparently works with a population of students very similar to my own!)
Truth be told, I can see the viewpoints of both ladies. Number one, even if the children on the show are not being weighed or measured, they are still being labeled as “fat.” I can see how that would be damaging to a child’s ego. On the other hand, overweight children know they are overweight. It’s not as though BL is the first time they’ve realized this about themselves. Having grown up as a heavier child myself, these young people are stuck in a place where they don’t know how to help themselves. BL is arming them with the facts, strategies, information, and support they need to make serious and much-needed changes to their lifestyle. And, while Jillian may be
tough screaming and yelling pushing her adult contestants, she has treated the child contestants with nothing but love and compassion.
Is national TV the place to make these changes? I say YES! Number one, it’s holding these kids accountable. They know they are role models for the youth of America this season. Parents watch this show, therefore their kids watch it too. And just like my first-graders mimic the WWF moves they see on TV, they will also mimic the healthy behaviors they see.
So, I say kudos to The Biggest Loser. I love what I’m seeing on the show, and the changes the contestants (kids and adults!) are making. Before you jump to any conclusions yourself, catch the next episode (or watch it on Hulu Plus like I do!).
Have you been watching Biggest Loser this season?
Do you think they were right to focus on childhood obesity?