Dear First Lady Michelle Obama,
I heard that you will be appearing on the Biggest Loser to promote your Drink More Water campaign. At first, I was shocked and frustrated. I wondered why you would promote a campaign for healthy choices and behaviors on a show that only promotes unhealthiness, unattainable weight loss, and weight shaming and bullying. But then I started to feel sad. I felt sad because I know what it is to experience weight-based stigma and bullying and how for me that turned into a deadly eating disorder.
I used to watch the Biggest Loser when it first started. Back then I was very overweight and hated my body. I watched every week as these contestants lost incredible, impossible amounts of weight while being screamed at. I thought, ‘Why can’t I lose that much weight?‘ I tried and tried and failed. I could not understand why I could not “motivate” myself through the punishment/bullying model I watched on the Biggest Loser.
I had no idea at the time that it was not a way to lose weight. I only knew that I was desperate and would do anything–anything–to lose weight. I believed after experiencing weight-based stigma, shame, and bullying throughout my entire adolescence, only that would work to make weight loss permanent and that I had to lose the weight and be thin in order to be good enough and loved. There was no other option. It was out of this desperation and body-hate that my life took a disastrous turn.
It was only after I stopped watching the Biggest Loser that I started to really lose weight. It was in a healthy way at first with small, doable, and mindful changes. It was a slow but steady process. However, it was not long before unhealthy behaviors took over.
I followed the Biggest Loser’s model for motivation and weight loss and bullied, shamed, and hated my body in order to lose more and more weight as fast as I could. Combined with my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), it developed into an eating disorder. Due in part to sources such as this show, I overexercised, purged, and restricted all in the hopes of never feeling the pain and despair again and feeling instead that if I were thin, I would be lovable and good enough. I chased that dream nearly to the grave because I never knew that loving yourself was possible if you were not thin or that you were good enough just as you are. I thought that, like on the show, if I was fat, I deserved to be treated badly.
To this day, I fight back demons telling me I am not good enough, thin enough, lovable enough, tall enough, etc. However, as I have discovered in my journey of recovery, it is of paramount importance to love and accept yourself and that neither health nor worth is determined by a number on a scale or the size of your clothes. I make a conscious effort daily to remind myself of that.
First Lady Obama, shows like the Biggest Loser that promote body-hate and shame. The trainers constantly yell and scream at their trainees and shame them into continuing to workout. It is the stereotypical abusive relationship–they abuse, they come back, explain why it was in the best interest of the abused to be treated that way, and then they do it again. Sadly, the media seems to believe this is the right way to get people to lose weight and that has influenced what so many of my peers believed would “work” too (or maybe they simply enjoyed poking fun at my body). It is shameful. What people do not realize and what I did not realize is that it does not “work”.
Instead of teaching the contestants to love and accept themselves and strive towards true health, these trainers shame them for being fat, “losing control” of their eating and weight, and set them on a series of unhealthy behaviors and unrealistic weight loss. The participants are not taught that they are beautiful for who they are, just that they must to lose weight. It is truly a flawed show. Additionally, the Biggest Loser portrays each contestant in a grotesque manner. For example, during every weigh-in, each wears nearly nothing as if to shame them even more because their bodies are on display for all to see. Simply, the Biggest Loser ensures the contestants feel shame and hate towards their bodies.
I hope you reconsider appearing on the Biggest Loser because the nature of the show is so unhealthy and based in weight shame and bullying. Promoting health and wellness deserves a national stage that includes body acceptance and love to facilitate healthy living, not a life based in fear or shame. It is only then that we can start making a change so that individuals like me do not have to go through so much body hatred and shame and turn to eating disorders in order to attempt to no longer be “fat” and be subjected to the bullying we endure daily.
Please, First Lady Michelle Obama, do not appear on the Biggest Loser.