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Sheltered Wrath —

November 30, 2010
by

In case there was ever any question in your mind, “The Biggest Loser” has absolutely nothing to do with health.

As we all know, the entire point of the show is to produce the most stunning, most headline-grabbing weight loss possible without actually killing anyone.

Yet, when the show is on at the YMCA, you get these segments where the trainers, Jillian and Bob, are talking about how it’s all about their health and that they are “saving their lives” by pushing this extreme weight loss regime.

And this is the message that the public takes from the show: weight loss equals health.

Of course, we all know that weight loss is not necessary for health, and neither are the absurd exercise regimens they push on the contestants and, ultimately, the viewers.

When I wrote previously about the show, I mentioned that they had been working out for two-and-a-half hours before being sent to work out even more with Jillian. I wasn’t certain that I had heard that right because it seemed like an awfully long time.

Well, today, while doing research, I finally came across this clip in which a contestant is complaining  and Jillian yells, “You have four hours a day of this for four months.”

How in the hell do they reconcile the sort of “anyone can do it” message of “The Biggest Loser” with the reality that these contestants dedicate one-fourth of their waking hours (assuming they get 8 hours of sleep) to exercise.

This same clip encapsulates everything that I hate about “The Biggest Loser.” Watch at your own risk because it’s got a double shot of rage-maker.

Now, we’ve all seen the clips where Jillian says such asinine things as “All I care about is that your ass gets smaller” and “I don’t care if you both die on this floor, you better die looking good.”

But in the clip above, Jillian’s behavior is not only obnoxious, it’s damn near life-threatening. This clip comes from the first day of the show and the contestant, Greg, says he felt “dizzy, nauseous,” which are signs that you should probably take a break and recover.

Jillian’s take?

A lot of times they throw up and it’s because they have a lot of toxins stored up in their body.

Jillian Michaels, you are a fucking moron.

People don’t puke from an intense workout because they have toxins stored up, they puke because they are suffering from dehydration or heat exhaustion or hyponatremia (an electrolyte disturbance) or even a vasovagal response. What they don’t vomit from is excess toxins.

And the thing is, Jillian takes pleasure in making people throw up. She pushes Greg as hard as she can in an effort to “break” him. When he gets off the treadmill because he doesn’t feel good, she tells him, “If you don’t throw up right now, we’re going to have a problem.”

When he begins looking for a place to throw up, he’s thwarted by a locked door and as he turns we see Jillian following him and smiling.

After he throws up, she tells him, “Puke and then hop on the treadmill.”

And finally, she tells the camera crew, “I”m proud that I made him vomit.”

This complete disregard for the health of the contestants should make viewers angry, it should drive away sponsors, but instead, it becomes part of the “charm” of the show.

Sort of like how the verbal abuse has become a fan favorite. In fact, on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” YouTube channel, the clip with the most viewers (417,003 as of today) is titled “Bob’s Freakout Extended,” in which he berates a contestant for not sprinting long enough on a treadmill. The scene was so popular in the show, that NBC released a longer version.

The most popular comment on this clip summarizes the appeal nicely: “I want his job. Screaming at fat people on tv for money.”

Couple this with the fact that Jillian Michaels thinks very little of the people she is supposedly “helping” and you get the reality of why “The Biggest Loser” is so successful: it’s a sort of fat minstrel show.

Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper are society’s stand-ins. They are the good and righteous people who are berating and beating the bad fatties into submission for their own good. In the process, you get reinforcement of the stereotypes of gluttony and sloth, and the vicarious pleasure of watching the fatties be “broken.”

I don’t care what Jillian and Bob are like in real life, on the show they are horrible, horrible people, and our society celebrates them as paragons of virtue. And to reinforce that view, they have pulled what I call Frat Philanthropy Syndrome, which corporations have fully embraced as Philanthronomics.

Here’s how it works in its most basic form: fraternities basically clubs for (overwhelmingly) upper-middle class, white men to engage in widespread debauchery and, eventually, corporate networking. It’s the Good Ol’ Boys Club for Kids.

Along with this party hardy mentality, you get the collateral damage of sexual assault and rape, binge drinking and hazing that give fraternities a bad name.

The solution: emphasize the philanthropy of the Greek system to deflect criticism.

Let’s say there are 200 days of fraternity life in a school year. Fraternities require their members to sacrifice five days to raise money for a charity to pay for the other 195 days dedicated to sustained douchebaggery.

The veneer is thin, though, as I learned during my days at Mizzou. I wrote for student newspaper, The Maneater, and one of the “real news” stories that I wrote was about Greek Life, which organizes events for sororities and fraternities at Mizzou, had shat upon the fundraiser of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity.

Rock-a-Thon is the country’s biggest fraternal philanthropy, bringing in $23,000 every two years, according to members of Alpha Epsilon Pi. During the downtown event, fraternity member Evan Pfaff will rock in a rocking chair for 63 hours until the organization’s goal is reached. Members will “can” for money while Pfaff rocks. The fraternity only holds the event every other year because it takes so long to plan.

“Most houses only raise $1,000 or $2,000 because they are required to,” Rosenthal said. “It’s our passion. You would never see Greek Week fall during the larger houses’ philanthropies.”

Philanthropy matters, but not as much as the gratuitous celebration of the Greek system.

The rest of the time, philanthropy is their shield, providing the talking heads of each fraternity an opportunity to turn an investigation of crimes into an opportunity to shine.

Now, “The Biggest Loser” is doing the same thing. While people should be outraged at the widespread abuse that makes up the core of the show, instead they’re touched that Bob and Jillian are sharing the spotlight with Ford’s Warriors in Pink fundraiser for breast cancer.

Aaaaaaaaw, see… they’re not dehumanizing assholes, they really care about people.

That Jillian Michaels, she sure is a sweetheart.

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40 Comments leave one →
  1. Jamie permalink
    November 30, 2010 1:06 pm

    Thank you for linking to that Kai Andrews story. I have always disliked that show but now I’m filled with rage.

    • November 30, 2010 1:52 pm

      Sorry for the mainline of rage I just injected into your eyeball, but pretty much everything about this show is trigger-worthy.

      Welcome to Fierce Fatties!

      Peace,
      Shannon

  2. hollyferguson permalink
    November 30, 2010 4:20 pm

    I feel bad for the contestants that they want to lose weight so badly that they will allow someone to do anything to them in order to get it done. I wish for them that they could find a kinder, gentler, and healthier way to lose the weight they feel so desperate to lose. I don’t know how any self-respecting person could put up with the ridiculous abuse they dish out on shows like that.

    • December 2, 2010 10:47 am

      Holly,
      I think that’s the state of the nation today. The message that fat is bad and will kill you any second is so pervasive, the failure of permanent weight loss so thorough, that people think it is their own personal failings and that they need an “authority” to degrade them into health.

      I simply wish that we could dispel the myth that you have to lose weight to be healthy. If you want health, then eat healthy foods and exercise, and forget weight loss entirely. But so much value is placed on the physical aspect of fat that it will always be a part of the equation.

      Peace,
      Shannon

  3. Erin S. permalink
    November 30, 2010 6:37 pm

    The existence of that show makes me despair for the intelligence of the common man — seriously, take anyone of any weight and force them to, from a standing start, engage in that much exercise with no leading up to it period or gradual strengthening, and they’ll end up spewing. Saw a video just yesterday of a young man who looked to be of relatively average weight and probably higher than average fitness (judging based on his equipment and what he was trying to do, it gave the impression that this wasn’t a one time lark for him) — he attempted to lift a too heavy weight and ended up spewing.

    It happens. It isn’t a sign of “toxins” or “being fat”… it is a sign of a body pushed too far that can’t take the strain. Nothing more.

    • December 2, 2010 10:49 am

      Erin,
      Reality television has made me despair for our national intelligence in general. Sports too. Hell, any mind-numbing activity that prevents us from engaging in life.

      And yeah, the whole toxins thing is ridiculous. It’s just Jillian’s way of making fat people these horribly flawed beings in need of her being a complete asshole.

      Peace,
      Shannon

      • Erin S. permalink
        December 2, 2010 2:07 pm

        See, I won’t go so far as to judge an entire group of people based on their participation in a hobby. What to you might be a “mind numbing activity that prevents us from engaging in life” could be to someone else a means of engaging in social interaction via a shared enjoyment in a sport or activity.

        It is really no odder when you think of it than a book club or a sewing circle. For that matter, the kinds of things that you enjoy could be to someone else a mind-numbing waste of time that prevents you from engaging in more worthwhile activities. For example, I would definitely place “clubbing” or attending parties in that category, because I can think of absolutely nothing more mind-numbingly dull than spending time around a bunch of people that you can’t actually TALK to because the music is so loud it drowns everything else out.

        It’s all relative.

        I think the problem comes not with the hobby itself, whatever form it may take, but when people take it to the far outer extremes of expression and allow that one singular thing to dominate their life to the exclusion of everything else.

        My objection to reality TV comes when rather than people watching it and rooting for their favorite player to win they are tuning in to watch it in hopes of seeing someone get hurt. That and the term reality tv, since it is anything BUT realistic. I hope anyway, since people are downright hateful on those things.

        But I wouldn’t have nearly as much objection to a show where people tuned in hoping to see someone win, rather than hoping to see someone hurt. They are two different motivations there.

        • December 2, 2010 3:51 pm

          You’re right. Your perspective is kinder and more justifiable. I can be pretty judgmental about things that seem like a huge waste of time to me (especially sports), when I’m sure others would say the same of my hobbies (especially blogging). :)

          Peace,
          Shannon

        • Erin S. permalink
          December 2, 2010 6:31 pm

          Replying to myself to prevent it going all super cramped one word at a time lol — I don’t know if my perspective is really kinder as much as it is that I have to stop myself on a daily basis from making value judgments about other people… to be perfectly honest I loathe sports. At least the watching of televised sports. I *totally* get actually doing sports.

  4. November 30, 2010 7:49 pm

    in some circles (also known as eating disorder therapy) working out 4 hours a day everyday unless its your job (aka personal trainer, fitness instructor) is binge exersizing. it eats up all of your time outside of work. sorry i have a life tyvm.

    • December 2, 2010 10:50 am

      Erylin,
      Binge exercising is dangerous and reckless, and there is absolutely no reason to exercise for four hours a day, unless, of course, you’re trying to produce spectacular weight loss.

      Peace,
      Shannon

  5. vesta44 permalink
    November 30, 2010 8:31 pm

    I really feel despair for the people who are so desperate, so deluded, so brainwashed that they think the abuse dished out on that POS show is what they deserve and what will make them lose weight and become healthy. The really sad thing is that most of the people who go on that show are probably healthy enough, they’re just tired of dealing with all the fat-hatred and stigmatization that our society dishes out to fat people on a daily basis. So in order to not deal with any of that anymore, they put up with the abuse, hoping they’ll get thin and their lives will magically change for the better. Too bad that doesn’t happen in most cases, because the weight loss doesn’t last forever (and the ones it does last for have to really work at it, like a second job, almost an obsession).

    • December 2, 2010 10:51 am

      vesta44,
      You’re exactly right. They are doing more damage to their bodies on that show than they were maintaining a high, but stable weight. This show isn’t about health, it’s about flagellating fatties.

      Peace,
      Shannon

    • Hidi permalink
      December 5, 2010 9:43 am

      “Too bad that doesn’t happen in most cases, because the weight loss doesn’t last forever (and the ones it does last for have to really work at it, like a second job, almost an obsession).”–Exactly. :)

      • Lillian permalink
        December 5, 2010 3:33 pm

        Hi. I’ve never watched the show. You don’t have to watch such an abusive show to know that weight loss very quickly through dangerous methods is unlikely to stay off since all weight loss is unlikely to stay off. There are a few exceptions usually caused by disease or extreme stress and if the situation returns to normal, the weight comes back.

        The only way that I could keep weight off in the past was by excessive exercise. I was thinking about joining a gym so I could do that. I have to check out the gym in person. They have a ten dollars a month due with a very low start up fee. It doesn’t seem like a bad deal.

        I don’t think it’s a good way to lose and keep off weight and I think that most people can’t devote four hours a day to exercise nor do they want to. There is no good way to lose weight. People that say that fat people are lazy, etc, are being feed a bunch of shit.

        On people of size facebook page, I’m in a discussion about fat people having an addiction to food. Nonsense. We need to eat food like everyone else. I believe many fat people are more careful about the food they ate than many slim people. I think the people that use food to numb their feelings or emotional overeat are rare. I think the majority of heavier people eat no more calories than their thinner associates. We aren’t lazy because we don’t want to watch every piece of food that we put in our stomaches and exercise more than three hours a day. I’ve done that and it’s exhausting.

  6. Len permalink
    November 30, 2010 11:53 pm

    I hate that show with a passion, even though I’ve never seen an episode (far too fragile to put myself through it.) That stinky abuse leaks right out of the show and spatters over everything in its proximity.

    My beloved sister, who has suffered from anorexia and has some body dysmorphia issues, used to watch it eagerly with her pre-teen daughter, to my horror. I made it clear I was very uncomfortable with the premise of the show. Even so, when they knew they were going to miss a final episode so asked me to record it for them. I flatly refused, and my goodness: my name was mud in the family for a while after that. How DARE I deprive my poor niece of the pleasures of watching her favourite show, even if I DO fear the effect it might have on her self-confidence and opinions of other people?

    And recently I had an, er, ‘conversation’ about the show during a meal with my in-laws. Happily, one person – a professional fitness instructor actually – completely agreed with me that it was an unhealthy and pointless show, since fat does not automatically imply a lack of health – and as he said, fat people are frequently very fit people. Yay, family win.

    Sadly the conversation continued, and ended with me silently staring at the tablecloth and wishing I could turn into a pigeon and fly out the window, as another family member righteously declared that it was ‘inspirational’ (this person has never been fat) and summed up by saying that fat people are basically immoral because they ‘abuse the bodies God gave them’.

    While I thought ‘I’m RIGHT HERE. In FRONT of you.’ Boo, family fail.

    Two horrible, lasting shame memories for me and I COMPLETELY blame the show … ’cause I can.

    • December 1, 2010 10:40 am

      *hugs if needed* That’s awful. I’m so sorry about your family treating you like that. They SUCK.

      I’ve never seen an episode of The Biggest Loser either and it still infuriates me.

    • Erin S. permalink
      December 1, 2010 4:18 pm

      Ugh, how wretched. Honestly, the older I get the less likely I am to resort to the staring at a table cloth thing. There really is only one appropriate response to some asshole telling a grown adult how to live their lives… a resounding Fuck You. Delivered with quiet sincerity and a refusal to be drawn back into the conversation, by standing up and walking away if need be.

      Nobody should have to listen to that garbage. The stress of being told how awful you are is probably killing you ten times faster than your weight ever could anyway.

      • Len permalink
        December 1, 2010 6:06 pm

        You know you’re right Erin. The sad thing is this person probably had no idea she was being so offensive. She was coming from thin privilege and really hasn’t considered the issues at all, she was just regurgitating what she’s been taught by shows like this. And funnily enough, I bet in her head she hadn’t actually connected her statements with this family member sitting in front of her.

        Stinks being the family fatty. Can I choose you guys as my family? LOL

        • Erin S. permalink
          December 2, 2010 2:27 pm

          Heh, you want bad? On one side of my family I am the family fatty and get the “oh you need to lose weight for your health because we love you!” bullshit every time I see them.

          On the other side of the family I get chewed out for being a “health nut” alongside my other sister who is vegan, because I don’t eat at McDonald’s and we go biking and hiking a lot during the summer. And because I now weigh less than my two younger sisters who were the “good healthy thin dieting” siblings in our youth. I don’t pretend I’m lighter because of any virtue on my part… the McDonald’s thing is because the food there causes me a lot of stomach related distress, and the lighter is because I never had kids.

          Can’t win either way around here LOL

          • Len permalink
            December 2, 2010 3:56 pm

            Sometimes I guess you just have to smile, breathe deeply and think ‘There’s no place like home …’

    • December 2, 2010 10:59 am

      Len,
      I’m sorry to hear about your sister and niece. But good for you for taking a stand against condoning the messages of this show. It’s not inspirational, it’s cruel and confusing, especially for young people, to hear these message over and over that the only thing preventing fat people from being good thin people is their own laziness and greed.

      Until we are able to expose the lies inherent in that message, we will continue to depend on people like you to speak out against this misinformation. Thank you for being courageous and vocal.

      Oh, and welcome to Fierce Fatties.

      Peace,
      Shannon

  7. December 1, 2010 3:03 am

    Heh, I used to watch this show, I wont say I hate it, but do agree that it’s unrealistic and unhealthy. Some (maybe most), if not all of the contestants put the weight back on, and they (esp. here in Aus) are not very forthcoming with the amount of hours the exercise per day.

    I am pretty sure the young guy, Courtney lost around 30% of his body weight by the end of the show, I saw him at a club a few months later, the only thing he got from that show was a massive ego, and he gained around half of what he had lost back by then, from what I could tell.

    • December 2, 2010 11:01 am

      T,
      I would love to see a five year follow up of each and every contestant on every show around the world. I wonder how they compare to the standard weight loss failure rate (95%). I think the show is interesting to watch, sort of like watching hockey for the fights, but I think it’s a terrible show that contributes to the confusion about weight and health.

      Peace,
      Shannon

  8. December 1, 2010 12:53 pm

    Thank you thank you thank you for this post.
    I’ve been saying all of this about this AWFUL show for years, mostly repeating that IT’S NOT A REALISTIC WAY TO WEIGHT LOSS.
    Thank you thank you thank you.
    If I ever saw Jillian in person, I’d likely punch her in her man-face with my meaty, obese fist.

    • December 2, 2010 11:02 am

      You’re welcome Von. It is an awful show and although I wouldn’t actually punch her in the face (since I’m pretty sure she could actually kick my ass), I would definitely shout her down in a verbal faceoff. Bring it on!

      Peace,
      Shannon

      • Hidi permalink
        December 5, 2010 9:45 am

        I would bring food and drinks. Right on! Front Row. Go Atchka! Whoop that a%# (verbally)! :)

        • December 6, 2010 10:40 am

          Thanks Hidi. Maybe I should charge tickets. :)

          Peace,
          Shannon

  9. December 2, 2010 12:06 pm

    I’ve watched the show maybe 1.5 times. It’s demeaning and abusive — I couldn’t get into it and the rhetoric is unbelievable. I truly don’t get all the excitement I see about this show on twitter. It’s like a modern day gladiators but instead of people battling other people they are battling their fat. Nobody really wins.

    • December 2, 2010 12:28 pm

      Ha! Fat gladiators. Ooooh, or the Fat Highlander (There can be only one!).

      I think the show is simply prime time Schadenfreude.

      Welcome to Fierce Fatties, Moe.

      Peace,
      Shannon

  10. CollieMom01 permalink
    December 2, 2010 6:27 pm

    I have to believe that this show is edited in such a way as to make the fat abuse all the more obvious–not that I’m excusing the behavior of Ms. Michaels or Mr. Bob “whatever”–(sorry, I don’t know his name). I’m just saying that it makes “good” television to get as much yelling, screaming, grunting, vomiting, etc. on the air as possible. How in the hell do people watch this crap? I don’t know if Jillian could kick my ass or not, but I am sure it would be a heckuva fight because my patience for someone screaming at me while I worked out would be just about non-existant and I’d have to pop her right in the eye. But I’m having a “day” today, so I could just be in a bad mood. :D And in breaking news: apparently our government wants to make lapband surgery available to even more people, even though 90% of folks who have the surgery have side effects and 30% eventually have the lapband removed. This was part of the newscast this evening, yet they still had a DOCTOR saying it was a good thing because there were so few options for obesity that worked. Huh? I’m going to beat my head into the wall now.

  11. Mulberry permalink
    December 4, 2010 8:01 pm

    I’ve never watched the show. But if the contestants gathered round and did a group vomit on Jillian, I’d consider making an exception. Especially if the moment appeared in a photo with the caption, “I’m so proud of making them vomit!”.

    • December 6, 2010 10:39 am

      Mulberry,
      That reminds me of the scene in The Office when the pregnant Pam throws up at her desk causing a chain reaction of vomiting. If I could watch that, I would definitely watch a group vomit on Jillian. :)

      Welcome to FFFs.

      Peace,
      Shannon

  12. Hidi permalink
    December 5, 2010 10:03 am

    “In case there was ever any question in your mind, “The Biggest Loser” has absolutely nothing to do with health.

    As we all know, the entire point of the show is to produce the most stunning, most headline-grabbing weight loss possible without actually killing anyone.”—–This is why I love this blog.

    “Couple this with the fact that Jillian Michaels thinks very little of the people she is supposedly “helping” and you get the reality of why “The Biggest Loser” is so successful: it’s a sort of fat minstrel show.”–true

    I don’t watch the show because I don’t support it. Furthermore, what is really sad and pathetic people believe the bullcrap that comes out of these trainers’ mouth.

    • December 6, 2010 10:40 am

      Desperate people will believe just about anything.

      Peace,
      Shannon

  13. December 7, 2010 12:59 am

    I can’t bear to watch shows like this. Celebrity Fit Club isn’t much better but I did watch a few episodes of it–it isn’t quite as abusive.
    Jillian Michaels is a total sadist. I too would love to see a “group vomit” on her.

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