I wouldn’t call The Biggest Loser my guilty pleasure; I do feel guilty watching it, but it isn’t a pleasure. I’d call the experience closer to the dread fascination you feel when you look at big snakes or other things that are so horrifying or alien you can’t take your eyes off them.
I’m a champion weight gainer. I’m also good at losing, but not at keeping the weight off. I recently hit my all-time-high weight. And I’m not talking a few, or even 25, pounds overweight, but many, many pounds overweight. The feelings of self-loathing and anger almost overwhelmed me at times. And my health suffered. A lot.
I’ve had times when I’ve been desperate to lose weight. My generation crash diets, and when my sister got married and I was 23 years old or so and in a period where my weight was more or less normal, I crash dieted. Pictures from the time show me as a pretty girl with a cute figure, yet I was so desperate to be thin for the wedding that I ate nothing but carrots and salad for 6 weeks beforehand. In my early 30s, I was desperate to be rid of way too much baby weight, but I was smart about it and lost the weight safely and gradually, a process that was totally alien to me.
The visceral desperation I felt last August when my weight soared to approximately the weight of an NFL linebacker and my blood pressure threatened to kill me was a new kind of desperation that was nothing like wanting to look thin in a pretty dress or wanting to be a cute new mommy. Suddenly my life was at stake.
Which is the kind of desperation the contestants on Biggest Loser say they feel.
That desperation drives them to humiliate themselves on national television. They undergo punishing workouts that seem dangerously difficult for them, even though the show’s disclaimer states that they are under constant medical supervision. They stand, the women in sports bras and the men with no shirts, on a huge scale, revealing their considerable physical flaws and their weight to anyone who cares to watch.
I find myself involved in their stories, but I have to remind myself every once in a while that The Biggest Loser is, at its core, a game. It’s a reality show, just like Kourtney and Kim or Jersey Shore. These people, whose lives are at stake, are losing weight to save those lives, but no matter how much they say they love and support each other they are playing a game. And they’re playing to win, judging by the ugliness and conflict that surface each season, a whole other category of humiliating oneself on national television.
I’m not sure any amount of money is worth what they have to give to win it.
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