I used to watch Biggest Loser every season. It was one of my favorite shows, and I so easily got caught up in the transformations. As a mom who was struggling to lose the baby weight from previous births, I was inspired to eat healthier and exercise more while I followed the contestants week after week.
I find it's difficult to talk about health and fitness on the public forum of media. We live in a culture of extremes: Obesity and overeating run as rampant as striving to be unrealistically thin and eating disorders. There is a fine line between encouraging people away from unhealthy lifestyles and fueling our society's obsession with getting skinny. When does someone cross the line from "losing weight to be healthy" and "weight loss gone awry?"
I think we are faced with this exact question on the recent Biggest Loser finale.
First, I will admit that I haven't been able to watch Biggest Loser for a couple seasons. Mainly because other shows conflicted with the time slot, and those shows won out. Although I missed the finale, I was immediately alerted to the controversy over the the winner's weight loss. My friend Linzee posted some thoughts on Facebook and Twitter was ignited with #BLFinale tweets of concern.
Rachel, the winner, walked out on stage, waif-like and frail. Having dropped 60% of her body weight, from 260lbs to 105lbs, she was awarded the title of Biggest Loser. But not without fanfare. Trainers Bob and Jillian were visibly uncomfortable with the transformation, and stated they were not able to comment on Rachel's weight loss.
I've watched the video of the finale, and I, too, was taken back by the difference between images of Rachel when she started the show and the finale. Many have asked, What went wrong? And, yes, people are quick to judge. I agree with Rachel's trainer, Dolvett, when he said, "Please try not to look at one slice of Rachel's journey and come to broad conclusions."
Because we weren't there. We don't know.
But we cannot pretend that impressionable eyes are not seeing this picture:
...And receive the message that this is what we, as a society, reward (with money, no less).
Our media sends so many mixed messages:
"We are an obese nation!"
"We are obsessed with being skinny!"
"Fat is bad!"
"Skinny is bad!"
"Stop eating too much!"
"Stop eating too little!"
There is truth and falsehood in each of those statements. We, as Americans, have an unhealthy relationship with food. We either eat too much or too little. America is one of the most obese countries in the populated world (often vying for first position). Yet, the girls (and boys) of our nation are struggling with eating disorders. Upwards of 10 million women suffer from an eating disorder.
While I commend the Biggest Loser for bringing issues of obesity to the forefront and pushing the focus on fitness and healthy eating, they still put a price on it. They give it a monetary value, and they make it a competition. And, like, all reality television, it gives an unrealistic impression of weight loss. We live in extremes, and the results are extreme.
And all the while…
...Their eyes are watching.
Our nation's youth. Our kids see the above photo, and see fat and thin. They see unhealthy and healthy. They see bad and good. I am in no way here to "thin shame" (or "fat shame" for that matter). We are naturally all different shapes and sizes. What I am saying, though, is that we uphold the extremes and our kids don't receive the proper message: they don't realize that there is a very real in-between.
I have the very delicate and seemingly impossible task of raising two daughters. As a woman, I know the struggles they will face with self-worth, self-image, boys, friends, grades, and all the stressors that affect kids before they even enter college. I know they will struggle with feeling ugly. They will complain they are fat. Boys (or girls?) will break their hearts, friends will come and go. The messages I send to my girls daily, how I respond to the rough experiences they encounter, will be part of shaping their confidence and self-esteem.
Because whether I say anything or not, other messages are ready to knock on their door.
Once I was alerted to the BL controversy, I took to Google to get the scoop. I was almost immediately met with a result that broke my heart:
Just under "Biggest Loser" breaking news was a search result for a pro-ana (pro-anorexia) forum. There was an entire thread of women who found, as they call it, thinspiration in Rachel's transformation.
As I read through the comment thread, my stomach sank as these users sought out how to make Rachel's reality their reality.
Each of the anonymous users have their height and weight, as well as goal weights, in their profiles. Some of the goal weights made me sad.
These are mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, friends. People we most likely know somewhere in our lives. Some, I'm certain, are just girls. I want to hug each and every one of them. I want to tell them they are beautiful just the way they are. I want to save them from the inevitable destruction that will follow from these unfulfilling passions.
Yet, here they are.
And so our the girls of our nation.
Their eyes are watching.
Watching for what the media tells us is good, what the world tells us is beauty. Tormenting themselves over the number on the scale, the natural rolls of their hips and breasts, the healthy curves to the backs of their arms. Longing for sharper angles, thinner profiles.
Their eyes are watching the mirror, the scale, and, most importantly, the eyes watching them. What stories they spin within their heads of what others are thinking of them, judgements never actually cast. When they are older their eyes will watch the internet, and I hope they never find comfort in dark places full of untruth.
Their eyes are watching us. How we perceive our images in the mirror, how we eat (or not eat) our food. How we speak of our own bodies and beauty. Their eyes are watching how we love (or do not love) ourselves.
My girls. My girls are watching me. Every day. And every day, I tell them I love them. I tell them I am proud of them. I tell them they are beautiful, inside and out. I commend them on their creativity, their reading skills, when they bravely try something new.
Their eyes are watching, their ears are listening, their hearts are taking it all in. Do they see me eating a healthy breakfast? Or skipping to "save calories?" Do they see me cringe when I look in the mirror? Or smile at what I see? Do they hear me complain about "how fat I am?" Or do they hear me speak positively about my body?
As I mother, I owe it not only to myself but to my girls, to strive every day to love myself. I strive to eat healthy, and I teach my girls to love real food (with some treats thrown in there from time to time!). I strive to show them a woman who is strong, who stays active because she loves it, not because she is afraid of what will happen to her body if she doesn't.
I strive to show them a woman who fails, but learns from her failures. Who falls, but always gets back up. Who embraces the fact that she'll never be perfect, and never lets that be an excuse to not try.
I strive to show them a woman who is not defined by the image in the mirror, but rather the character of her heart.
Their eyes are watching.
And I hope my girls see all the right things so one day when they come across this disparity of truths...
...They have the right messages to stay the course; to own their beauty and worth.