Whether you’re a fan of The Biggest Loser or not, by now you’ll have heard of the controversy surrounding this season’s winner, Rachel Frederickson. The 24-year-old began the competition at 260 lbs and emerged victorious during the show’s finale earlier this month after weighing in at a shocking 105 lbs, for a total loss of 155 pounds in just under seven months.
It’s difficult to discuss Frederickson’s situation without also looking at the culture of The Biggest Loser as a whole. It’s also bordering on inappropriate to speculate about her mental state, the methods used to reach her final weight or on whether or not she is suffering from an eating disorder. What we do know is this: Frederickson admitted to spending literally all day, from morning until night, on her treadmill, even working while on the exercise machine. In between those sessions, she also participated in high intensity aerobic and spin classes to burn extra calories. While no one would disagree that physical activity and exercise is an incredibly healthy habit, there is such a thing as too much, and many believe it’s a line that Frederickson crossed throughout the process.
The line for us, as viewers and human beings, is also a thin one: we vilify those who are overweight to the point where they feel joining a televised weight loss competition with notoriously unhealthy practices is a good option. Then, when the contestants buy into the hype – the 6+ hour daily workouts, the excessive calorie restriction, the unhealthy mindset – and lose what we deem to be “too much” weight, we criticize them for developing the exact same unhealthy relationship with food that we as a society encouraged them to pursue in the sake of becoming more physically “healthy” in terms of outward appearances.
Frederickson sat down with People magazine for a new interview this week to answer some of the feedback she’s been receiving. She was asked directly whether or not she is suffering from an eating disorder, to which she answered: “I am very, very healthy.” Not exactly an outright denial, but then, why should she have to answer such a private question publicly? What she did admit is that she was perhaps “too enthusiastic” about losing weight before the finale. Can we infer that her enthusiasm led her to develop unhealthy habits? Maybe. Should we? Definitely not.
Before we pin Frederickson as the poster girl for taking things one step too far, perhaps we ought to look at the society that finds watching shows like The Biggest Loser to be a good night of entertainment. To watch the contestants struggle, cry, be pushed to work harder even when ill or injured, to watch them struggle through being starving… this is one of our most popular television programs. Perhaps we should put less value on the ideal of “physical beauty = thinness” and more on our own prejudices on health and bodies. Until then, let’s leave Frederickson out of it.