Why We Must Boycott "The Biggest Loser" Casting Call for Jews
I just found out that NBC's The Biggest Loser is looking to cast Jews in it's upcoming season. The casting agents will be in Boston July 24 and are even offering a handful of "VIP audition passes" through JewishBoston.com. Not only should NO ONE audition for this show, but the Jewish community in Boston and throughout the country should take a stand against The Biggest Loser, a TV show that capitalizes on the exploitation of obese people, promotes disordered eating, endangers its contestants, and promotes and unrealistic ideas of rapid weight loss. Here are 3 important reasons to boycott The Biggest Loser's casting call.
1. It promotes unhealthy, extreme, and unrealistic weight loss practices.
According to the New York Times, "Doctors, nutritionists and physiologists not affiliated with “The Biggest Loser” express doubt about the program’s regimen of severe caloric restriction and up to six hours a day of strenuous exercise, which cause contestants to sometimes lose more than 15 pounds a week." Kai Hibbard, a Season 3 contestant, said that the show misrepresented how much time had passed in between the "weekly" weigh-in. The weigh-ins were often more than a week apart in order to maximize the weight loss on the scale. In this video interview on CBS, Hibbard said, "I participated in a myth that hurts people... I helped perpetuate a myth that's dangerous."
It is unrealistic to expect to lose this much weight so quickly by healthy means, and a viewer trying to lose weight could be easily frustrated by their slower, healthier, weight loss. Healthy weight loss is defined as 1 or 2 lbs a week. Anything more rapid than this is not only potentially unhealthy, but will be hard to keep off. If one loses 20 lbs over 10-20 months, their lifestyle will have had to change to support the weight loss over time. If someone loses 20 lbs in 2 weeks, they are likely to slip back into their old habits and often will gain back more weight than they lost.
2. It endangers its contestants.
Ryan Benson, winner of the program's first season, publically admitted that in order to lose the weight, he fasted and dehydrated himself to the point that he was urinating blood. Because he went public with this info, he was not invited to the reunion special. In one season premiere, two contestants were sent to the hospital.
Kai Hibbard, who lost 118 pounds on season 3, publically stated that The Biggest Loser left her with an eating disorder. She said that the show "encouraged contestants to exercise while severely injured and diet by dehydration to make the numbers on the scale drop dramatically." She also explained how the producers overrode the show's doctors:
"The doctor had taken our blood and tested us and sent us a solution, I don’t know exactly what it was but it was salty, so I’m assuming that our electrolytes were off. And when the trainers found out we were taking it, they told us under no certain terms were we to be taking that, because it would make us retain water and gain weight on the scale and we’d have to go home. The doctors had ordered us to take it and the trainers were like, ‘throw it out, right now.’ There was this interference between the people who were actually probably trying to get us healthy from the people who wanted a good television show."
There are probably more stories, but few contestants have come forward about what goes on behind the scenes. The New York Times obtained emails from a talent producer on the show warning contestants that they could be fined $100,000 or $1 million if they talked to a reporter without the show's permission.
3. It exploits obese people and low-income people.
Dr. Charles Burant told the New York Times, “I think the show is so exploitative. They are taking poor people who have severe weight problems whose real focus is trying to win the quarter-million dollars.”
The show represents the epitome of body-shaming, encouraging fat-hatred and fat-phobia. In an interview (audio available) at Body Love Wellness, Kai Hibbard describes the dehumanization of the audition process alone:
"You get poked and prodded by complete strangers and nobody will tell you a single thing about what’s going on. And that point was where I really believe that the dehumanization process started, where they start teaching you that because you are overweight you are sub-human and you just start to believe it.Through the whole process, they just keep telling you, over and over, how lucky you are to be there. You’re being yelled at by people [whose] job is basically to keep the ‘fat people’ in line and you start to believe it.”
Still interested in auditioning?
I'm not entirely sure why The Biggest Loser is looking for Jewish contestants, either. Is it because they know they will get more attention in the Jewish press if they feature one of our own? Are they looking for an excuse to turn kosher food into the next diet fad? Are they planning to film during Yom Kippur and use religious fasting as quirky weight loss strategy? Don't they know that Jewish women already have a complex relationship with food, weight loss and body image? What would The Biggest Loser even do with a gorgeous, zaftig, red hot mama like Sophie Tucker?
And am I the only one who is totally creeped out by the fact that they're giving Jews VIP passes to a "ranch," where they will be shouted at, dehumanized, and worked half to death?
Is this really something you would encourage your friends or family to participate in? Sophie Tucker wouldn't give The Biggest Loser a second glance, and neither should you.
How to cite this page
Berkenwald, Leah. "Why We Must Boycott "The Biggest Loser" Casting Call for Jews." 20 July 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 18, 2015) <http://jwa.org/blog/boycott-the-biggst-loser>.