Monday, March 04, 2013

How Does a Biggest Loser Teen Celebrate her Birthday?

Who knew, but according to Wikipedia we've associated birthdays with birthday cakes since as far back as ancient Rome, while archaeological digs have us celebrating with food for at least the past 12,000 years.

Food isn't just fuel. As a species we celebrate and comfort with food, and when we undertake efforts that deny food those roles in our lives, well those are called diets, and generally in the long run they fail. Human nature simply isn't built to suffer unnecessarily in perpetuity, and while thoughtfulness regarding dietary choice is certainly a requisite for a healthy life, being overly strict surely isn't thoughtful.

I've been highly critical of the inclusion of teens on this year's The Biggest Loser. My two main concerns can be boiled down to:

1) The teens are going to be taught that success requires a lifetime of sacrifice and suffering.

2) Being portrayed as lazy gluttons on prime time television, and being taught that if you just try hard and sacrifice enough you'll succeed, when coupled with the almost statistical certainty of regain in at least one, if not all the teens, puts them at huge risk of both increased future bullying, and tremendous damage to their own personal self worth and esteem.

Now the Biggest Loser has made it very clear - the kids are going to be treated more gently than the adult contestants, but of course the kids will be watching the show and are in fact being managed by the same team that the adults are - are they going to absorb the show's ultimate messaging - that weight is the only determinant of health and that there's no amount of suffering too great to get to some artificial number on a scale?

Sure looks that way.

One of the contestants, 16 year old Sunny, recently blogged about her seventeenth birthday in Seventeen magazine. Did she have cake? Well of course not, the show has taught her that she doesn't deserve cake if she wants to be "healthy". Instead her trainer, after an "exhausting workout", gave her, "a tiny, sweet mandarin orange with a birthday candle stuck into it" which according to Sunny, "was, hands-down, the best birthday cake I’ve ever tasted".

Honestly I wish Sunny and the other teens on the show all the luck and kindness in the world. I hope they prove my concerns to be entirely unfounded, me a blowhard idiot, and that their weight losses are permanent and their lives only blessed by their involvement with the show.

But I can't help but worry about the 17 year old girl who's been taught to think that birthday cakes are tangerines with candles in them.