I am a fan of the NBC show, “Biggest Loser”. I have watched the last few seasons with a combination of awe, inspiration and fear at the amazing things these people have managed to accomplish on the path to a healthier lifestyle. I have always admired the show for letting the viewers see that the concern was overall health – mental and physical – and they were interested in educating the participants on the RIGHT ways to make healthy choices regarding food and exercise.
I waited in anticipation along with the rest of American to see which of the three finalists would be the winner during the Live Finale of the show. As viewers, we were given a chance to catch up with all of the season’s contestants, see some of the journey, and watch them weigh in one last time to find out who would be the winner of the At-Home prize, as well as the Grand Prize. Tumi lost an incredible 175 pounds – almost 55% of her body weight. She looked fit, healthy and strong and was the winner of the At-Home Prize of $100,000! There was an enormous celebration after her win was announced.
Then it was time for the three finalists. When Bobby and David walked on stage and shared their journeys, the reaction of the crowd and fellow contestants was positive, upbeat and jubilant at their successes. Both were very large men to start with, and you could clearly tell (when without wearing their “weigh in clothes”) they had lost a significant amount of weight.
And then Rachel walked on stage. Rachel, the 23 year-old former competitive swimmer who was looking for a second chance at her life. Rachel, who basically dominated the challenges during her time on the ranch. Rachel, who was the clear favorite and the one that everyone I spoke to was rooting for to win. Rachel walked on stage and there was a noticeable shock that went through the room. There were concerned looks on the faces of trainer Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper.
Rachel’s appearance was shocking. She was thin. And not in an, “Oh-my-gosh-you-worked-your-butt-off-look-how-healthy-and-amazing-you-look!” way. But in an, “Oh my, what have you done to yourself!” kind of way.
Immediately, my Twitter stream was on fire with comments of concern for Rachel. Was she healthy? Why did she look SO THIN? Was she sick? Did the process of being on the show somehow trigger an eating disorder? What did she do to herself??
Once Rachel changed in to her “weigh in” clothes, the concern increased. Her arms and legs were unnaturally looking they were so thin. She tripped going up the stairs to weigh in. It was uncomfortable when the scale showed that she weighed just 105 pounds – having lost almost 60% of her body weight. There was applause, but it was NOT the jubilant celebrations of contestants and shows past. And it was awkward a few minutes later when she was declared the winner and the confetti came down. None of the trainers came over to hug her before the credits rolled and the feed was cut for the show.
I don’t know anything about Rachel’s specific circumstances. I don’t know what her height and specific medical history are. And I am sure there are explanations for things like the looks on Jillian’s face, Rachel tripping up the stairs, or the show feed being cut so quickly that all make logical sense.
I am not attempting to fat-shame or thin-shame or whatever the latest trendy phrase is to discredit the hard work and changes that Rachel made during this season of the Biggest Loser. What saddens me is that I’ve sat with my family for the entire season, watching Rachel and cheering her on only to have to tell my family tonight that she is NOT what they should aspire to look like. She didn’t look healthy. I don’t want my daughters to be left with the impression that it’s okay to destroy your body for any reason, especially money.
There is a disclaimer at the end of the show that a physician supervises the contestants while they are participating. And I hope that includes while she was home between the end of taping and the live finale. In my eyes, something happened; Rachel doesn’t look like the same girl that we saw on the last taped episode. I hope that this is not the story of a young girl doing what ever she felt she needed to do to her body in order to win a gigantic cash prize. I hope that a beautiful young girl did not get caught up in the glossy, unrealistic, photo-shopped images of perfection that are shoved in front of women’s faces every day and take drastic measures to try to attain that perfection. I pray that whatever issues this girl faced that led her to turn to food as a comfort mechanism have not led her to something more self-destructive to cope with her life. And I implore the producers and trainers affiliated with this show to take a really close look at this situation and see if there isn’t something that’s gone terribly wrong here.