Body Shaming, "The Biggest Loser" and Why Women Can't Win

During last week’s season finale of The Biggest Loser, Rachel Fredrickson debuted a drastically different body, winning the NBC weight-loss competition. Slimming down to 105 pounds from 260, Fredrickson lost almost 60% of her body weight and won the grand prize of $250,000. At five feet four inches tall, the newest winner has below the recommended body mass index for her height.

Image courtesy of Flickr

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Fredrickson’s final weight and physical appearance prompted immediate backlash from viewers and the media; many observed the “shocked” expressions on the faces of the show’s trainers, indicated that Fredrickson looked “gaunt” and “sickly” and questioned the propriety of the show’s weight loss methods.

This is not the first time the reality program has faced criticism. It was previously rebuked for “promoting an unrealistic image of weight loss,” especially since once contestants leave the show, they often gain back the lost weight without the strict health regiment and scrutiny of personal trainers.

Former contestants have spoken up about the extremes to which contestants resort to shortly before weigh-ins, ignoring doctor’s orders and engaging in unhealthy behaviors.

A photo of Frederickson from early in the season. Photo courtesy of Rachel Frederickson/Facebook

A photo of Frederickson from early in the season.
Photo courtesy of Rachel Frederickson/Facebook

Viewers expressed outrage and concern at Fredrickson’s new body, including former contestant Kai Hibbard, who claimed that Rachel “doesn’t know what damage she has done to her body and her mind,” and “won’t until the spotlight goes away.” Others suggested anorexia as a possible cause for the extreme transformation, and implored her to seek medical help.

Despite all the negativity directed toward the most recent winner, doctors and nutritionists have reminded critics of Fredrickson’s extreme weight loss that BMI is not the sole indicator of a healthy body. Furthermore, while programs like The Biggest Loser are certainly unconventional and rare, it is theoretically possible to lose large amounts of weight in short periods of time and remain healthy.

The controversy regarding the show’s winner also prompted various websites and media outlets to speak out against the constant body shaming of women. A ThinkProgress article argued that the public is often overly critical of women’s bodies, and that “the range in which women’s weight is deemed acceptable is increasingly narrow.” It seems that women “just can’t get it right,” and are always subject to disapproval, whether they are too fat or too thin.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Photo courtesy of Flickr

To many observers, Rachel Fredrickson is the perfect example of this double standard. While many applaud her impressive feat, other belittle it and accuse her of having an eating disorder. Fredrickson has responded to the controversy saying that she “just enjoyed every part of it” and followed the advice of the show’s medical team at every juncture.

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