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Body Shaming at Every Size: Can Women Ever Get it Right?

Body Shaming at Every Size: Can Women Ever Get it Right?

Written by Tara Culp-Ressler

This week, NBC’s weight loss reality show “The Biggest Loser” crowned its most recent winner, Rachel Frederickson, for shedding the most pounds during the television challenge. But Frederickson’s big reveal — she ultimately dropped from 260 pounds down to 105, losing nearly 60 percent of her total body weight — was greeted with considerable criticism.

The show’s hosts, Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper, appeared to be visibly uncomfortable when they saw Frederickson’s new body. Viewers thought she looked gaunt, wondered if her dramatic transformation could possibly be healthy, and questioned why she was allowed to lose so much weight.

“It’s easy to see that Frederickson looks unhealthy,” TIME noted. “There was nothing athletic about the waif-thin appearance of Rachel tonight,” a diet blogger wrote. “There needs to be a red line that disqualifies finalists for too much weight loss based on a minimum BMI threshold,” one Twitter user suggested. An online petition is now demanding that NBC strip Frederickson of her $250,000 prize, urging the network not to “award her for anorexic behaviors.”

Frederickson, for her part, has confirmed that she’s “extremely proud” of the way she lost the weight on the show. She said she adhered to a 1,600 calorie diet under medical supervision while sticking to a regimented workout plan.

As a whole, “The Biggest Loser” has come under considerable fire for promoting an unrealistic image of weight loss, particularly since many contestants end up gaining much of the weight back after the show ends. Normal Americans don’t have time to make losing weight their full-time job, a lifestyle that simply can’t be sustained outside of reality television. And critics point out that dangling a cash prize in front of contestants drives them to go to extreme lengths, seeking weight loss at any cost. Indeed, the direct correlation between “weight” and “health” tends to be exaggerated, and shows like “The Biggest Loser” play into that oversimplified worldview.

But those are bigger problems with the show’s executives, societal assumptions about weight, and media representations of bodies — not something that’s specific to Frederickson herself, who was simply playing the game in a competition that’s already well-established. In fact, some medical professionals and anorexia prevention advocates are warning that the harsh public backlash to the show’s most recent winner could actually be misguided.

Dr. Janey Pratt, the co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center, points out that it’s possible for contestants like Fredrickson to safely drop so many pounds in a controlled environment with the help of medical professionals. “If she lost it and she’s not malnourished, then there’s nothing wrong with it,” Pratt told the Today Show. “You can lose weight that quickly safely, but it’s a full-time job, which is what ‘The Biggest Loser’ is. It’s not what we usually see. It’s not common but it can happen.”

One nutritionist explained to CBS News that although it’s certainly valid to have concerns about rapid weight loss, and unrealistic media depictions of crash diets, it’s not actually possible for outside observers to discern whether or not Frederickson is healthy. Although BMI is one indicator of health, it’s not the only one, and it typically needs to be put into context. There’s no way for viewers to know what Frederickson’s exercise regimen is like, or how many nutrients she’s taking in.

And criticizing Frederickson’s appearance now that she’s lost so much weight may not actually be any more sensitive than criticizing her body before she appeared on the show. It threatens to reinforce the idea that women can never get it right. Particularly when it comes to media depictions of women’s bodies, public figures are always treading a fine line between too thintoo heavytoo fake, and too realistic. The range in which women’s weight is deemed acceptable is increasingly narrow — and that’s largely a product of much bigger structural issues in the fashion industry, not because of individual women like Fredrickson.

“We are just obsessed with body size, women particularly. There’s just tremendous body dissatisfaction,” Joanne Ikeda, a dietitian who used to teach nutritional sciences, told the AP. “I’m sure even if she was the exact right size, someone wouldn’t like the look of her fingers or the length of her hair.”

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

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Photo Credit: NBC

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179 comments

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10:59PM PDT on Mar 23, 2014

Well..
1 That's her choice.
2 She seems happy.
3 It's not like she's gonna continue losing weight after the program, at the very least we shouldn't assume that.
4 Doesn't anyone have anything else better to do than shaming others???

5:07PM PST on Mar 3, 2014

And yes I do think Rachel looks GREAT! Why to go!

4:28PM PST on Mar 3, 2014

I know I will get hate mail for this. But being fat is bad for everything. It is bad for our environment bad for our planet. Because everything is larger. Clothing is bigger you need more fabric to make the clothing, so more resources time and energy. Shoes wear out faster. More water and wash is done because the clothes are much larger. Bigger cars are driven to fit the high volume of a large body, plus more fuel is burned to hall extra weight around.. More food is consumed and wasted because fat people eat more and throw away all the carbs on their plate because they are on the goofy low carb diet. Lets not mention the poor animals that are killed to feed over eating fat humans. More fuel is consumed in airplanes to carry all the extra weight. More medical cost because being over weight leads to a prolifera medical problems. More air conditioning is used because fat get hotter.
I could not believe how much hate mail from fatties Rachel received for doing what is right. We as humans should not be fat. We should be fit fast healthy and thin.

1:46PM PST on Feb 16, 2014

Women just cannot win. Be yourself always.

6:15AM PST on Feb 16, 2014

I hope she's happy.

10:20AM PST on Feb 13, 2014

Why don't men have these issues?

9:12AM PST on Feb 13, 2014

I hope that she was happy then and happy now.

7:54AM PST on Feb 13, 2014

I don't think this is about body shaming. I'm the same height as the woman featured and if I dropped to 105lbs within the space of a few months (and I'm nowhere near as heavy as she started out) I'm quite certain my doctor would have me hospitalised… if not sectioned (forcibly detained under the UK Mental Heath Act as a risk to myself.)

The fact is she is now quite underweight for her height and she lost all the weight VERY quickly. If a woman had done that in private and not as part of a competitive TV show I'm certain her family, friends and doctors would be extremely worried for her health and well being.

3:08AM PST on Feb 13, 2014

ty

1:46AM PST on Feb 13, 2014

I don't give a damn what anybody thinks of my size. If they don't like what they see, there are other places they can look. I'm a size 10/12 right now, & was so in high school. Nobody's perfect.

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Colleen H. Colleen H. is an Online Campaigner with Care2 and a recent transplant to San Francisco from the East... more
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