Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Where the Biggest Loser and Rachel Frederickson went wrong

This is the first season that I've ever watched the Biggest Loser.  I'll be honest and tell you up front that I didn't watch it religiously.  There were several episodes in the middle of the season that I didn't see.  As of late, I watched Makeover week and then the finale last night.  But let me just tell you--I've seen enough.

All along, I liked Rachel Frederickson as a contestant.  She was someone with whom I could relate, given her young age and her competitive drive. Her desire to be an athlete. She seemed like a wholesome, all American twenty-something girl who just happened to get a little off track with her weight. It could happen to anyone. It could have happened to me.

I thought Rachel looked 100% amazing at Makeover Week. If I remember correctly, she said the dress she was wearing that day was a size 6.  Girl, I'd kill to be a size 6. She looked beautiful, but most importantly, she looked happy and she looked healthy. Unfortunately, she didn't stop there.

I didn't see the episode with the Biggest Loser Triathlon, but I saw some replays of it. I saw that Rachel won, and I saw how she looked after that event. Again, she looked happy and healthy. She proved herself as an athlete again.  From someone who has completed a triathlon, I understand the athletic endurance that the event requires. Rachel the athlete was back that day.  Unfortunately, she didn't stop there, either.

The Rachel that stood on the stage at the finale last night didn't look happy or healthy.  Sure, she was smiling for the camera, sure she was thrilled to be named the Biggest Loser and who wouldn't be thrilled to take home that quarter of a million dollars?  But when I looked into her eyes, I didn't see a happy woman. I saw someone who had gone too far. Someone who had become obsessed with winning and had taken losing weight to an unhealthy level. Someone who probably had bigger problems going on inside her head than any of us could truly know.

The look on Jillian Michaels' face when Rachel appeared said it all. You could see her mouth the words "Oh my God," and you couldn't miss the shocked and--let's face it--horrified expression on her face. Jillian's face told me that she didn't think Rachel looked great. She thought Rachel had gone too far. And Jillian's right, guys.  As a relatively tall girl, Rachel has no business striving to be 105 pounds and losing over 60% of her body weight over the course of one Biggest Loser season. Nothing about that is healthy.

The Internet has been going crazy today with people criticizing both Rachel herself and NBC for "allowing" this to happen.  I'm not sure that you can fault the network for "allowing this to happen" since the ultimate weight loss that caused all this concern occurred after the contestants had left the ranch. Where I personally believe NBC went wrong was by celebrating Rachel's extreme weight loss as a success.  I'm not sure how they could have better handled it in the moment, but I do think the appropriate response at this point would be to issue some sort of statement to the effect of "There is such a thing as taking a diet too far. Rachel may have crossed that line. We're going to help her get the help she needs and get back to a healthy weight."

Why is the Internet going so crazy over Rachel's weight loss? Why do people care? How can it be fair that people pointed at the old Rachel and called her fat and now point at the  "new" Rachel and say she has become too thin? From my perspective, the reason this is such a hot topic is because of the body image issues I can see it creating for women everywhere, but young women in particular.

Body image issues are a real thing. And they are a serious problem. I'd say that overall I'm a confident person and I love myself for who I am, but I have certainly had my fair share of body image issues. I imagine most women have at some point in time or another. It's partially due to society--women are given this idea of "perfection" through Hollywood movies and television shows, from exceedingly thin women on the covers of magazines or from their favorite musicians who are much too thin.  As a naturally big boned girl (I'm not just saying that--I think my size 11 women's shoes speak for themselves), I don't remember a time in my young adult life when I wasn't caught up with my weight and wishing I was thinner. Even now, in the second trimester of my first pregnancy, I'm battling body image issues every day. Am I gaining too much weight? Why do I look (at least in my own mind) fat and not pregnant yet? These aren't healthy questions--but they are honest ones that have crossed my own mind. I think the reason I have to struggle with them is because body image has been an issue for me for so long--I don't know how to not worry when I see the number increase on the scale or when my clothes start to fit different. Even when it's happening for a totally natural and wonderful reason.

Over the past year, I've been on a fitness journey that left me feeling better about myself and more self-confident than I ever had before in my adult life. I wasn't at my thinnest or my lowest weight, but I knew what my body was capable of doing. I challenged my body to complete a sprint triathlon, to set new PRs for the 5k, 10k, and half marathon, and to get stronger at 5:30 a.m. at boot camp. I felt strong and fit and healthy and in control. I felt beautiful, because I learned to redefine beauty. And that's what I hope for my own daughter some day. I don't want her to see Rachel Frederickson on TV and think that she'll have succeeded when she reaches an unnaturally low weight.  I want her to push her body, to challenge herself, to eat a balanced diet but still enjoy good foods, to learn that moderation is the key to a healthy lifestyle, and I want her to love herself for what she is and to feel comfortable in her own skin every day.

At the end of the day, none of us know what is going on inside Rachel's head. Maybe she feels like she finally "made it" and maybe her doctor has told her she's at a healthy weight.  But mostly, regardless of what the scale says or what size dress she has on, I hope the same thing for Rachel and for every other woman out there that I hope for my daughter--I hope she learns to love and accept herself for who she is. I hope she learns to find her healthy weight and a happy place in life--and I hope she maintains that for a very long time to come.

1 comment:

  1. I am torn with the finale. Part of me thinks she did everything she could to win the quarter million dollar prize, and she accomplished it. Mission accomplished. Now she is one of the least favorite winners because of how far she went to accomplish it. I hope she releases a statement saying her weight is at an unhealthy level, she did it only because of the prize, and does not encourage anyone trying to get healthy to get take it to the extreme. NBC needs to make some changes before next season.

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