Rachel Frederickson, the latest winner of NBC’s The Biggest Loser, debuted her newly lean physique during the show’s finale this week. Previously 260-pound, the 5-foot-4-inch former athlete had lost 60 percent of her body weight to clock in at 105 pounds. In interviews, Frederickson cheerfully explained that she’d accomplished this by basically exercising nonstop, “kind of all day.” Spin, Zumba, treadmill, walking, standing. “It was pretty cool,” she said.
When Frederickson emerged onstage, it became clear to a lot of people that her weight loss was not pretty cool. Her trainers on the show looked concerned and aghast. Tepid applause rippled through the audience while Twitter convulsed with cries of “gaunt,” “disturbing,” “seriously unhealthy,” and “anorexic.” Jezebel has a more complete rundown of various bloggy replies, including one writer who claimed The Biggest Loser, as a show, celebrates “glossy eating disorders.” (True, a past finalist has asserted that the program’s brutal weight-loss regime pathologized her relationship to food.)
But how exactly did The Biggest Loser’s viewers and creators expect this to go? The Biggest Loser is a competition about who can lose the most weight. The person who sheds more pounds than all the other people wins $250,000. It is not about who can adopt the healthiest lifestyle or reclaim the most self-esteem. It is about doing as much as you can during the course of five months to make a big body smaller, small enough that it fits into what we find acceptable, small enough that when the contestant steps onto the lighted scale, he or she is magically worth more than when he or she started.
Turning around and castigating Frederickson for recognizing the true nature of the game and playing to win is the definition of hypocrisy. And using the fact that even her trainers looked upset—trainers who are famous because they appear on a television show called The Biggest Loser, on which they attempt to inspire extreme weight loss—as evidence that she had gone too far is pretty much a joke. It's a setup! Frederickson had gone too far just by appearing on the show, but can you really blame her? The problem here is a familiar one: a TV show that exploits body insecurity and peddles the usual fantasies—that your appearance makes you who you are, that beauty will save your life—and all of us who get off on the reveals. Fifteen seasons of them.
Congratulations, Rachel Frederickson. You won fair and square.