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An Apology to Rachel

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I feel the need to apologize.Β  To Rachel Frederickson, the winner of ‘The Biggest Loser’ Season 15. To everyone who has ever been pressured into taking something to the extreme in order to win or be promoted.

On Tuesday night, Rachel won Biggest Loser when she weighed in at 105 pounds, a.k.a. she lost 60% of her body weight during about four and a half months on the show. At 5-foot-5, that puts her BMI at 17.5 β€” underweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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I’m a pretty new viewer to ‘The Biggest Loser’ franchise. I marathoned a random season on Hulu last year and have since faithfully watched the last two seasons. I’ll admit it, watching the dramatic workouts and weigh-ins is very motivating for me. However, when Rachel (really, all three of the finalists) walked out on to the stage on Tuesday night, my jaw dropped.

Kind of like Bob and Jillian’s…

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My first thought was that she looked ‘too skinny’ and had lost a lot of muscle tone. As a public relations professional, I instantly saw how much controversy this transformation would cause. So, I insensitively tweeted:

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And with that, I signed myself up for the Biggest Loser online circus. My tweet showed up on various online news articles, and I received many, many replies – both positive and negative. I had at least ten people tell me I was just jealous because I was fat (and that’s a nice way of putting their remarks).

I don’t say that to garner sympathy, but rather to say that such treatment caused me to immediately realize my mistake. While my original intent was one of curiosity from a PR perspective, I went too far and got judgmental. I had had a horrible, emotional day, and it came out online. Bottom line, it was not fair of me to criticize Rachel.

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The thing is, body shaming goes both ways. It is not okay to make someone feel shameful for being overweight and then do the same thing when they don’t weigh enough.

I think what can be gleaned from all of this, is that ‘The Biggest Loser’ is first and foremost, a reality show – not a health initiative. Rachel did what she had to do to win a reality show and a quarter of a million dollars. Much like famous actors who lose drastic amounts of weight for a movie role and a hefty paycheck. Much like an athlete practically starving themselves to stay within a certain weight class to win a prize.

She won a competition by following the rules (i.e. she claims she adhered to a 1,600 calorie diet under medical supervision while sticking to a regimented workout plan) and all of the outraged viewers are being poor sports about it.

I don’t know about you, but I would do some crazy shit for $250,000.

I think we’ve all felt extreme pressure at some point in our lives. As a person who has suffered from food issues off and on for the last decade, I totally get it.

I understand the show has to be dramatic to be entertaining. Who wants to watch a show about people who gradually lost 155 pounds over several years? What ‘The Biggest Loser’ is promoting is dangerous and unrealistic. And not just for it’s most successful contestants. The public health issues at stake are much more complicated than one individual woman’s body size.

I stand by the fact that I think Rachel is now underweight, and I am concerned for her. But, I need to apologize to her for dismissing her hard work and her victory.

Rachel,

I’m sorry. I hope you use your prize money for something that makes you extremely happy. I hope that you can walk away from this experience a healthy, confident, normal person. I’m sorry that you were made to feel like you weren’t good enough at 260 pounds. I hope that you are able to ignore all of the judgmental people like myself who were so quick to downplay your immense accomplishment.

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  • Jane February 6, 2014, 6:59 pm

    Great post!

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