Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Biggest Loser

I am back now after several days of self-induced Modern Warfare 2 trauma.  My NaNoWriMo has suffered, my children's schooling has suffered and I am still not over my addiction.  Oh well.  I will achieve the goal of 50,000 plus words in November (more, if you count this blog and comments I leave on other blogs).  Also, I have a bone to pick (or a thousand) with the New York Times.  I will limit myself today, however.  Just in time for Thanksgiving.  This post is timely, I guess.

I have watched two seasons of the Biggest Loser.  I enjoyed it, mostly.  I wish the show would get a new editor, but the stories of these people changing their lives really resonates with millions of Americans.  Even the skinny ones.  We need to take care of our bodies.  Or bodies are God's temple.  It's not a vanity thing.  It's not a body-worship thing.  It is a survival thing--a longer, healthier, happier thing.  It is an obedient, God-centered thing. 

I read this article ( by the NY Times and felt compelled to put my two cents in.  This type of writing is what is systemic of our society as a whole.  Media is probably the largest contributor to this obsession with finding holes in every grand story.  They deny the divinity of Christ, they question the ethics of philanthropists, they smear the names of athletes and movie stars.  They tear apart the marriages of celebrity "reality" couples.  I realize many of these stories are brought to light by the same media and that is why I wonder.  It reminds me of the Chinese symbol of the dragon swallowing its own tail. 

But, I am casting my net too wide.  I could go on with this for hours and I would probably lose you, Dear Reader.  I want to specifically address this article and the show which it criticizes.  The show, if you are living under a rock, is about overweight people who compete to lose the most weight.  That is the simple version.  Of course, since it is a competition and people have proven they will do anything to get a competitive edge (Press Your Luck, Survivor, Twenty One, Major League Baseball, Olympics, et al), in this, too it seems, contestants have pushed the boundaries of sensibility to win.  As the article states, some contestants have resorted to dehydration to lose weight for the challenges.  The article, however, directs much of its criticism toward the show, as if it is to blame.
It would not be unusual for a media event to turn upon itself, or put participants in harm's way.  But, this isn't a Stephen King novella.  The emphasis of the show is to appeal to the popular American desire to lose weight. It points out principles that are already obvious to all of us who are aware that we eat poorly, excercise infrequently and have a poor mental attitude about eating.  It has become an obsession.  We have replaced sustaining our bodies with the needed energy to sustain our activities with eating to solve our problems/heal our hurts/comfort our souls or simply to indulge our love for the flavors.  We lack the proper perspective.  We sit more, do less, and subsequently store more of what we eat.  Pretty simple.

More to the point about my criticism of the article, I submit that to pit one doctor's advice about safe weight loss against another's is a weak argument.  The reader then is drawn naturally to the advice of the more conservative figure because then we can point a finger of blame.  But, wait.  If everyone lost weight at the same rate, where would be the contest?   Where would be the challenge?  Where would be the victory and the inspirational stories of NORMAL, everyday people overcoming the obstacle of obesity? 

And on what data do these doctors base their claims of safe weight loss?  For the doctor working for the show, certainly what these contestants do to their bodies is not normal.  He cannot claim that Joe Normal works out 6 hours each day or restricts caloric intake.  And the doctor from U of M?  Does he market some diet drug or run a weight loss clinic?  His answer can just as easily be linked to gain or profit as the doctor for the show. 

So we are left with what do the contestants say.  We have now five years' worth of contestants, some losing astronomical amounts of weight in a short amount of time.  Some have regressed.  Were we surprised?  Some have maintained.  Are we cynical?  If half of the contestants succeed, then that rate of success is considerably better than the rest of us.  And don't forget, thes contestants WANTED to compete.

Where this article gets my ire mostly is in its unmitigated rally to the poor winner from year one who was denied an appearance on an upcoming show due to his admission to dehydrating himself.  His admission casts little accusation at the show, but the reporter does not let that point escape.  I find this victim mentality abhorrent.  Not that victims do not exist, it is just in the search for a good "story," reporters and other media talking heads work so hard to manufacture the victim often not for the victim's sake but merely to cast aspersions upon some entity.  Of late, the targets of this vilification has been within the media itself, even culminating in books by Jayson Blair (Burning Down My Master's House) and Stephen Glass (The Fabulist) which in their self-pity lash out at their former employees to some extent.  Somehow, the self-vilification of media is reaching new heights. 

In the end, freedom of speech has its downsides, I guess.   And that is why I can express my thoughts in this blog.  Right?  What do you think?  I would be interested to know.  And, not to be outdone by the thousands of bloggers asking this most obvious of holiday questions:  for what are you thankful?