Skepticism

An Open Letter to Michelle Obama

Dear Mrs Obama-

I am writing in regards to your appearance on The Biggest Loser, and to urge you to reconsider appearing there again next season. While this may seem like a strategic move to you, one that will reach a wide audience that you may not typically have access to, I worry that you are not seeing the bigger implications of your action. I worry that you don’t understand the hugely negative impact that your seeming endorsement of that program could have on many lives. I worry that you don’t see the dark side of weight loss.

It has been nearly five years since I began to show signs of an eating disorder. Since then, I have done things to myself that can only accurately be described as torture. I have gone days without food, over and over again. I have injured myself as punishment for eating. I have forced myself to work out regardless of the state of my body. I have brought upon myself some serious health problems. I have told myself over and over how wrong I was and how I deserved nothing. If someone had forced this upon me, they would have been locked away for a very long time and condemned as evil.

There is a fair amount of evidence that a high percentage of the contestants on The Biggest Loser go on to develop eating disorders. Many of the individuals who have been on the show have told interviewers that they were expected to engage in extremely unhealthy weight loss practices while on the show. They were told to ignore their doctors and continue to work out and diet when they were injured, ill, or simply starving.

I know that your aim is to improve the health of Americans. This is a worthy goal. However weight loss is not synonymous with health, and promoting unhealthy methods of weight loss simply reinforces the prejudices that already exist within American society towards overweight individuals. It refuses to accept that someone can be fat and healthy, and it ignores some of the serious dangers of dieting and being underweight. If you truly want to improve the health of Americans, I strongly urge you not to show your support for this program, and instead to take a more nuanced approach to your view of weight: fat is not the enemy, and framing it as such leaves many people with no tools to improve their health and many ways to hurt themselves.

There are many reasons not to endorse The Biggest Loser. However even if you don’t accept that fat shaming, fat phobia, and discrimination against fat individuals exist, please do not endorse something that has been shown to correlate with the emergence of eating disorders. As someone who lives with one, I can promise you that it is not the right course of action to engage in behaviors that might push anyone else in the world to develop one. There are many avenues of improving health that are more positive, such as your pushes to include healthier lunch options and increase activity among children. But promoting weight loss at the cost of anything else is not the answer. Please reconsider.

Sincerely

Olivia

Olivia

Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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