Policing Bodies for Fun and Profit

Every time I decide not to write about body image for awhile it seems as if I am confronted by the “perfect storm” of related media or experiences, and suddenly I find myself blogging about body image yet again. This time is no different; the tipping point was my discovery of In Touch’s “Body News” section, thanks to Jezebel’s Midweek Madness.

This idea that any publication would actually see fit to have an entire section just devoted to reporting on people’s bodies blew me away. After digging a bit more in that same Jezebel piece, however, I became much less surprised. Take the image (at left) from this week’s STAR Magazine. Although they don’t have a specific bodies section (that I am aware of) they do plenty of reporting on the changes in celebrity’s bodies. This article in particular makes me mad because it implies that Rue was lying when she was heavier and she said she loved her body, since she is now thin and also loves her body.

As someone who has made a lot of lifestyle changes in order to become healthier, I can confidently say now that I don’t love my body any more or less than I did ten pounds ago. However, as I wrote about, in the midst of this change I did go through a period of low self esteem… but that wasn’t because I was heavier, rather, it was because I started to actively try and diet rather than just improve my nutrition and move a bit more.

I have good days and bad days, just like most people, but the best thing I have ever done for myself is committing to the Health at Every Size movement, and working to love my body regardless of what it weighs and take care of it to the best of my ability without worrying about how that care will make me look.

Articles like this one from STAR imply that people who are not skinny cannot be happy with their bodies… if they say they are they are lying. I resent that because body acceptance isn’t a size, it’s a state of mind, and to deny that fact in print is to encourage your readers to feel uncomfortable in their own skin in the name of “health.”

If you click through to the Jezebel article there are several more cringe-inducing examples including a spread devoted to comparing Kardashian butts and a description of what Ke$ha ate one day that adds up to a bit over 500 calories (for the record, women are advised to eat at least 1200 a day by pretty much every diet plan out there.)

An even scarier message about weight and body image, however, came to me earlier this week via VH1’s new reality show, Money Hungry.

On this show contestants compete in teams of two to win a $100,000 pot (that each team contributed $10,000 to) by losing as much weight as they can, as quickly as possible. Each episode. whatever team loses the least amount of weight (percentage wise, based on the team’s cumulative weight from the last week)  is kicked off (unless that team has won immunity for the week.)

When I first sat down and watched this by chance with my brother I was literally raging (much to his dismay, since I didn’t shut up for most of the episode.) Weight Loss Competitions are exploitative, there is no doubt about that, but this show takes that exploitation to the next level by requiring the contestants to foot the bill for the prize.

Think about it: if we split the entry fee between the two members of each team that’s $5000 for person. That’s enough money to join a nice gym, hire a nutritionist and (potentially) lose weight by becoming healthier instead of by abusing your body. In fact, that’s enough money that each would-have-been contestant would likely have enough left over to buy some nice new clothes, or healthy food, or exercise equipment for their home, or a weekend vacation on top of their gym & nutritionist expenses.

Instead, however, VH1 is going to take that money and encourage them to lose as much weight as possible in as little time as possible in order to win the right to take home everyone else’s money along with their own.

People freak out all the time about shows that feature happy fat people “endorsing obesity” or whatever… but where the hell is the outrage over a show that not only endorses but encourages disordered eating?

Let’s break down the first episode a bit:

“After we are introduced to all the teams Dan informs us that we are having one final feast before the weigh-in in the morning, and feast we did. Everything you can imagine was there: pizza/hamburgers/spaghetti/mac and cheese/lamb/cake/ribs/and yes, even salad. You can tell everyone was thinking about adding some extra pounds before the official weigh-in the next day.”

We are told the team that loses the lowest percentage of weight this week will be going home. There is no challenge or vote this week.”

“We cut to the final workout, and I’m working hard. We had been going for a few hours that morning and we see me doing step-ups on the bleachers with a knee thrown in at the end. Suddenly I collapse and just fall over. Now, I don’t remember ANY of this, but judging by the video I landed on an exercise ball and rolled in the air to land on my stomach. The next thing you know I am waking up and there is a medic in my face. Nothing like passing out on national television to increase your street cred, right?”

[Recap Source]

In just the first episode we see people gorging themselves on food specifically to put on more weight and increase their odds, as well as someone pushing themselves to work out so hard that they pass out. One team lost 34 combined pounds in just one week… which would be 17 pounds each if split evenly. For the record, most experts recommend only losing 2-4 pounds a week at most because, generally, that’s all you can manage to lose in a healthy manner especially if you plan to have a prayer of maintaining the loss. Even accounting for the fact people who are heavier generally manage to drop more weight quickly in the beginning, this is still a scarily high number.

Not to mention the hidden caveats of this challenge, like the fact that muscle weighs more than fat because of it’s density meaning that contestants are implicitly encouraged to work out but not gain muscle mass (even though being more muscular ultimately increases your body’s calorie burn) because any muscle gain will make the number on the scale just that much higher.

Bottom line: Healthy weight loss and fast weight loss are pretty much mutually exclusive, this is no secret, making VH1’s new show even more offensive than the typical weight loss shows that at least pretend to care about the health of their contestants as they devalue their bodies and exploit them for viewers. Remind me again why we tune into this crap?

Finally, via Jezebel, I found out about a new show that E! is going to be airing soon called What’s Eating You? This show plans to follow the recovery of people with disordered eating. I’d encourage you to read the Jezebel article on the show, because it does a great idea of explaining exactly how exploitative the concept is.

These are just three examples, all found by chance over the course of one week that illustrate just how fucked up our media has become in regards to body image. Is it any wonder that forty percent of first, second, and third grade girls want to be thinner? Or that eighty percent of ten year old’s worry about becoming fat? Is it any wonder that weight loss has become a forty-billion dollar industry… and that’s not even counting the profits that magazines like STAR and networks like E! and VH1 make off of body-policing for our entertainment.

[Sources: 1, 2]

Tell me: when was the last time you saw some form of for-profit media that genuinely encouraged body acceptance and/or health for health’s sake? I can think of plenty of empty gestures like Seventeen’s Body Peace Pledge (see the Fatshionisa post explaining why this is really just an empty effort) but, other than Huge (kind of) I am hard-pressed to think of a media outlet that actually encourages positive body image.

A lot of it has to do with profit; there is no “love your body” industry that can provide the millions in advertising dollars to these companies, thus, they tailor their content to support the diet industry in order to attract the advertising dollars that the industry represents. That doesn’t mean we are powerless, though. In order to attract advertising dollars they need consumers, meaning ultimately we hold the power.

I’m going to exercise my power by writing some letters to let these companies know I am mad. What are you gonna do?

[Contact Info for: VH1, E!, STAR, In Touch, Seventeen]

5 thoughts on “Policing Bodies for Fun and Profit

  1. I caught an episode of that once (I think it’s on Lifetime here) and I remember being pleasantly surprised! Thanks for reminding me of that show :)

  2. Pingback: Body Loving Blogosphere 08.22.10 | medicinal marzipan

  3. How To Look Good Naked is my light in the darkness of reality TV. It still carries on a bit of a ‘fat is bad!’ narrative by helping women dress in ways that make them look less fat, but it’s better than pretty much everything else out there.

  4. That whole show concept blows my mind. I can’t believe a network, in good faith, actually commissioned, produced and airs that show. It’s absolutely insane and, imho, irresponsible.

    I, also, love “How to Look Good Naked”. “You are What You Eat” is a good show that promotes healthy eating, exercise and generally living a healthy life.

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