Temimah Zucker

Cotton balls: They’re not just for breakfast anymore

I have never been one to like reality television shows. While others were watching “Big Brother” and “The Hills” I was watching “7th Heaven” and doing homework. And yet in recent months there has been tremendous dispute over one of America’s favourite shows, “The Biggest Loser.” And not only is it one of America’s favourite shows, but it has been adopted and adapted by more than 25 different countries.

For those of you who haven’t seen the Israeli or American version, the show features around 15 contestants who are deemed to be “overweight.” They go through a series of boot camps and trainings and in the end the individual who loses the most weight, wins. The show is meant to inspire fitness, empowerment, and a healthy lifestyle. The most recent winner has instead sparked insurmountable controversy and strong feelings of anger and uproar.

Rachel Frederickson who started the show at a weight of 260 in a 5”4 frame, transformed to 105 pounds within seven months. While her BMI is 18%, she appears bony and frail, the lines in her face adding 10 years to her 24 years.

The reason for controversy is this: Frederickson lost an incredibly amount of weight in a short period of time and does not appear healthy. She participated in a television show that stands for health but instead teaches contestants that their value is dependent on numbers and fat.

On this side of the ring we have those in favour of the show:

  • It’s an attempt to solve the “War on Obesity”
  • It promotes healthy living and does not mock or ridicule individuals who are deemed overweight, but brings them to a place of satisfaction and accomplishment. 

Above all people claim that this show is intended to help people who are not living healthy lives, who are in a medically dangerous place and who need help getting back on track to accomplish these goals.

What they may not keep in mind is the method to go about doing this and the dangerous results.

According to fabulous Entertainment sites and magazines, most people who complete the biggest loser generally gain back around 40 pounds. Some exceptions keep their finale weight but many go back to the same bracket of their original weight.

I do not know Ms. Frederickson, I am not equipped to diagnose her with any sort of eating disorder. But I can say that she scares me slightly. The fact that she is constantly telling reporters that she is healthy, when she is on the cusp of an unhealthy BMI (18 and below is the risk zone) makes me nervous.

It makes me uneasy to think that people are celebrating this “victory” without thinking about the psychological implications, without noticing the pressures and judgment.

It makes me scared that Ms. Frederickson experiences Amenorrhea and this was pushed aside. Yes, people who experience rapid weight loss can be subject to the loss of period cycles, but shouldn’t we be noticing this? Shouldn’t we be taking into account the rapidity of her experience, the future expectations people will have when she makes the headlines?

The Biggest Loser has always been an enigma to me. I believe in healthy diets. I believe in people wanting to be fit, wanting to keep their bodies and spirits healthy and the possibilities of doing so properly. But I also know that diets can lead to an abundance of disordered eating when done improperly or when practiced by someone who is prone to disordered eating based on biology, insecurities, etc.

Those who compete on this show are labeled. They live for calories and weights and are deemed appropriate or inappropriate by society based on appearance.

Rather they should be taught about health over a process. They should be given counselors and therapists to discuss the pressures they may be experiencing and feelings of insecurities. They do not need validation or approval, but rather respect for who they are as people, for their character and not their bodies.

We live in a society riddled with diets, photo-shop, and teenage trends that make me want to both hide in a cave and speak to every teenager in America about self-esteem.

The latest? “Hot or Not” – the new App where (mostly) girls submit pictures of themselves and others rate them.

Current diet? “The Cotton Ball Diet” – tweens and teens dip cotton balls in juice and then swallow them (!) in hopes to eat less and feel full artificially. Never mind the giant risk of choking oneself or the problems it can cause to the digestive tract. This diet is similar to one wear people eat tissues in the same attempt.

We are living in a world where people are eating tissues in the hopes of feeling better about themselves.

Tissues and cottonballs.

You can argue all you want that the Biggest Loser isn’t itself threatening. That it promotes something wholesome and positive for the American society full of fast food.

My thoughts are that The Biggest Loser represents a greater threat; the fact that such a show has risen to success represents the disordered nature of our country. We prey on weight loss, weight gain, diets and the “perfect” size 2.

I worry not only about Ms. Frederickson but about the people out there who live their lives in a game show, disregarding emotions and insecurities and focusing instead on a scale. Those who would rather eat cotton balls to feel good about themselves than be guided to work on character and confidence.

When I present in schools to young women I focus on character, morality, and the things that empower us to make us unique. Take a moment to figure out how much of your self-worth and evaluation is dependent on appearance. Now take a few moments to compose some “I” statements about your character. You will find that lasting confidence is based not on how’s but instead on who’s.

Together we must encourage others to look beyond “The Biggest Loser” and instead look for value and depth.

What do you think Ms. Frederickson would like to be known for? What would you like your legacy to be? Being known as “The Biggest Loser,” or for weight, or appearance represents a lifestyle to which we have grown all too accustomed. Rather let our legacies reflect depth and character.

About the Author
Temimah Zucker, LMSW is a primary therapist at Monte Nido Manhattan and also works in private practice in the fields of eating disorders, self-esteem, and mental health. Temimah writes and publicly speaking on these subjects and is also an adjunct professor in NYC teaching on the subject of the treatment of eating disorders. For information or inquiries please see her website.
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