It’s no secret that the first decade of the 21st century has been filled with dozens of fat reality TV shows. The Biggest Loser, Celebrity Fit Club, Dance Your Ass Off, you name it, fat people attempting to lose weight have become America’s new entertainment. While some call these shows inspirational, it is arguable that they serve a different purpose. Point blank, weight loss reality TV makes not-so-big folks feel better about themselves; it’s easy to gawk at a fat reality TV contestant and say, “at least I’m not that big.”

It’s quite odd that viewers take pleasure watching contestants mount a scale and share their weight with the world. We watch these people struggle to exercise, damn near pass out, and succumb to one more Twinkie, with a level of interest that is shameful. If anyone has endured the difficult process of losing an abundance of weight, there is nothing fun or entertaining about the process. Admittedly, these contestants signed up to have their journey broadcasted across the nation. But the real question is, why? Are they truly inspiring anyone? Or are they just giving into one more program that ridicules overweight people for profit?

Just think, fat subjects in Hollywood always are the comedic relief or center of a pity party. On family sitcoms, we enjoy watching the fat kid stuff his face with food at the dinner table. Or we (fake) sob when the fat girl can’t get a date to prom. And now, we’re genuinely interested in watching real people lose weight? Would we still be entertained if the pounds steadily dropped off without an emotional breakdown or secret trip into the refrigerator for some cookies?

Obesity is a disease. What’s so entertaining about watching someone battle a disorder? Would we take pleasure in watching a diabetes patient fight to get off insulin? Would we enjoy watching a cancer patient work to get off chemotherapy? Or how about watching a bulimic young woman get her weight under control? Not so funny, right? Or would these situations be classified as “inspirational” programming, too?

Weight loss reality TV facilitates more judgment than individual action. How many moderately overweight Americans watch these shows and feel inspired to challenge their weight circumstance? And no, hitting the gym and changing your diet for a week doesn’t count. I mean, real long-term change, the kind that inspires someone to completely overhaul their fitness and nutrition lifestyle. Slim to none.

If anything, weight loss reality TV is just another platform for finger pointing, giggling, and headshaking from the average American viewer. Maybe the American public truly is that shallow. If there is nothing better to watch than someone slugging through a weight battle, perhaps reality TV does need an overhaul.

While yes, many viewers feel connected to contestants, it’s a complicated relationship that cannot be classified as purely sympathetic. Is weight loss reality TV inspiring to the majority of viewers? Or do we watch primarily for shits and giggles? Speak on it.

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  1. I totally see your point regarding weight loss TV, but I wanted to add my perspective as a formerly obese woman who has lost nearly 120lbs. I think many people who are overweight/obese want to see that they, too, can lose the weight. The show does serve as an inspiration. For me, at 280lbs, I wished that I could be on the show and came really close to applying. Then, I decided I didn’t need a show–I had the passion, dedication, and desire to do it myself. I changed what I ate and began an exercise program that worked for me. I think what we really need to question about the Weight Loss Industry is not only the shows but how much MONEY people like Bob Greene and Jillian Michaels make selling people what they already know–eat what is good for you and get moving (just a little bit because weight loss is 80% nutrition and 20% genes and exercise). I didn’t lose weight because I started eating carrots, celery, and almonds. I lost weight because I stopped eating out, started cooking my own meals, got some exercise, and reduced my stress levels.

  2. I agree with Crystal. The shows are inspiring. I’m overweight & have been my entire life. Coming from a family of large people, my weigh doesn’t drag down my self-esteem. It was only a few years ago that I learned other family members were unhappy with their bodies. As I’ve gotten older, I want to eat healthy & exercise to increase longevity and elevate the quality of my life. I watch the weigh loss shows and get helpful tips. I also enoy the personal stories. So, I don’t think the shows degrade its overweight contestants. But, more specifically, to your comment that not-so-big people can look at wieght loss shows and say, “At least, I’m not big,” doesn’t that same mindset apply to all reality shows? Can’t one say that he or she is relieved not to lead the lives of the Jersey Shore cast or face the circumstances of the Mob Wives or Basketball Wives? I’d even say that one may want to stay far away from the Of Love and Bachelor shows. I know that I wouldn’t want the Kate the Plus Eight whether or not it included John. You are not the first to question turning the camera’s lense to overweight people. To, the issue is not who’s on the screen but the mindset of the viewer. To make one’s self feel better because you’re not overweight, from Jersey, slobbing random strangers, or raising eight kids is a personal issue. It’s okay to say that you don’t want to be fat or can’t understand why overweight people seem to tolerate their heavy existence or simply don’t want to spend the evening watching fat people run and lift weights. But, you should be open to the idea that entertainment is one’s personal taste and tv shows — regardless of their motives — may make a difference in someone’s life.

  3. As a first time Biggest Loser watcher, but skinny-all-my-life person, I mostly get sucked into the personal stories. What can I say, I’m a big sap. My girlfriend laughs at me every week when I reach for the tissues. Two the contestants this season are from my hometown and friends of my family.

    I agree that there are definitely problems with this and all reality TV. I think lots of doctors hate BL because of how unrealistic it is. Hopefully people who are trying to lose weight understand that losing 20 lbs per week is NOT NORMAL.

    Speaking of Bob and Jillian making money, I’m curious why you would have a big Jillian weight loss add on the same page as this article?

  4. I can speak for myself and say that fat reality tv is actually inspiring for me and not just for a week or so. I have been working out regularly for the past three years or so and I’ve changed my eating habits to fit my more active lifestyle. Albeit I do not watch all fat reality tv but the ones I do watch inspire me to just keep going and give me advice on foods to eat that I don’t think about. I can even remember watching a particular episode of a show right before a workout when I wasn’t as motivated to work out that day.

  5. I think you failed to point out one thing…. The show that started this all was Extreme Makeover. We would watch as people went under the knife and went to extreme ends to lose weight and physically change themselves. I think the number one reason why the Biggest Loser/Celebrity Fit Club and other similar shows are doing well is because they show people actually working out to get the benefit of a healthier/slimmer body and not resorting to plastic surgery.

    “Weight loss reality TV facilitates more judgment than individual action….”
    “If anything, weight loss reality TV is just another platform for finger pointing, giggling, and headshaking from the average American viewer….”

    I’m not quite sure where you are getting your information from…I don’t think I have ever seen (or heard of) one person pointing or laughing at any of the contestants on theses shows. People root for them to win and succeed at their weight loss goals. I have never been overweight and yet I too get inspired from watching these shows. When I fall off the exercise wagon (and I think we all do from time to time), these shows help to inspire me to jump right back on…I figure if they can be dedicated to working out regularly and maintaining a healthier lifestyle, then I can too.

  6. Compared to other crap we watch – those shows are godsent. I find them very inspirational- and they serve as a humble reminder to how much we are all alike. We all struggle with something and I think those shows give us an opportunity to connect to our humanity – acknowledge our weaknesses and celebrate when we are able to overcome them.

  7. I disagree with the writer….I think makeover shows…regarding weight, homes or otherwise serve as a mostly positive experience for the viewer. I think that the shows can be highly motivational and inspirational. It is very entertaining to see someone battle obesity and come out looking great and ready to live their life….What mature, grown adult sits around watching and laughing? The same ones who enjoy Basketball Wives and think they represent all Black women I presume.

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