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June 12, 2010 / Katie

On Intentions and “Biggest Loser”

Golda Poretsky of Body Love Wellness posted a couple days ago the first of a three-part interview with former Biggest Loser contestant Kai Hibbard.

The interview is really stunning.  Kai talks about the extreme seclusion, humiliation, and abuse they underwent.  She talks about running in 100-degree heat and being given 90-degree water to drink afterward, while the producers, trainers, etc. drank cold water out of coolers.  She talks about having bloody feet and bruises all over her body at the end of the show.  She talks about the ongoing emotional abuse of being told “you’re lucky to be here” so many times they all started to believe they deserved however they were treated.  It really is disgusting, but also hugely informative, and I am eager to hear the other two parts.

I wasn’t going to post about this here until Golda posted the other two parts, but a conversation that sprang up on my Facebook page about this prompted me to go ahead and write this now.

I’m not going to dissect the comments by one friend of mine who called those of us who were angry about this an “angry mob” and then balked that I was “taking [her] too seriously” when I called her on it.  What I do want to post is my response to another friend who said “I must say, though, that I don’t think all that BL is about is ‘shaming the fat losers’.”

This brings up the important point, I think, about intentions.  Sometimes, intentions of folks who abuse, shame, humiliate, hurt, and otherwise act hatefully toward a particular group are taken into account as if that should excuse the harm that was done.  But one of the central tents of justice movements is that intentions do not diminish, mitigate, or least of all excuse behavior that deeply harms another.  So without further ado, here is what I said in response:

hmm… I’m not really sure it matters whether the show is “all” about humiliation or not. Seems we can all agree on the fact that it does in fact shame and humiliate fat people, which is bad enough on its own, whether it’s “all” about that or not.

I am definitely willing to grant that some of the producers, trainers, etc. have good intentions. But good intentions don’t erase, or even mitigate, the harm that folks do out of ignorance and hatred. I am sure that my college biology teacher had good intentions when she said that the heart attack risk of Fen-Phen was worth it because it was worse to be fat. I am sure that many of the Mormons who donated to prop 8 truly believed they were doing the right thing. I could point to a million other examples where people’s intentions weren’t really commensurate with the harm they did out of, again, ignorance and hatred.

So, what I’m thinking is, what does it matter what the intentions are of the people who are abusing the contestants, or for that matter the viewers who enjoy watching the abuse as entertainment? Ultimately, people are being humiliated. Shamed. Abused. Silenced. Ignored. Even killed. That’s a problem that no amount of good intentions will change.

After we and others had had our fun joking about what being part of an angry mob might mean (would our weapons be baguettes or Hickory Farms meats?  Or perhaps the legs from the chairs we broke?  Maybe we wouldn’t have the energy to mob anyway because we’re too busy sitting around eating TWO WHOLE CAKES!) eventually the conversation strayed to such an extent that the last few comments are about Anabaptist colleges and last names.  I love my friends :)


Leave a Comment
  1. angrygrayrainbows / Jun 12 2010 10:28 am

    I grew up in a very abusive home and I was told regularly as well just how lucky I was that my parents actually fed me and let me watch TV… even though I was being emotionally, mentally and sexually abused.
    Abusive relationships aren’t usually “all bad” and abusors can be charming and even loving when they’re not abusing their victims. That doesn’t change the fact that abuse is occuring and is horrible… this is Abuse 101… it is so sad to me that most people don’t get this and one of the most popular TV shows is full of shame, invalidation and physical abuse.

    Thanks for the post… you have crystalized for me a lot of the things that made BL so nauseating for me to watch. I avoid it like the plague… meh… but, I’m glad people are out there speaking up about it and talking back to the utter ignorance that says the kind of behavior you point out on BL is somehow okay.

  2. Godless Heathen / Jun 12 2010 11:42 am

    I think it’s important to remember that people only really care about the intentions of certain groups, privileged groups get the benefit of the doubt in almost all cases. Turning the discussion towards intent is just another way to derail in favor of supporting privilege.

  3. O.C. / Jun 12 2010 3:27 pm

    Wow, I hadn’t thought about that, Godless Heathen, but you’re so right. Can you imagine a debate about fatties giving us the benefit of the doubt because “Well, they didn’t INTEND to get fat”?

  4. Anna / Jun 12 2010 7:39 pm

    Wow. The biggest loser stuff does not surprise me at all. Thank you for linking, I wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. Though I worry about this woman. Don’t the biggest loser people put out some pretty strict “DO NOT TALK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED” rules? Because heaven forfend people know what assholes they really are.

  5. constancerclark / Jun 13 2010 3:39 pm

    I used to think the show was all up front but then I saw the stories about the ones who gained the weight back and how it was like they were total failures. Obesity is not necessary a death sentence. They neglect to tell you that an obese person who is healthy is better off then a thin person who is unhealthy. (think drinking, smoking, etc)

  6. Deanna / Jun 13 2010 5:16 pm

    As I was reading your post, a commercial for Jillian Michaels’ new show came on, and it looks as though the abusive behavior continues. I just don’t understand how this ad is supposed to entice me into watching the program. Is it when Michaels tells a woman to “get off her ass”? Maybe it’s when the Dr. tells the same woman that her fat is a death sentence if she doesn’t change. All I did was cringe through the one-minute spot. How lovely that Jillian gets to make a fortune by abusing and humiliating fat people.

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