By now, we’ve all heard the news about Biggest Loser winner Rachel Frederickson. I believe she is about five feet and four inches high, and, at 105 pounds, she is underweight. Personally, I can’t imagine that. I’m a couple of inches shorter than her and weight about ten pounds more. I can’t even imagine being at 105. My first reaction to her photo was similar to what you’ve seen in the news. She can’t be healthy; she doesn’t look well.
My initial reaction was wrong and short-sighted. Not too long ago, I wrote about a period in my life where I had an unhealthy relationship with food. At my worst, I was eating less than 1000 calories a day and stepping on the scale at least once per day. Doing all that took a huge amount of effort. If someone would have pointed a finger at me and judged me, I may have collapsed under the emotional weight. I thought I was doing something that was healthy. Health was all I wanted. To be told that all my efforts, all the weight lost, was for nothing would have haunted my dreams.
The worst part of my journey in health was the day a friend told me “my mom told me someone asked her if you were shoving your finger down your throat.” At this point, I had overcome my obsession with calories and had moved on to experimenting with food and fitness. It was during this time I discovered how much I like avocados, for example. Until my last year or so of college, I’d never eaten an avocado before. It hurt to be judged and it especially hurt that this judgement was coming from people who didn’t notice when I was truly struggling.
What does my story and Rachel’s story have in common? I don’t know if there is a term for it yet, but I’m going to call it skinny shaming.
There’s a lot of discussion surrounding fat shaming. Just because someone is fat, does not mean they should be judged, disrespected or treated with less dignity than anyone else. Yes, they might be unhealthy, but that’s a conversation between them and their doctor. For a second, consider why people fight for freedoms such as equal marriage and safe, accessible abortions. Of the many reasons people strive for these rights, one is that of bodily autonomy. A person should have the right to choose who they love and who they sleep with. It’s their body and their life. A woman should have the right to choose what she does to her body for the same reason.
You don’t have to agree with those decisions. As such, you can choose something different for your life and your body. Health is very similar. Even if someone is fat to an unhealthy degree, they have a right to do what they want to their body. You can’t force them to be healthy. Even so, they still deserve your respect.
A person who happens to be skinny, even to an unhealthy degree, is also the same. They are worthy of respect and dignity just like anyone else. Skinny shaming is just as wrong and can be just as damaging as fat shaming. Honestly, I don’t have a ton of experiences to add as examples. That comment by my friends stands out more than anything else. I can still feel the hurt those words caused.
There was a girl in my high school who looked similar to Rachel. She ate a lot, but always looked like skin and bones. We weren’t very close, so I don’t know if hurtful comments ever effected her. I did hear people pass their judgement saying that she clearly wasn’t healthy.
We all need to stop taking it upon ourselves to determine how healthy a person is. Body shape is a very bad indicator of overall health. When you look at someone, you’re not getting the whole story. There are a large amount of conditions out there that have a side effect of weight gain. There are also various conditions that can cause weight loss. Since we have no way of knowing why a person is shaped the way they are, we should avoid passing judgement.
Rachel was once overweight and now, she is underweight. Her journey in health continues and I wish her the best. I hope that she hasn’t let the judgement of others injure that journey.
With that said, I am judging… The Biggest Loser. I do enjoy the show. It’s entertaining and the trainers do provide some great advice to viewers. The show has done a great job at bringing health to the attention of the public. Unfortunately, The Biggest Loser is horribly unhealthy for the contestants. Promoting weight loss at any cost is misguided. Pushing people until the vomit and forcing them to work out while injured isn’t healthy (although, an injured person can still work out, they just have to modify what they do so they don’t stress what they’ve injured).
My biggest problem with the show is in how they judge contestants. Percentage of body weight lost is a horrendous way to judge people. It doesn’t take into consideration the amount of fat loss versus the amount of muscle gained. A person could lose a great amount of fat, but gain muscle and lose the game. Another person could widdle their way down to 50 pounds if they wanted and win it all. The show needs to work on promoting health to their contestants as well as the public. I think judging contestants on body fat percentage would be far more healthy. Regardless of what they weigh, the number that matters should be the percentage of fat lost and there should be a limit. I’m not sure the right way to set a limit. All I know is that no contestant should win a show, which claims to be focused on health, if they are unhealthy.
I know I just spent a lot of time condemning fat shamming and skinny shamming. That stands, but it doesn’t mean that being of a unhealthy weight should be celebrated. We should be able to discuss what is and isn’t healthy without shamming people.
Have you ever faced fat or skinny shamming? How did you react? What was your reaction to Rachel Frederickson’s transformation? Do you have any recommendations for discussing the health of a person without shaming or judging them? Is it acceptable to both enjoy and criticize The Biggest Loser?