I just finished watching the season 4 premiere of Extreme Weight Loss (formerly known as Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition). If you’re unfamiliar with the show, world-famous trainer Chris Powell works with 1-2 morbidly obese people per episode. Each episode covers a year, in which that person attempts to lose usually about half their bodyweight. They succeed almost every time, too. Chris gives them a goal for each three month phase. The whole year culminates in a glamorous final weigh-in in front of the person’s friends and family.
I have heartily enjoyed watching the show since its inception. I’ve even watched some episodes over again. I love The Biggest Loser too, and MTV did a few seasons of I Used To Be Fat about teenage weight loss, which I also watched religiously. I never questioned the premise of weight loss reality TV until Fed Up (the documentary I reviewed here) mentioned it in a negative light. The film implied that it’s unethical to get our kicks from these poor heavy people breaking their backs over losing weight.
So why do I like these shows so much? Why are they successful? I asked my good friend who is pretty insightful about media what she thinks (she does great reviews of pilots on her blog). Maybe some people think it’s amusing to watch a bunch of overweight people sweat it out to beat each other on The Biggest Loser. Maybe some people like the drama the producers bring out. Maybe thin people just watch these shows just to be relieved they don’t have to go through all that. As for me, I started watching these weight loss shows when I was trying to lose weight, and they gave me motivation and inspiration. It’s amazing to me to see these contestants transform themselves and to see how happy and accomplished and proud it makes them feel. I really feel genuinely happy for them, and they continue to inspire me long after I’ve reached my goal weight. I don’t think I should feel guilty for that! I really believe that these shows inspire some people to lose weight and get healthy.
Some people think these shows take dignity away from the overweight contestants, but I see them earning their dignity with each pound lost. What do you think?