Sometimes it’s incredibly easy to tell when something popular is also terrible (think: “beezing” or Logan Paul). Other times, the reality that something popular actually sucks isn’t fully understood until later (think: Michael Kors purses, or Game of Thrones). Weight loss reality TV show The Biggest Loser resides in the latter category, though it belonged firmly in the former. Few people better exemplify The Biggest Loser’s inherent flaws than its breakout star Jillian Michaels. She won’t appear in the reboot, which is set to premiere on USA Network sometime this year, but Michaels continues to push the toxic viewpoint that fueled The Biggest Loser originally. She did so most recently in a series of interviews that show she does not understand the fat shaming and fatphobia built into the basic premise behind the show that made her a household name.
A fitness “expert” and author, Michaels parted ways with the show in 2014, when one contestant’s particularly extreme weight loss made her feel “pretty ashamed” at her role on the program. In the years since the show was at its peak, former contestants—most of whom regained all the weight they lost while appearing on the show—have described brutal treatment from producers, dangerously long workouts, fat-shaming, constant supervision, and minimal contact with family members and loved ones for the show’s duration.
“Obesity in itself is not something that should be glamorized. But we’ve become so politically correct that no one wants to say it,” Michaels told Women’s Health in December. “'I think the world has shifted to a place where that format and messaging [on The Biggest Loser] is considered fat shaming. But it isn’t, and it’s not meant to be. Now we’ve gone so far in the opposite direction.”
On Tuesday, Michaels appeared on The Wendy Williams Show, chastised Williams for fasting, and then dropped this bon mot on the state of body positivity today: “There was so much fat-shaming for such a long time that now the pendulum has swung to a place where it’s like, ‘You are 250 pounds and you’re owning it! Go!’ And I’m like, wait wait wait, no no no… When you start to celebrate that… it’s not about shaming, it’s not about excluding anyone, but we also don’t want to co-sign cancer, heart disease, diabetes.” Michaels also compared fat people to alcoholics and cited her past as an “overweight kid” as the driver behind her “concern.”
On Wednesday, Michaels appeared on Buzzfeed News’ morning show AM2DM, where she speculated on Lizzo’s health. “Why are we celebrating [Lizzo’s] body? Why does it matter? That’s what I’m saying,” Michaels said. “Why aren’t we celebrating her music? Because it isn’t going to be awesome if she gets diabetes… I love her music, my kid loves her music, but there’s never a moment where I’m like, ‘And I’m so glad she’s overweight!’” Lizzo notably quit Twitter recently due to the sheer volume of abuse from trolls, who often mock the artist’s size.
Using “health concerns” as cover for fatphobia is something fat people have heard before—and this attitude actually contributes to the anti-fat bias that prevents fat people from receiving proper mental and physical healthcare. In the words of Lindy West: “If you really want to ‘help’ fat people, you need to understand that shaming an already-shamed population is, well, shameful.” To say that The Biggest Loser doesn’t engage in fat shaming is flatly ridiculous.
The framing of fat people as weak, repulsive, less-than “losers,” permeates the wider cultural conversation: Fifteen years after The Biggest Loser’s initial run, its legacy is still visible today. You can find it in the portrayal of fat people as inherently unathletic in Brittany Runs a Marathon; in TLC shows that treat fatness as spectacle; and in the clusterfuck that was Netflix’s Insatiable, in which the main character finally earns hotness by shedding a literal fat suit. Weight loss is still treated as “inspirational,” while fat people themselves are reduced to sideshow attractions. When fat shaming gets the green light, everybody loses.
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