|Biggest Losers: Viewers who Vilify Fatties
Sydney M. Herald, Feb. 19, 2006
IT MIGHT sound mean but there is something grotesquely fascinating about the bodies of very fat people. More Picasso than Rubens, the lard ends up in the most peculiar places: men get pendulous breasts, women get curtains of flesh draped over their backs, tummies are like watermelons, bottoms wobble, chins triple.
It is all so wrong that the inhabitants of such bodies can seem almost sub-human. This is what makes The Biggest Loser, Channel Ten's new reality show, car-crash television.
Dominating the ratings after a week, it features 12 obese contestants locked in a mansion on Sydney's northern beaches with four gyms and two sadistic American personal trainers. The prize for losing the most weight after eight weeks is $200,000. The cruel bit comes when the loser who hasn't lost enough is voted off each week.
Why anyone would voluntarily submit to the humiliation of reality television has always been a mystery. But it's one thing when you are slim and pretty, quite another if you weigh 197 kilograms and your eyelids have vanished in a sea of blubber.
The dual meaning of "loser" and the camera's penchant for zooming in on wobbly bits give a clue to the indignities in store. There is the moment when the contestants are weighed, with the triple-digit number they have kept secret, even from themselves, projected onto a large screen.
We see Cat, 27, burst into tears as her 162.3 kilograms is revealed. "I'm just actually really ashamed that I got to this stage. I never thought I had a problem."
Harry, 35, tears up at his 178.9 kilograms. "I want my son to be proud of his dad," he says. "I don't want to have to park the car around the corner from his school because he's embarrassed of me."
The contestants are dressed in the most unflattering outfits for the weigh in - men shirtless, women in midriff-revealing tops. Then there are big white T-shirts emblazoned with the name and weight of the wearer. Ouch!
The first episode features a "last supper" so gross even the contestants feel sick. But not before gorging themselves on groaning plates of lasagne, pizza, chocolate eclairs, doughnuts, Twisties, cupcakes, lollypops, ice-cream and beer. Mouths were stuffed, faces flushed, plates overloaded. It was a cruel exercise, depicting them as gluttons.
But afterwards we see the remorse. "I was so ashamed," says Tracy, 44, and 109.8 kilograms. "Everyone felt really low and disgusted with themselves."
The Biggest Loser panders to every prejudice about fat people. But the contestants emerge not as figures of fun, but as surprisingly sympathetic and dignified people, some with families they feel they have let down, others achingly lonely. They have the humility and self-awareness that comes from deep suffering you might never suspect exists behind such jolly exteriors.
David, 33, the fattest at 196.7 kilograms, no longer wants to be "the big . . . friendly guy that everyone loves but no one is really there for".
Artie, 42 and 156.4 kilograms, who lives at home with his mother, says his fat has "made me hate myself". Fiona, 22, and the lightest contestant at 101.1 kilograms, tells of the hurt she felt with a boyfriend who said: "You're great but you're too fat to go out with".
Kristie, a 32-year-old mother of five, who weighs 104.8 kilograms, cries as she tells how a teenage boy followed her home one day, making "boom boom" noises every time her feet touched the ground.
While the social taboo on fatness is a useful tool of control in a country battling an obesity epidemic, it can be overzealously applied. One former fatty says: "Fat people today are treated like black people were in the 1950s." On the other hand, a naturally thin colleague says she has also suffered abuse, with women demanding to know if she has anorexia, or making scathing comments about child-bearing ability.
Body image fascism is the last acceptable form of discrimination left to hate-filled people. But, surprisingly, rather than adding to the problem, The Biggest Loser may end up performing the social good of humanising fat people and shaming their tormenters instead.
Alone isn't always the same as lonely
SPARE us the hand-wringing over the news that a couple of old folk have died in their homes and not been discovered for months. First there was the 62-year-old man whose body went undetected in his Housing Department high-rise apartment for six months, until all that was left was a skeleton. Then there was the 79-year-old woman who died in her bed at Umina on the Central Coast last October and wasn't noticed to be missing from the world until the postman couldn't squeeze any more letters into her mailbox.
Such an outcry ensued about our "heartless" society that Premier Morris Iemma announced we must all be "better neighbours by looking out for each other more often".
But how do we know these people weren't perfectly happy to have no friends or neighbours poking around in their lives? Not everyone has to be a relentless extrovert.
And the prospect of having a neighbour like Bree Van De Kamp knocking on the door with a basket of muffins is horrific to some people. They may have such a rich interior life that they are content with their own company. Some people just want to be loners.
Little effort - you snooze, you luge
THE Winter Olympics is terrific television, but what is it with the two-man luge? The big guy at the front of the sled lies back, completely smothering the little guy at the back as they hurtle around the track at 140 kmh, looking like a couple of shrink-wrapped sardines. Move over, Heath Ledger.
What is the point of the little guy? And why isn't he on top? How does he even breathe under there?
Supposedly, both men steer with microscopic wiggles of their hips, but how can they see where they're going when they're lying back with faces pointed to the sky. The little guy probably deserves a medal for being squashed, but it must be the only sport where you can win Olympic gold for exerting as much effort as a couch potato.