Internalized Fatphobia Led Me To Audition For The Biggest Loser
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For a little context…
An article I read this week got me thinking. My friend Maggie McGill wrote a piece for Fatventure Mag about Fat Kid Dance Party (FKDP), an aerobics class designed by body positive folks. FKDP is doing great work to dismantle internalized fatphobia and let people have fun with activity. They encourage movement for all bodies; various shapes, sizes, and abilities. Further, the class uses positive language throughout and encourages a focus on healing your relationship with your body.
In the article, McGill spoke about having been an active person their entire life, but how somewhere along the way they lost their positive relationship between their body and being active. Reflecting on McGill’s experience and the mission of FKDP, I asked myself, when did I really lose the ability to enjoy being active?
Like McGill, I myself was an active kid. I took dance classes, played softball and basketball, and did martial arts. I was always outside riding bikes with my neighborhood posse. I’d be lying if I tried to say my relationship with activity was positive the entire time. I was also totally a fat kid. So participating in sports and being active was always a little bit complicated. But I loved it. So I pushed through the internalized fatphobia. Even as I got older and lost a taste for competition, I found myself signing up for personal training at the gym to learn how to get buff. I found the most empowerment in one-on-one kickboxing sessions in my early twenties.
Now in my late twenties, I haven’t been able to get myself moving in a way that makes me feel safe and empowered in years. Which makes me ask, what the hell happened?
I auditioned for The Biggest Loser.
I’m embarrassed to admit this. And I’m sad for past me. Even someone who considers themself a fat activist who advocates for accessibility, fat positivity, and body liberation, has gotten sucked into the depths of internalized fatphobia enough to audition for a show dedicated to abusing and traumatizing fat people into losing weight. My relationship with my body has always been tumultuous. I’d be lying to you all if I ignored these pieces of my past and made it seem like I was always a body posi king. I wasn’t.
What was I thinking? Honestly, I had spent hours and hours binge watching the show for a few months. Season after season. That kind of shit can really mess up your way of thinking. It warped my point of view. At the end of each season I’d find myself envious of the contestants transformations. I’d disregard their clearly unhealthy, unsafe, struggle to the end. I wanted some quick, magical, way to beat myself into thinness too. It didn’t matter how much they’d cried, how little they’d eaten, or how much toxic diet culture and actual abuse they’d endured. They were thin at the end. Our world values thinness so much that when I obsessively watched the show, my own values had changed. I valued thinness that much too.
Shame then, shame now.
I felt such shame in the moment of pursuing this avenue to be on The Biggest Loser, and I feel shame now for even ever considering it. The audition itself played a key role in strengthening my negative relationship with my body, as well as perpetuating my eating disorder. Part of the audition required us to film ourselves “over-indulging” in our favorite foods. They really wanted us to play up the gluttony. I can’t seem to put the right words together to really convey how it feels to have that memory etched in my mind; my then-girlfriend filming me as I stuffed my face, trying to look like as disgusting and undeserving of food as possible. Anything to be considered for a show that would “change my life.”
I stood outside of that Planet Fitness waiting for my audition…for five hours. It was raining off and on. As I was surrounded by all sorts of fellow fatties, I couldn’t help but think about what The Thins must’ve been thinking of us. Look at all those fatasses trying to get on a show to lose weight, pathetic. If not that, they were looking at us with pity; each an individual project that needed fixing.
I didn’t get a call back and I haven’t been active since.
After this experience was over, I stopped wanting to be active publicly. It was a pivotal moment in the development of my relationship with my body. I reflected on my audition and felt so embarrassed. I felt like a complete joke. The casting directors looked at my body as a money maker. They made all kinds of decisions about whether or not I’d be an interesting cast member, if I had enough weight to lose, if I’d be a dramatic enough participant, if I was desperate enough. Could they push me and my body past the breaking point? Yell at me, make me cry enough to keep viewers interested? Did I hate myself enough, as I should in their eyes, to put my body through this torture?
When I say that I haven’t been active since, perhaps I should explain. I’ve been on plenty of beautiful, casual walks. Stretched and done yoga. I’ve attempted going to the gym. Being active can mean all kinds of things. But I haven’t participated in any sort of organized movement activity since that audition. I haven’t been able to reconcile my relationship with my body and movement. I think it’s because I can’t seem to unsee how others view me and my body moving after getting such a intimate look inside The Biggest Loser, an industry profiting off of fatphobia and the abuse of fat bodies.
The Biggest Loser almost got me.
By now, we know that The Biggest Loser is trash. The show has ceased to exist after people came forward outing the show for going to extremely risky lengths to achieve dramatic weight loss. Behind the scenes they were discouraging participants from drinking water several hours before weigh ins, and taking drugs to induce rapid weight loss. This, in addition to the very clear physical and emotional trauma, has made me incredibly thankful for never getting that callback.
And I know The Biggest Loser has been off air for a few years now, but the impact is substantial. It astounds me that someone who never actually was on the show, can experience such a shift in self worth from being a part of the audition process. What a roller coaster of emotions. The show brought me this shallow hope for a false promise of a better life after thinness was achieved. Then made me feel shame for existing, for trying, for eating, for moving, and for not being “good enough” for the show.
Activity doesn’t have to be complicated.
This experience shaped me into who I am today. A proud fat activist and challenger of all things toxic diet culture. A believer in worth beyond beauty, health beyond thinness, and being deserving of respect and kindness regardless of health. What’s left to do now is to nurture this desire to be active. I want to focus on mending that tear in the relationship between my body and movement. Dismantle the internalized fatphobia that stops me from living my life the way I want to with the body I have right now. I hope to continue to challenge this notion that The Biggest Loser taught me about what kinds of bodies deserve praise and what a fat person being active means. Activity doesn’t have to be complicated for us fat folks. I won’t let others’ perceptions and judgements about my body hinder me from enjoying myself anymore.