Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Smallest Loser

Liz Vaccarielo, Editor-in-Chief of Prevention magazine, recently posted about watching The Biggest Loser with your kids--about a reader, who mentioned watching the weight-loss show with her five-year-old daughter, Vaccarielo writes:
My first thought: Tragic! Five years old is too young to worry about her body. But then this controversial light bulb went on in my head: The Biggest Loser should be mandatory viewing in grade schools, and ever mom should watch with her kids. It's never too soon to start teaching kids what it takes to be healthy, especially when the rate of overweight children ages 6 to 11 had more than doubled in the past 20 years. And The Biggest Loser message is crystal clear: It's a whole lot easier to just not gain weight in the first place.
I'm pretty sure you know my thoughts on this (not to mention the fact that if you're interested in teaching healthy living, why not enlist your daughter's help in the kitchen or take her on a walk outside or to pass around a soccer ball--rather than watch TBL?), but I'm interested in yours. . . .


Rachel said...

What do you expect from a woman who is the author of a diet book herself?

Limor said...

If this type of show was around when I was growing up, my mom would have definitely made me watch it. I wasn't a fat kid, but she was bulimic, and projected her percieved fattness on me. There's no better way to screw up your kids' attitude about their bodies, and eating than telling them that thin is the only acceptable way to be.

every gym's nightmare said...

i dont think that sitting a child down and saying "looking like this is the worst thing that could happen to you. look at them in their sports bras on that giant scale."
if you just engrain in them healthy eating habits and keep them active it wont even be a problem. i wouldnt use TV to teach your children about having pride in their bodies and how to live healthy.

Lori said...

I don't know how "healthy" the message is on the biggest loser. It teaches people to crash diet essentially. People lose huge amounts of weight in a very little time that isn't really realistically possible, I've seen people lose up to around 30 pounds a week. If I had kids, going into it from the view point of a person who was an overweight kid, who I think my mom and doctors did the complete WRONG thing, I would not focus on food or exercise as something good or bad. I would just provide healthy foods and be active with my kids, without restriction or putting labels on food. But I wouldn't be like I remember my mom doing, "You ate at CUPCAKE at a birthday party? Get on your bike and ride 10 times around the block!" That says this food is bad and something you must hide and exercise is punishment and not for fun. I'm very curious, seeing how my husband is overweight and I'm overweight, if our kids will become overweight anyway, regardless of how active they are or how healthy they eat. I'm of the opinion that people are supposed to be different sizes, all women are not supposed to be size 6, just like we aren't all the same height. Sure, unlike height, you can control your body enough to become a size 6 but it may take too much restriction and over exercising to maintain it, something most of us can't or are unwilling to do. I think it's more important to be healthy and feel good about yourself, and that's what I would want for my kids. I'd trade being thin for feeling good about myself any day of the week. I know I'm in the minority for that.

ps22 said...

Let me get this straight...she wants to teach healthy living to children by having them sit in front of the television???
And furthermore, they are supposed to learn life skills through passive learning and tv watching, rather than talking, interacting, and playing with their parents????

Ms. Vaccarielo, if are reading this, I suggest you stick to editing and leave the health and teaching recommendations to the appropriate medical and education professionals.

neca said...

A couple of observations:

1. Young children lack the cognitive ability to relate the subtle cause and effect going on here. They won't truly grasp the concept that overeating leads to being overweight.

2. I think to a child, this show might actually "glamourize" being overweight: they see someone getting a lot of attention, support, being on tv etc.

susaneb said...

What. So five years old is "too young to worry about your body," but by age 11, you should have all those depressing messages memorized and internalized, so that you feel guilty about everything you eat for the rest of your life?

Bleh. I'm perfectly happy having reached the "right" age to worry about my body -- and then overcoming it and focusing on what ACTUALLY makes me feel good.

Elizabeth said...

Glamorize being fat? Glamorize it? REALLY??? The tears of laughter, or pain, or something...oh they just won't stop.

Yes, when fat people are told every day, many times over (by the media, doctors, family, random strangers in cars) how disgusting their bodies are, how lazy and disgusting they themselves must be to remain that way, the biggest thing we have to worry about (clearly) is that a show where fat people ruin their health through crash diets in a "thin at any cost" contest "glamorizes" fat.

Fat people get plenty of attention in this world, but let me assure you, it ain't glamorous.

Lydia said...

It seems like if that didn't make kids say, "Wow, I better stop eating food I like and start exercising well beyond my body's comfort level," it would make them think, "Wow, being thin totally isn't worth that."
I credit that sort of over-the-top or nothing attitude towards health for my never putting much effort into being healthy.

violet_yoshi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
violet_yoshi said...

Wow, it's been a long time since I've seen such skilled self-hypocrisy. "It's too young for that 5 year old to worry about her body, but it's not too soon to ensure my child will get an eating disorder by age 10" go with that.

neca said...

When I said "glamourize", I meant through the eyes of a 5 year old. I can assure you that I don't believe an adult would see it that way!

As the parent of a child, I know how easy it is for them to get a completely different message than an adult from the same input.

zubeldia said...

I don't think kids are short on hearing media message which demonize fat and idealize thin.

What I really find hard to bear in these discussions around 'health', which has essentially become code for 'diet' is the fact that they fail to miss the real reasons for poor health. Namely, social structures which affect healthcare access, housing, geography, socio economic status, and on, and on... if we really had an interest in making sure 5 year old were healthy in the future, we'd be arguing for major social and economic reform. This says much about out obsession with individual responsibility.. which manifests itself sharply when we talk about fatness. It's extremely short sighted and doesn't take into account whatsoever that we are social beings, in specific social and cultural contexts.

But man, as a closet lover of TBL (I know, I know), this is a pretty horrifying idea. I wouldn't want them to watch ANY reality TV, honestly. I think the messages that these shows articulate are pretty awful.

zubeldia said...

^^^ not fail to miss.. they DO miss

avi said...

I haven't really seen much of TBL, mostly because I don't have a TV. There was a considerable amount of time when I was a child that we didn't have a TV, and then, when we did get one, our viewing of it was pretty restricted. Oh, but we did have a trampoline, and our jumping time wasn't restricted at all...

All this to say, TV is probably not a great way to teach your kids about health, fitness, self-esteem, and body image. And I say this because I'm one of those few people (apparently) who loves her body. And I love it enough to take good care of it, and I continue to learn how to feed it and water it and make sure it gets some physical activity. And I don't fill it with the mindless junk on TV.

Fauve said...

I'd sit my child down in front of this show and say: "this is what happens to people when they are:
1. dying to be on TV
2. dying to be thin
3. hungry for $$
And just plain nuts.
I'd tell my child: look, gaining too much weight for your body is Not a good thing. Being too thin is Not a good thing, either. Being just the right weight for YOU, and being Healthy, is what's best. And - it's Not a crime to be overweight, either. In fact, sometimes fat people can be Alot healthier than thin people in many ways."
That's what I'd tell my kid as we watched this show together and munched on popcorn.

Elizabeth said...

Neca, I think I could argue with you about how easily children pick up the message that fat is the worst thing in the world to be, but that was really only part of my point. If there were a show that glamorized being fat (in the eyes of children or anyone else) it would hardly be our biggest worry. It would be less than a drop in the ocean of messages about the Evil of Fat.

We live in a world where even a neutral portrayal of fat is called "dangerous" because it might tell people that it's OK to be fat. We're not even supposed to have a fat Santa because he might "set a bad example". This is not a world that has a problem with showing fat in an overly positive light to children or anyone else.

This IS a world that has a problem with telling people, especially girls, that their bodies are never good enough and that what their bodies look like is the most important thing about them. This IS a world that has problem with eating disorders and an epidemic of self-hate.

I don't think there's any way in creation that a child would get a positive sense of fat from TBL, but if they did, I would be thankful for it. A slightly less negative view of fat (or even a positive one, if such a thing is possible) isn't going to make a child GET fat. And MORE importantly, being terrified of fat, and hating it, and hating the self, will never, never, never KEEP anyone from getting fat.

belinda said...

This show, in my opinion, should be banned full stop! I fail to see how it is at all productive in the fight against the unhealthy society in which we live.
Crash dieting, over exercising, punishment over certain food consumption ~ HOW is this relative to a normal healthy existence???? And from what I have seen of this hideous show, people tend to regain most if not all (or more) of the weight once they return to their normal lives (ie, working during the day rather than training full time!).

The entire 'diet' industry really gets on my nerves. People need to be shown that a healthy balanced diet/lifestyle = a healthy body. Nobody and i mean NOBODY needs (or should feel as they need) to live on diet shakes or supplements in order to gain a socially acceptable size.

It's truly disgusting. And as for children watching such CRAP... don't get me started!