Biggest Loser winner Rachel Frederickson: shamed for being too fat, now shamed for being too thin

The trainers react to seeing Rachel Frederickson's 71kg weight loss for the first time.

The trainers react to seeing Rachel Frederickson's 71kg weight loss for the first time.

You know that things have gone awry on the US series of The Biggest Loser when even the trainers are rendered speechless.

Celebrity trainers Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper can usually be counted on to come up with some uplifting banalities about the winner. But this year, they're distancing themselves from Season 15 winner Rachel Frederickson and her record-breaking weight loss that saw her claim the $US 250,000 prize.

But perhaps they didn’t need to say anything anyway. The horrified looks on both trainers’ faces spoke volumes as Frederickson paraded her emaciated-looking frame at the finale.

Before and after: Rachel Frederickson lost 60 per cent of her body weight.

Before and after: Rachel Frederickson lost 60 per cent of her body weight.

Frederickson, who weighed in at 47.6 kgs, lost 70.3kg or 59.6 per cent of her body weight during the show. This puts her in the underweight category according to the Body Mass Index (BMI) measure.

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According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, ‘[B]eing underweight can…have adverse health consequences including decreased immunity (leading to increased susceptibility to some infectious diseases), osteoporosis, decreased muscle strength and hypothermia.’

Even though many health professionals question whether BMI measurements are an accurate marker of healthThe Biggest Loser franchise relies on it. After all, how else are they to reduce something as complex as health to a single, easily understood digit? It’s a tidy way of labeling and shaming overweight and obese people.

Biggest Loser winner Rachel Frederickson

Biggest Loser winner Rachel Frederickson

By it’s own standard — namely BMI — the show has facilitated the transition of Frederickson from one extreme of poor health to another extreme of poor health.

This wasn’t lost on viewers. Twitter exploded as the 24 year old voice over artist took to the stage, with viewers condemning Frederickson’s extreme weight loss and the show for encouraging it.

But there’s a double standard at work here. Frederickson’s slight and frail-looking frame isn’t dissimilar from the current cultural ideal of beauty that’s celebrated in our magazines and on our TV screens. But pictures of waif-thin celebrities don’t provoke outrage in quite the same way as Frederickson has.

The difference in the case of The Biggest Loser is that the show lives or dies by carefully cultivating an emotional bond between audiences and contestants. Over the weeks and months of the show, we feel we’re on a journey from pain and rejection to health and healing with them.

As NBC’s The Biggest Loser website puts it, ‘This season's inspiring theme of "Second Chances" will be seen through the compelling stories of 15 contestants, all on their own unique journeys [sic] to reclaim their health and re-write their futures.’

To see a contestant descend into potentially poor health isn’t just anti-climatic. It’s a betrayal of the audience’s trust. If the reactions on Twitter and some sections of the media are anything to go by The Biggest Loser audience feel they’ve been cheated and personally implicated in something less than savoury.

Surely it was only a matter of time until somebody took a competition that only values weight loss — and rewards it with quarter of a million bucks — to its inevitable conclusion. But for many of the show’s viewers, Rachel Frederickson’s ‘big reveal’ revealed rather more to them than the show’s producers would have wanted.

Far from being about health and wellbeing, it revealed a show built around fast, unsustainable and unhealthy weight loss. 

As weight management doctor and director of the Butterfly Foundation Rick Kausman says, ‘There is no question that rapid weight loss is unhealthy. To lose that amount of weight so rapidly she would have to be losing a whole lot of other things other than fat, such as muscle and probably bone density.’

‘When will we learn that this is unhelpful to contestants and viewers? In years to come people will wonder how shows of this type were ever allowed to be shown on television,’ Dr Kausman said.

If there is an upside to this whole sorry affair, it’s that The Biggest Loser franchise can no longer pretend it’s providing a community service inspiring people to become healthy.

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of four books. www.kaseyedwards.com

 

37 comments

  • Rachel looks great, well done. Let's be honest, when there is a quarter of a million at stake, you are going to go the extra yard, I am tipping Rachel will add a few kilos after the finale. She should be congratulated, not criticized.

    Commenter
    Warren
    Location
    Patterson Lakes
    Date and time
    February 07, 2014, 8:57AM
    • I'm not sure she was being criticised - the commenters seemed to be genuinely concerned about her health. Not so much because her current weight is extremely low (which it isn't) but because her weight loss was so rapid. e.g. "To lose that amount of weight so rapidly she would have to be losing a whole lot of other things other than fat, such as muscle and probably bone density."

      Commenter
      Laki
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 07, 2014, 10:28AM
  • This is rediculous, she is not even close to too thin, she addressed all diet issues with answers about calorie intake each day and excercise routine. BMI's are rubbish, and the "normal" BMI weight is usually now too heavy since it has been moved up a number of times as "normal", and "average" size people have become heavier due to our poor lifestyles. I have been classified as underweight on the BMI index my entire life and was actually overweight by about 5kg (as advised by my doctor) when I was 78kg. Turned out he was correct and I'm much healthier back at 72kg, that is underweight for a 5'11" man but any indurance athlete will tell you it's probably still a little heavy. Good on her! The people who look worst out of this are the media, who obviously just sensationalise everything for a story and to get people to comment. You go tme, well done!

    Commenter
    Waz
    Location
    Syd
    Date and time
    February 07, 2014, 8:57AM
    • Having read some of the criticisms, I feel that they are aimed less at the contestant herself and more at the show, for setting up a situation where a person goes to such incredible (probably unhealthy) lengths to lose a whopping 60% of their body weight over a mere few months, mainly as a means to be rewarded with a *big cash prize!!*. It doesn't set a good example and I can understand why some viewers feel annoyed about it.

      Course, anybody who really thinks the show was ever about "health" rather than appearance is probably kidding themselves.

      Commenter
      Red Pony
      Date and time
      February 07, 2014, 8:58AM
      • So with you there.

        This show isn't about health but who can lose the most amount of weight in the shortest amount of time, which is why it's called 'Biggest Loser', duh. It's entertainment.

        It's not how she looks but it's the fact that she has lost so much weight in such a short amount of time and is it (a) healthy and (b) sustainable. Time will tell.

        Commenter
        Ripley
        Location
        Hunting Aliens
        Date and time
        February 07, 2014, 9:55AM
      • Of course it's about appearance. Every contestant in these shows, while very very overweight, is handpicked based on their body frame so they are able to have that ideal figure should they lose the excess weight.
        It's not often you see potato-shaped contestants, pear-shaped male contestants, etc.

        Same with all those makeover shows where they save the 'ugly' girl. It's trash television at its finest (worst), I can't comprehend how there can actually be people out there that would think it is anything otherwise.

        Commenter
        Markus
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        February 07, 2014, 10:38AM
    • "Slammed for being too thin" by the pro-fat brigade.. She looks great!

      Commenter
      warped
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 07, 2014, 9:06AM
      • So they've finally found the line and jumped it. They teach extreme weightloss and didn't expect this? The producers of the show should have encouraged counselling to aid healthy weightloss instead of crash diets and eating disorders.
        No wonder they were a bit shocked, she's become "model" weight.

        Commenter
        aunty
        Date and time
        February 07, 2014, 9:09AM
        • She doesn't look remotely emaciated. People are just so used to living amoung the overweight and obese that this figure stands out.
          We're also used to seeing before/after shots of people starting obese, getting down to a size 16 and deciding they're finished.
          A decade or two ago you'd see plenty of people at this weight.
          The rate of the weight loss is a different issue, and can have adverse effects.
          This contestants BMI is 18 - bordering between underweight and healthy. It certainly wouldn't get her admitted for referring.
          I think she looks fantastic.

          Commenter
          DrA
          Date and time
          February 07, 2014, 9:18AM
          • Agreed. I think people have lost sight that many people really weren't as "normally" overweight decades ago. But think of this, she's just lost weight and done it gang busters, full steam ahead. Now that she's hit this size you can be sure her body will readjust and settle into this new weight. She'll probably fill back out a bit more and perhaps gain a few more kg, and I hope she does exactly this. Just went down a bit too much. My clients have the done the same and I tell them to put kg back on. Simply put, they've just gone overboard and are so stubborn they won't stop till they get there (with or without you) - that's all. I'm certain the show's trainers are doing the same in the background and coaching her on the next step.

            Commenter
            Mike
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            February 07, 2014, 3:31PM

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