The Savage Death heart bleeds for Rachel Frederickson, whose name was all over our news feed yesterday morning. I allude to the winning contestant on a TV reality show called The Biggest Loser.
The Biggest Loser is a weight loss competition.* You heard me right. Competitive weight loss is apparently a spectator sport now, because what could be more entertaining than watching a bunch of out-of-shape women with low self-esteem weeping in agony on an exercycle? So there’s that.
I was only able to watch about 6 minutes of this show before drifting off into a quiet reverie about nachos and world peace, but from what I recall, this is the set-up: contestants work out with hard-ass celebrity trainers at a “secluded ranch” for a number of months. They start out unfit and full of self-loathing, they end up buff and Beauty2K-compliant. Each week they compete in weight loss challenges. At the end of every episode there is a melodramatic public weigh-in, the numbers writ large on the screen. The contestant who has lost the least weight gets kicked off the ranch; screw you, ya lazy slob! Footage is edited for maximum schmaltz and pathos. Cast members intone scripted platitudes like “I believe in myself,” and “It’s been a healing journey” and “I’ve found who I am” and (my favorite) “I’ve revealed the heart of a warrior inside me.” In short, this is the most boring TV show ever made.
Or possibly — aside from Animal Hoarders — the most depressing, because, again: They’re vying for the title of “loser.” The winning loser gets a quarter of a million bucks. She is rewarded with fame and fortune for diminishing her physical self.
But, as we saw yesterday, if the winner doesn’t diminish herself precisely within certain unwritten and ever-changing parameters, she gets publicly shamed. The reason Frederickson was all over the internet (they were even yakking about it on NPR) is that at the big season finale reveal she shocked viewers by being way skinnier than the last time she’d weighed in. Whereupon it was universally adjudged by social media surveillors that she’d “gone too far.” Twitter, that preeminent medical authority, diagnosed her as anorexic. According to viewers, she’d become “unhealthy.” Which is, you know, criminal.
This poor woman, who had been so horrified by her own body that she erased fully 60% of it in pursuit of public redemption, instead became the recipient of a public excoriation. Like every other member of the sex class since the dawn of time, she’d somehow got it wrong. She’d slipped off the rope.
I allude to the impossible femininity tightrope upon which all women are constrained to do the butt-dance 24/7. We are required to demonstrate our degree of patriarchy-compliance through our constant struggle for the feminine ideal. Every facet of our behavior must be balanced just so. We can’t be dumb, but neither can we be intellectuals. We have to be sexy, but we can’t be slutty. We have to be child-like, but we have to raise children. We should be fun, but we can’t seem easy. We have to be demure, but not frigid (i.e. we can’t say yes, but we can’t say no). We have to obsess about our appearance, but we have to make it look like we don’t, lest we seem vain or crazy or pathetic.
The joke’s on us, though. The sweet spot, where all these stupid attributes intersect at some apex of feminine perfection, it doesn’t exist! The standards change from one minute to the next. The struggle is merely a diversion, imposed by the Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women, the better to keep us under control.
As Biggest Loser Rachel Frederickson can no doubt attest, the struggle for femininity entails, among all these other self-destructive practices, a perpetual anxiety over body weight. We can’t be too fat because it’s “unhealthy,” and we can’t be too thin because that’s unhealthy too.
Note that in our enpornulated, fat-averse culture, “unhealthy” is merely a passive-aggressive, concern-troll way of saying “insufficiently fuckable.”
A woman’s Prime Directive is to endeavor at all times and at all costs to maintain fuckability.** Fuckability, as we have seen, is achieved through the performance of femininity. It’s all that really matters. Whether a woman is truly healthy is of no real concern to anyone. If society really gave a crap about women’s health, it would abolish femininity tootsweet. Femininity kills!
These fans of The Biggest Loser who are shaming Frederickson for what they perceive to be a fatal breach of health etiquette, if they really gave a crap about her health, why would they vilify her? If, as they believe, she is in some way “unhealthy,” she’s still a human being, and all human beings deserve compassion. But they don’t care about her health. They’re merely incensed that she made herself less fuckable.
* The actual point of the show is to sell Biggest Loser fitness DVDs, Biggest Loser Resort Fitness Vacations (sponsored by Sunkist), Biggest Loser Bootcamp 8-week programs, Biggest Loser Cuisine (slogan “It’s Easy To Be Good”) available at a Costco near you, and a buttload of other weight loss products.
** Once a woman ages out of fuckability, her job shifts; she must now try to be as invisible as possible, to quit cluttering up the landscape with her dessicated old uselessness