Feb 07 2014

Reality TV star slips off rope

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



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  1. sparrowgrass

    “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.”

    I’ve really been looking forward to aging out of the fuckability mandate, but damn if those goalposts haven’t been moved too: witness “Still stunning in a swimsuit at 60!!” Christie Brinkley on the cover of the current People magazine. Seventy-something is apparently supposed to look like Raquel Welch, Jane Fonda, and Helen Mirren, ffs.

    Is there really any age now at which the P no longer insists on the appearance of fuckability?

  2. Forp

    Right, the show’s not unhealthy, SHE is.


  3. Crispy_Lettuce

    You hit that nail on the head. Wish I’d figured it out thirty years ago. What a lot of wasted energy.

  4. Crispy_Lettuce

    Oops, quote fail. The above-referenced nail: “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.”

  5. Twisty

    @ sparrowgrass: I saw that People Magazine and plan to blame it. It’s flippin horrific!

  6. ew_nc

    I’m typing this with my left hand because I had Carpal Tunnel surgery on my right wrist this morning. True story; as I was coming out of anesthesia, the nurses above me were discussing this very topic. So yeah, perspective.

    It also occurred to me that they may have been discussing this because I am fat. What a crazy patriarchal soup we live in!

  7. ew_nc

    Ack! Sorry! Should not be typing and clicking with one hand!

  8. gwyllion

    twisty – i can never say this enough i ABSOLUTELY ADORE YOU!!!!!!!


    I, for one, am completely loving being simultaneously invisible and cluttering up the landscape with my desiccated old uselessness! I wanted to mention that I don’t even have to TRY to be invisible–the dudes do it FOR ME!

    But also on a kinder note, what I actually have noticed is that although I am clearly a middle aged fat lady, the men at various places that one goes, such as mechanics and grocery baggers, seem to have flipped their switch over to just treating me like a PERSON, that is to say, another DUDE. It is sort of awesome!

    It makes me think that most dudes have an either/or switch in their minds, one that has a setting for “fuckable female” and “everybody else”, and once you age out, ahhhh, you just get treated like everybody else.

  10. Wendy

    yah, the puppetmasters never tire of constantly toying with the weight mandate. for us laydeez only, of course.

    On the topic of TV…I want to talk about Girls with this IBTP crowd. I am intrigued by this show. Compelled by it. Yet annoyed that Lena Dunham idolizes Woody Allen. Annoyed that a dude, Judd Apatow, spews his name all over this creation. Annoyed that I think I get to be annoyed with Lena Dunham, like I am trying to Control Her, like the patriarchy believes it can. Am I infected? Annoyed that all her laydee characters are unlikable, and annoyed that some part of me apparently agrees that laydee characters are SUPPOSED to be likable, but dude characters don’t present such issues. Part of me feels excited that Dunham doesn’t feel weighed down by this mandate, but then, she idolizes Woody Allen, and the sex scenes are about male pleasure only, so is her judgment just totally effe

    If this is an impermissible hijack, my sincere apologies. I searched for a prior discussion of this show and couldn’t find one. I would like to put heads together with other blamers.

  11. Tehomet

    How true that under the patriarchy, no matter what a woman does, there is no way to win.

  12. Lab Rat

    I try to ignore news as much as possible, but I got a new PC at work and of course the IE defaults to MSN when you first launch it, so there was the big splashy story about how the Biggest Loser woman had “gone too far.” I’ll admit I made an initial Judgy McJudgerson spot snark that “boy is that woman skinny.” Still, the show is to blame. As I was sucked into the web of crap Internet journalism, it was clear to me that she was in for all kinds of grief for just doing what the patriarchy told her to do.

    Spot on about the myriad ways to get it wrong with the fucking patriarchy. It’s a narrow channel. And the boundaries change all the time. And the fucking patriarchy doesn’t tell you when the change occurs. A woman trying her best at compliance can mosey along at sexy, sexy, sexy…then all of a sudden…WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP!…SLUT!, SLUT! SLUT! And there’s no way to know when a woman crosses the line (other than it was probably due to some convenience of dude culture to sudden call slut).

    Re: Patriarchy thinks old women are tired, boring and should go away. Most of the time it is rather nice to no longer have to participate in the fuckable index, but that phenomenon also generates hatred for “women of a certain age” at work. All of a sudden, they think you no longer have skills and you don’t know anything. And you should be paid accordingly. I got completely screwed over in not one but two consecutive performance reviews. My salary is a whopping 2.5% above what I was making 3 years ago. That’s how much the patriarchal work force loves its wise women.

  13. Lab Rat

    Realize I’m violating Spleenvent Sunday protocol, but I went to the bathroom and realized I had one more rant in me.

    Mothering is a sure fire way to fall off the rope. From pregnancy to the college years, millions of ways to get it wrong. Part of the reason I even make such crap money is because I had the audacity to be a stay at home mom for a few years. At the same time Christian Patriarchy praises you with near sainthood for doing that, Dude Patriarchy punishes you for doing that by making you reenter the workforce at the exact same fucking salary you had when you left – not at all adjusted for inflation or the fact that you were actually not under a rock that whole time and may actually have new and better skills to offer. They could give a shit.

    And fuck the Mommy Wars. Spoiler Alert! I’ve been a stay at home mom, I’ve been a single working mom and I’ve been a married working mom. AND THEY ALL SUCK IN THEIR OWN SPECIAL WAY. You may think you’re better than the woman next to you because of (insert patriarchy mothering meme of choice), but at the end of the day, the big P manages to find fault in any choice we make.

  14. Jessie

    “Is there really any age now at which the P no longer insists on the appearance of fuckability?”

    Who knows? Especially since plastic surgery is becoming more common. Now woman can be expected to get face lifts, ‘blepharoplasty,’ (gets ride of loose skin around eyes), botox injections, and/or nose jobs to stay within the fuckability mandate. Not to mention all the creams, make up, face peels, etc. that are marketed to women.

  15. Defenestrated

    This was such a perfect post. But I got lost somewhere around “quiet reverie about nachos.” That same reverie takes up a lot of my day-to-day brainspace.

    What was I talking about? Nachos again?

  16. MMargaret

    Yeah, the conditions of motherhood suck no mattered how they’re sliced and diced, and I’ve done it every which way but rich. At the summit of my career, my teenage son made more money cutting grass at a student job than I did at my government job.

  17. blue

    The “joke” is that all the Biggest Loser contestants go too far.


    “From seeing her fellow contestants forced to workout with injuries against doctor’s orders, to the extreme dehydration prior to weigh-ins, to the resultant eating disorder that Kai still is working to heal, the story she told was nothing like the fantasy that the Biggest Loser seeks to promote.”

  18. noshoes

    My girlfriend and I do a lot of aimless driving around, hiking and birdwatching in the lovely Santa Monica Mountains and are always delighted by the lack of other people marring the otherwise gorgeous landscapes. One fine day we drove into the King Jillette Ranch area (who this “King” person is I haven’t a clue), curious as to what said area contained and faster than a whipsnake after a lizard were two dudes in a golf cart on our asses, demanding that we leave the area immediately because we were “trespassing,” although according to my map we were on “park” land, as in “public” space, as in not “private.” We left. I found out later that this is the very location of the Biggest Loser camp, so I was not at all surprised at being booted out, lest we discover something awful about the show. Oh wait, we already knew it was awful!

  19. Bahorn

    I ran across an old advertisement aimed at women ‘in bikinis’ in my NSA friendly facebook feed. Apparently, around the time this advertisement was circulating, the good old Patriarchy preferred women to be meatier (so to speak). So this advertisement was selling some metal infused edible product to women for weight gain.

    I commented on the post that nothing has really changed, women are urged to gain or lose weight according to whatever arbitrary standard is held up by the dick brigade. Whether or not women achieve this gain or loss in a healthy manner matters naught in the face of their overall fuckability. Dying to be thin, dying to be fat, dying to be young, perky or whatever you’re supposed to be.

    And of course, as Twisty pointed out, you’ll never be what you’re supposed to be. You can see this and realize it, but the failure still affects your negatively. Which, or course, is the P’s goal after all. The P is there to remind you that you’re a failure because you didn’t inherit a Y chromosome.

  20. ew_nc

    @noshoes – I wonder if King Jillette isn’t Penn Jillette, the magic guy and noted misogynist dickblister. I’m sure someone as creepy as he would love to back the horrors of the Biggest Loser. And I could totally see him referring to himself as “King”.

  21. Keri

    I saw you tweeted that you passed on the Olympics for BL. Well, so you are not denied any critical highlights, last night I tuned in just in time to see the extremely pornulated fuckability assessment (a.k.a. Female athlete background reel) of Julie Mancuso. Full camera panning of her bare thighs in a number of settings- Surfing, weight lifting, leaning against a wall with a scarf tied around her hiney! Sure, she got the bronze in the super combined but, more importantly, it’s clear that for Bob Costas and the NBC crew, she’s quite fuckable! Go Julie!

  22. tinfoil hattie

    Keri, good point! Brought to mind this, from the Onion, which sometimes sounds downright blamey (when it isn’t fucking up and being downright misogynist):

    http://www.theonion dot com/articles/lolo-jones-becomes-first-american-to-be-objectifie,35222/

  23. LarnBarn

    An addendum to the invisible status of non-beauty2k-compliant-aged women:

    Women may be bestowed the honor of infantilization, e.g. walking the little old lady across the street, or one of Hollywood’s favorite tropes, Grandma airing out family laundry at the dinner table with biting and acerbic commentary, but nobody listens to her because she’s just such a cute old lady with a glass of wine.

  24. Ashley

    @Labrat: Ironically, that stupid invisible line between sexxxay and Sluuuuuut!!! (in my best brohan voice) is when you WON’T perform sexual acts (after looking super P2K-compliant). It really is the most ironic insult, ever. Yep-guys are most likely to use the slut card when you’re acting non-sexual. Weird.

  25. blue

    The Biggest Loser is essentially torture pr0n*. If the show (and society’s) concern were really the fitness of the contestants, then where are the unfit thin contestants? Why are the checkpoints weigh-ins versus cholesterol levels, blood glucose level, blood pressure? What about a check-in on quality of life?

    Because that would show the ugly truth, that weight/fat is not an indicator of one’s health. And that as an oppressed class, fat people’s quality of life suffers mightily from that oppression. In fact, there are theories that many medical conditions associated with being fat may actually be attributable to the maltreatment one receives as a fat person. I personally subscribe to the theory that dieting (which is a polite term for starvation) is the cause of most conditions conflated with the state of fatness, especially the dreaded Type 2 diabetes. Do you know that diabetes and fatness have now become so connected in our minds that many people believe that what you eat can cause diabetes? Something that is patently untrue.

    Reducing fat people to the size of a thin person does not make their bodies behave the same as a naturally thin person’s body behaves. In fact, the reduced fat people are metabolically the same as starving thin people. “Fat people who lost large amounts of weight might look like someone who was never fat, but they were very different. In fact, by every metabolic measurement, they seemed like people who were starving.”
    (Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/08/health/08fat.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 )

    Which brings me back to my pr0n assessment. A lot of people get aroused by it and never think that, what, like 99.99 percent of the female performers have been/are sexually abused/trafficked?

    So I don’t see much difference in people getting ~~inspired~~ by fat people ~~finally exercising and eating “healthy”~~ when in actuality they are being starved, verbally abused, and over-exercised contradictory to doctor’s orders. And there was a frickin’ Olympian on this last season, right? You telling me she didn’t exercise prior to the Biggest Loser?

    Oh, and the first winner of the show was peeing blood by the time he won…

    *I hate even typing the real word.

  26. josquin

    Yes, sparrowgrass! It never stops! And the stakes get tougher as one gets older – sexay clothes and high heels are not enough. Step up ladies, and get your face sliced apart and sewn back together again. Have the skin on your face and chest fried off by laser beams. Don’t offend the P by shirking your obligation. Does anyone else miss white and grey hair on older women? It’s rare sight these days. Even very old women have to pretend they somehow young, and have to at least make a NOD to fuckability.
    And The Biggest Loser is a creepy and sadistic TV show.

  27. Forp

    We have ALLLLL the time in the world to dissect, analyze and judge every single woman on every aspect of her life and being, but so little for scrutinizing pedophiles and their behavior and their institutions and their media and their clubs and their industries.

  28. Mildred

    This is why when people criticize “Girls” (HBO) I think it may not be PERFECT – far from it in fact – it’s just about the only thing on TV show with a women with VISIBLE CELLULITE and FAT (but not the P2K hourglass pin-up hottie variety) *shock horror* who hangs out for a whole 20 minutes wearing nothing but a bikini like it ain’t no thang.

  29. Twisty

    “nobody listens to her because she’s just such a cute old lady with a glass of wine.”

    The story of my life since I turned 50.

  30. XY Feminist

    I read this post just after seeing Disney’s Frozen for the first time. While it was far better than most Disney cartoons (it actually passed the Bechdel Test), there was an uncomfortable amount of food obsession and weight jokes in it that weren’t present in previous Disney princess movies.

    In the context of the femininity tightrope, Disney’s decision to replace some of their traditional princess dialogue (romance, marriage, vague notions about going outside, etc.) with an obsession for food is really just substituting like for like. One kind of fuckability for another.

    *sigh* At least they managed to keep food out of the lyrics for “Let It Go”….

  31. mybodyisacage

    I won’t watch GIRLS because from the little I’ve seen and the lot I’ve subsequently heard, none of the “girls” (like anyone would call a grown female a woman on television) has never experienced a moment of sexual activity that wasn’t only about the pleasure of the dumbass dude pronging her (feeling “hawt” or trying to convince herself that the owner of the pronging mushroom stick lurrves her does not count as pleasure). Lena Dunham is as (un)inspiring as Carrie whatshername and her crew on (Stereotypes of the) Sex Class In The City. I’m sure that this show continues to be a Bechdel test fail, if you follow my addenda to the Bechdel test, which also requires that the women discuss something other than babies, weddings, diets, shoes, or the appearance of other heterosexual women.

  32. pheenobarbidoll

    I’ve seen frozen several times, and I must have missed that because I have no clue what food obsession you mean. They mention chocolate twice and the reindeer has a thing for carrots, but those are the only food references I can recall.

  33. XY Feminist

    There were only a couple weight jokes in Frozen, but they made me cringe when I heard them.

    For example, in the song, For The First Time In Forever, we get Anna singing the lines,

    “Ooh! I suddenly see him standing there,
    A beautiful stranger, tall and fair!
    I wanna stuff some chocolate in my face!”

    This is accompanied by Anna stuffing food in her mouth while wryly using a fan to hide her face from a male statue. It reinforces the patriarchal norm that it’s shameful for women to be seen eating junk food (or pretty much anything that’s not a kale salad) in front of their male love interests.

    And then when Anna meets Elsa after the coronation, she says to her sister, “You look beautifuller! I mean, not ‘fuller’, but more beautiful!”

    Now I know that this is all pretty mild, and there’s a lot that the movie gets right. But these off-the-cuff jokes are chilling (sorry for the pun) in a kids movie where the female characters already have waists narrower than their heads.

    And I don’t recall any food jokes in the older Disney princess movies. Although now that I think about it, I don’t think those princesses were ever shown eating anything besides drug-laced apples. So it may not have been any better before.

  34. pheenobarbidoll

    Eh, I pretty much saw that scene as hiding stuffing food into your mouth which is generally a rude thing for anyone, but I recognize thats just me.

  35. pheenobarbidoll

    I did, however, note that it was once again an all white story with all white characters, but frankly after the butchering of mulan and Pocahontas, I’m fine with that. If they cant do color right, I’d just as soon they not do it at all.

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