Against my better judgment I have been watching this season of The Biggest Loser. I don’t know what compelled me to watch the show this season as I had never been a fan of the show before. I keep watching it even though I find myself yelling at the television, but not for the reasons you might expect. Sure, there are the problems typically associated with The Biggest Loser ““ weight loss that is unrealistic and too rapid, “temptation challenges” that make food the enemy, over-exercise and dehydration. But what is really making my blood boil is that this show is sexist! Women are at an automatic disadvantage and no one seems to notice or care that the setup is unfair. This may not be news to people, but when I googled “Biggest Loser sexism” this was the only piece that addressed my question and it was just a small comment in an overall recap of the show.
In case you’re not familiar with the premise of the show, everyone weighs in and they have a yellow line on a board with the names of the contestants and the percentage of weight they have lost for the week. In the second episode of this season, the first where they had a weigh-in at the Biggest Loser ranch, the yellow line was placed so that half of the contestants were above it and half below. Those that fall below the yellow line are up for elimination and must compete in a challenge to avoid elimination. The two contestants who lose at the challenge are then put up for a vote and the other contestants choose who is voted out.
In the first weigh-in of this season all of the women were below the yellow line and all the men were above it ““ with the exception of one woman who was above the yellow line and one man who was below. This is when I started complaining to my television. Of course the women are below the yellow line, women don’t lose weight as fast as men. You just have to watch a SlimQuick commercial to know that! It didn’t seem fair to me, but having never watched the show I don’t know if this is typical. However, in weigh-ins 2 and 3 the pattern held. There were 2 men below the yellow line in each weigh-in out of 15 and 14 total contestants, respectively. So now I’m really started to get outraged. What doesn’t help is that trainers Bob and Jillian continually complain that the “girls” (Yes, they both call all of these adult women girls. Don’t even get me started on that.) are continually below the yellow line. They chew them out for their failings, when in all likelihood it should be attributed to their natural genetic makeup. So, I decided to do a little research. Maybe this season is the exception and that’s why Bob and Jillian are so annoyed that the women keep losing less weight than the men. It turns out that this is the first season where they have put half of the contestants below the yellow line. Typically it is just two who have lost the least weight and those two are put up for a vote, with no challenge. But, looking at the Wikipedia statistics it’s clear that men have the advantage. The contestant who has lost the most weight was a man, he lost a full 81 pounds more than the woman who has lost the most weight. As for the women who lost 100 pounds the fastest, it took her 2 more weeks than the man who lost 100 pounds the fastest. And out of nine seasons, only three women have won the entire competition. Biggest Loser also has an at-home competition where those who were eliminated continue to lose weight and compete for money. Only two out of nine at-home winners have been women.
There is plenty of information and critique out there about the other issues on this show, so why was it so hard for me to find information on the clear gender imbalance they have going on? The way it is set up means that women have a distinct disadvantage and are much less likely to win the $250,000 prize. If shows like these are going to continue, and let’s be honest they probably will, I would like to see something that levels the playing field. Perhaps a women’s only competition or prizes for both men and women. And please, trainers, stop infantilizing women by calling them girls.