It was a big night on television yesterday, and by big, I do mean large. From eight to ten, NBC aired the premiere of the new season of its popular reality weight loss show Biggest Loser. At the same time over on FOX, it was the season finale of the plus-sized romance show More to Love. Four hours of television last night, all dedicated to our American obesity epidemic. With fast food commercials during the breaks.
I feel very differently about Biggest Loser and More to Love. Biggest Loser is about people working hard to better themselves, and that’s always going to be a dissimilar experience to watching a show built around The Bachelor. The premises are not equal – it’s not unreasonable to expect people to work out and learn about nutrition over a several weeks, and experience significant weight loss. Putting a bunch of women in a house and expecting them all to fall in love with one (probably unpleasant) guy is both silly and unfair. The role of weight is different in the shows as well. While Biggest Loser makes the argument that physical and mental health are related and that everyone deserves to be healthy and strong, the primary argument of More to Love is that overweight people can fall in love just like skinny people. More to Love take an already absurd premise and then implies the audience can’t even appreciate the participants’ basic humanity.
That said, these two shows have some intriguing similarities. In both of them, the contestants perpetually describe the pain of living in a world that judges them instantly based on their appearance. The unsurprising result of that focus is that both shows are unapologetically emotional. Weeping occurs on regular, minute-to-minute intervals. On More to Love, the women weep, both because they have been ignored and insulted for much of their lives and because they believe they are finally experiencing love that looks beyond their size. Contestants and trainers alike weep on Biggest Loser; they cry because the pain of working that hard is overwhelming, and because most of them have trauma or tragedy that led to weighing 450 pounds.
Biggest Loser and More to Love also have sizeable cultural ambitions. The “Very Special Messages” embedded in these programs form a constant drumbeat, so that the lasting impression is as much about Accepting Your Heavy Friends and Learning to Eat Right as it is the people on the show. On The Bachelor, the mission is to watch women fall in love with a guy and then make fools of themselves waiting for him to pick one. I think the producers of More to Love expect you to walk up to the next person you meet and declare, “I promise to love you for you!”
It’s not a bad thing to require something of your audience, but unsurprisingly, the messages here lack complexity or originality. “It’s not about how big you are,” says the winning girl on More to Love, “it’s about the size of your heart.” Of course it is, and it’s a shame you feel the need to tell us as though we don’t already know. I just wish you could figure out how to tell me without regurgitating the same simple ideas over and over. Or crying quite so much.