#StopBiggestLoser: The Myth of Parental Consent

Anyone who reads this blog will not be surprised by my stance on reality television. I think its the 21st century version of the 19th century freak show. Our main source of entertainment is the deliberate and malicious humiliation of vulnerable people. I have no interest in any kind of reality television from X-Factor to Dancing with the Stars to Celebrity Big Brother to anything featuring Gok Wan. They have no value except in their exploitation of people for the entertainment of others. I genuinely don’t understand why people watch them; or why people think it’s acceptable to make snide and offensive remarks about the physical appearance of the contestants.

Reality television is cruel when it’s X-Factor; The Biggest Loser takes it to a whole new level of violence. The fat-shaming is indefensible and inhumane. That is without getting into the quite serious health consequences of crash dieting. Yoni Freedhoof MD has written eloquently on the physical and emotional harm caused by The Biggest Loser in the Huffington Post linking to a study which “demonstrated that watching even a single episode of The Biggest Loser dramatically increased hateful weight bias among viewers — an effect that was heightened among non-overweight viewers”. The Biggest Loser buys into the worst kind of hateful choice rhetoric which blames individuals for their “poor choices” without acknowledging the political, social and personal structures within which their “choices” are made.

The Biggest Loser is hateful, fat-shaming misogyny at its most insidious; dressed up as entertainment for bullies.

This season’s The Biggest Loser has taken the bullying a step further and allowed three children to “participate” in the program: two of whom are only 13. They are 13 years old and their parents have consented to their public humiliation and bullying.

There are a few things which parents should be legally prohibited from consenting to on behalf of their children and participation in reality television is one of those things. No child should be placed in a position wherein the outcome would be their public humiliation and that includes MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen to Toddlers and Tiaras and it’s spin-off Honey Boo Boo. Children deserve the right to grow up safe and secure. Placing them in front of cameras and labelling them fat or spoilt or stupid is not allowing children to be children. It is adults profiting from the emotional and physical abuse of children. No parent should have the legal right to put their child in this position.

Children are not possessions and we do them tremendous harm when we treat them as such.

We need to stop treating our children as possessions and we need to stop pretending that parental consent trumps all (and that’s without getting into the whole your baby, your choice or a happy mamma = a happy baby twaddle which is used to excuse all manner of nincompoopery). There are already many things in which parental consent is invalidated due to state laws. We need to expand this to prohibit the appearance of children on reality television.

Parental consent is not a get-out clause. It is a myth. Parents should not have the legal right to make decisions on behalf of their children which will cause them imminent harm. Appearing on reality television is harmful. Allowing our children to be bullied and humiliated for “entertainment” is harmful.

But, this isn’t just about the parents who consent to “allowing” their children to appear on reality television. As I have said in the Huffington Post: “(b)efore we start blaming others, we need to check our own behaviour, examine our own privilege, and stop financially supporting an industry based on the abject humiliation of others”. We need to prohibit the appearance of children on reality television but we also need to stop allowing children to watch reality television. 

We need to stop exposing our children to “entertainment” which gives them permission to verbally abusive to others.

We need to stop exposing our children to “entertainment” which tells them that fat-shaming and slut-shaming are acceptable behaviours.

We need to stop exposing our children to “entertainment” which tells them that they deserve to be publicly humiliated for being “different”.

We need to stop telling our children that being a “celebrity” is more important than their emotional well-being.

Our reality television culture obsession needs to end.

Our children deserve better.

And, parental consent is not an excuse. 

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