TitleWeighing in on NBC's "The Biggest Loser": Governementality and self-concept on the scale
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsReaddy, T
AdvisorEbbeck, V
Academic DepartmentExercise Sport Science
Date Published11/2009
UniversityOregon State University
Thesis TypeDissertation

The current appeal of reality television is undeniable, with the specific genre of makeover television having special nationalistic and moral appeal in the United States. Previous analyses of NBC's weight-loss makeover show The Biggest Loser suggest that the program is inherently problematic because of its ingrained fat bias and unethical treatment of contestants (Bernstein & St. John, 2006) as well as its negative presentation of the obese body (Sender & Sullivan, 2008). Further, Sender and Sullivan (2008) partially explored whether viewers of The Biggest Loser understand the show as a tool in the nation's obesity crisis, if they experience positive outcomes from the show, and whether they perceive the gendered structure of the program. The current research was designed to elucidate the overall meanings audience members ascribe to the program while also investigating the themes of surveillance medicine, self-concept, and gender. Bratich's (2007) presentation of makeover television as fairytale was used to interpret information obtained from semi-structured interviews with a diverse sample of 40 viewers. Overall, these audience members experienced The Biggest Loser as a transformative, entertaining event that is inspirational because of the physical and perceived self-concept changes contestants on the show embody. This inspiration may engender an empathetic connection for viewers, but it seems to produce little change in behavior. Audience members had little perception of The Biggest Loser as reinforcing surveillance medicine or existing gender hierarchies, suggesting they view the show for an escape from reality rather than to question it.