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How did we let shows like Supersize vs Superskinny happen?

The show ran for seven (!) series.

WHEN I WAS of primary school age, my bedtime was generally 9pm (plus an hour to read after – bear in mind, the Harry Potter series wasn’t even finished at this stage).

Everything good (and PG13) aired after 9pm, and with Netflix not existing at the time, I resigned myself to watching whatever Channel 4 showed before the fateful hour.

At the time, 8pm was the prime slot, seemingly, for the diet industry. I have lasting memories of watching too many hours of Jillian McKeith prodding through people’s shite as a twisted way of fat-shaming them. Don’t even get me started on Gillian’s Three Fat Brides One Thin Dress, a real thing that was somehow commissioned.

Source: moondoggie/YouTube

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Another popular – and thankfully McKeith-free series was Supersize vs. Superskinny, in which an overweight person swapped diet’s with an underweight person. That’s completely sound logic there.

68168ti-mklwyp8sotp0x2pdgl21tqryauwhaddc2mqjmgjjug Source: Channel 4


The two are brought to a feeding clinic, and live together for five days (two days in later series), swapping diets all supervised by Dr Christian Jessen. Was the unflattering nude underwear a requirement? Probably.

I would watch as the person deemed overweight ate six chocolate fingers and a Fruit Winder for dinner, while the “super skinny” person ate enough Indian takeaway for two people.

Source: ErmmTV2/YouTube

Can’t see the video? Click here.

The show was aired up until 2014, and while it did shed light on a vastly underspoken area of the noughties – eating disorders – there is no way on earth that a show like that would make it out of an earnest intern’s mouth as a concept, let alone to national telly.

On what planet does swapping one unhealthy diet for another make sense? Not to mention the fact that a lot of stuff Dr. Christian was spouting seemed to be based off BMI, a measure which has proven to be inaccurate and misleading.

Granted, they were shock tactics – that’s entertainment, after all. The show wasn’t attempting to promote either diet. But the show strived for its participants to reach a body ideal; an ideal that is still heavily pushed by the diet industry today. For men, it’s the strong, muscular look – though, not too much, mind. For women, it’s that illusive ‘curvy-but-not-fat-but-not-Skeletor-but-definitely-have-to-have-a-flat-stomach’ look. Easy, right?

A lot of the contestants didn’t present with health conditions connected to their weight. For many, their motivation for applying to the show was related to feelings about their appearance. However, that doesn’t stop the scaremongering, as those a part of the plus-size, body-positive community know all too well.

Take Tess Holliday, for example. The model and fat-positivity activists is constantly trolled by faux-concerned commenters who say, “yes, of course you’re beautiful! But think of your health!” Eye roll.

Well, she recently became the first digital cover star of health and fitness mag Self. Take that, trolls!

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I’m over the moon to finally share- This is totally surreal to see a fat body on the cover of a health magazine 😭🙏🏻 Thank you Self for changing the game with me! 💕 RP @selfmagazine We’re thrilled to share our first ever digital cover, featuring model, author, and fat-positivity activist Tess Holliday (@tessholliday). From editor-in-chief @carolynkylstra’s editor’s letter: “Holliday identifies as a fat woman; we chose to give her a platform because she has insightful things to say about thriving in a world that devalues bodies of size. We also chose to feature her because size representation is necessary, especially for a national health media brand that can help guide the conversation about what it means to be healthy and how to make health accessible. You don’t know how healthy or unhealthy a person is just by looking at them, you don’t know what their health goals and priorities are, and you don’t know what they’ve already done or are planning to do for their health going forward. And moreover, you should know that concern trolling—using a person’s perceived health to justify making them feel bad about themselves—isn’t just counterproductive, it’s abusive.” — Photographer: @catherineservel, Wardrobe Styling: @marpeidro, Hair: @christianmarc at @forwardartists using @randco, Makeup: @kristinhilton at @thewallgroup, Manicure: @nailsbyemikudo at @opusbeauty | #TeamSELF #effyourbeautystandards

A post shared by T E S S (@tessholliday) on

Explaining their decision, Self’s editor-in-chief Carolyn Kylstra said:

I’m thrilled to share our first-ever digital cover featuring model, author, and fat-positivity activist Tess Holliday.
This cover story is part of a larger editorial package—The Weight Issue—devoted to the idea that we need to change the way we think about weight and health, because our current discourse is simplistic, confusing, and harmful.”

Back to my point – did these shows have an extremely detrimental effect on me growing up? No, thank God (although, I don’t doubt that they did for others, especially young women). Did it reinforce attitudes towards health, diet, eating and self-image which I was already (unconsciously) being indoctrinated with? One hundred per cent.

Unfortunately, diet shows still exist. We’re still obsessed with body transformations, but we’re learning to view ones in which people may gain rather than lose as positive. It’s reassuring to know, however, the next generation will not grow up with this strain of dangerous, sinister programming.

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