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We thought we'd seen the last of problematic weight loss shows, but then Netflix added 'Bringing Sexy Back'

This show is almost painful to watch.

AT THE START of the month, Netflix added a heap of new shows that have been the talk of the internet for the last three weeks.

Among these titles, was an Australian reality series filmed back in 2015 entitled Bringing Sexy Back. At first glance, it looks fairly innocuous and not necessarily like something you’d be in a hurry to click on, since the title’s a bit cringe. 

13e82198ec134ea8b9624ec847a8a43616b2860d Source: Netflix

Once the trailer begins to autoplay, however… The shitshow begins. The premise of the show is as simple as it is awful. This show finds people who were very conventionally attractive in their teens and early twenties, who have since had kids, aged naturally and begun to live very busy lives, what with all those kids, work and the upkeep of a family home. As a result, they no longer look like teenagers. This show aims to bring them back to their former glory. How? By helping them to lose huge amounts of weight over relatively short periods of time.

This show wants to help contestants “bring sexy back”, because there’s no conceivable way that an adult who has put on a few pounds could ever possibly feel sexy and confident about their bodies, right? (Wrong, obviously). Just because you can work backwards with a concept inspired by an outdated and pretty bland pop song from 2006 doesn’t mean that you should. 

In recent years, many people have spoken out about how the attitude towards weight loss pushed on television in the early noughties was deeply harmful to them. From the ‘Special K Diet’ that encouraged people to replace two of their meals EVERY DAY with bowls of the cereal, to the nightly screenings of shows like Supersize v Superskinny, which never should have been allowed on television, there was no shortage of media out there with the seemingly sole purpose of reinforcing the idea that the most important thing in the world, as a woman, is having the perfect body. 

download (1) Elaine Crowley on Operation Transformation in 2016. Source: RTÉ

Last year, TV3′s Elaine Crowley spoke out about how much she grew to regret her stint on Operation Transformation and said that for a lot of people, it can be really unhealthy to put yourself “under that much pressure or scrutiny”, with weekly weigh-ins and constant surveillance. She concluded by saying she’s far healthier now, and it’s not from dieting. “It’s not about weight. I’ve been way skinnier than I am now and I have been miserable.” 

In general, most people would agree with Elaine Crowley, when she says, “It’s not about weight.” Being healthy, confident and feeling attractive is about so much more than what you weigh. As I made it to the end of my very first episode of Bringing Sexy Back, which I had walked in on a family member watching, I thought the episode would end on that kind of positive note (while knowing that even then, it probably wouldn’t redeem this show and everything that had happened prior to this moment in the episode).

The host of the show turned to the personal trainer, Cam, and said, “It’s not your weight that’s important, right?” To which Cam replied, “No. It’s your strength, your resilience and your dedication. It’s your sense of humour, it’s your charm, it’s the way you look after your kids so well. It’s your intelligence, your talents and the way your treat others.”

Just kidding! He didn’t say any of that. Here’s what he actually said: 

PastedImage-66779 Source: Netflix

Once again: YIKES. 

Of course we understand the concept of body fat percentage, but the idea that this contestant’s value was determined by her appearance was something continuously suggested throughout this episode. From beginning to end, photographs of Paula, the contestant, as a young woman were shown beside photos of her present self, and used to compare how beautiful she once was and how much she had “let herself go” in the years since.

Throughout the whole episode, her husband idly stands by, unable to say that he loves her body regardless of her weight. Paula’s hobby is making plaster casts for pregnant people, so they can bring home a model of their bump for the memories, or whatever. So, PT Cam thinks it’s a great idea to get her to make a model of her body now, before she transforms it with her massive weight loss. 

Crying in front of her husband in the bathroom mirror, Paula asks him if he could close his eyes, as she’s so ashamed of her body. 

PastedImage-43137 Source: Netflix

When Paula eventually removed her robe, her husband told her:

See, I’m not going anywhere. I love you no matter what, babe. I love your hair. I love your smile. I love your confidence. 

And… her body? Are you going to mention that, or no? Can you imagine if you were that self conscious about your body, and you turned to your partner for support and they were basically like, “Well, at least your hair is nice!”

When she returns the plaster cast to the personal trainer. Cam reminds her that her husband loves “the whole” of her, before pointing to the plaster cast and saying, but besides “[your body] is not going to be like this for much longer.” 

Throughout the episode, they speak so negatively of Paula’s body. Up until her transformation, there’s basically nothing positive said about Paula’s body at all. That’s where the problem lies.

If Paula (or any other contestant on this show) wants to lose weight and make some healthy changes to their lifestyle, there’s absolutely no problem with that. Fair play. But there are plenty of people who weigh as much, or more than Paula and are perfectly happy with themselves, and feel just as attractive as the next person does, who watch shows like this and see nothing but people expressing revulsion towards their body type. Then there are young people at home, watching shows like this and absorbing that really unhealthy attitude, too.  

For years, people have been trying to establish that nobody is worth what they weigh, in the hopes of undoing some of the harm that these body transformation, weight loss and diet shows have inflicted on countless people. It looked like we were making progress for a while, especially when you consider that those Special K ads would be completely unacceptable nowadays. 

In spite of that, as recently as 2015, somebody thought it was a good idea to take all of the negative elements of these body transformation shows and throw them into a lazy reality TV show. Then  Netflix thought it was a good idea to add this one to the catalogue in 2019? On behalf of everybody who pays for a Netflix subscription, I’d like to suggest that next time you consider adding something like this to the catalogue, Netflix, please just put the money aside until you have enough to buy the license for Futurama or something.

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About the author:

Kelly Earley

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