Supersize vs Superskinny: Triggering, Dangerous & Morally Bankrupt

More concerned with viewing figures and calling out his 'haters', Dr Christian's show is blatant in its total disregard for those affected by the show...
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More concerned with viewing figures and calling out his 'haters', Dr Christian's show is blatant in its total disregard for those affected by the show...

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You know what I find really difficult? Condensing how ridiculous I think Supersize vs Superskinny is into 140 characters. Yet every week, Dr Christian Jessen scrolls through the show's hashtag, finds and comments on the fact that his 'haters' are still watching at least, despite heaps of criticism. Even his fans moan that he pays more attention to his 'haters' than his adoring audience, poor lambs. Sorry!

Anyway, I'm not quite a hater, I just think that the entire premise of the programme is absolutely fucking mad. If you're not familiar with it or you've done the sensible thing and allowed your boredom or brain dictate just how much diet and weight-loss crap you can stomach, then here's a quick recap:

A load of scantily-clad obese/morbidly obese people stand across a room from scantily-clad underweight, malnourished people. In between them is a giant set of scales which will soon tell them what a terrible human they are and how they must change before something awful happens. Each week, Dr Christian Jessen announces which lucky two will be the unhealthy stars of the show. They look at each other in shock and disgust and poke and prod each other for a bit before the obese one is whisked off to meet an even more obese American and the skinny one is left to fret over a week of Chinese takeaways. They're reunited in the delightfully (or terrifyingly) named 'Feeding Clinic' and are faced with the DIET SWAP. That is, swapping one shitty diet of excess for another shitty diet of, well, barely anything; unhealthy for unhealthy. They squabble a bit but end up mates and get sent off with diet plans so they can sort their lives out and then dance around cringily on the scales when they find out the big one's lost loads and the skinny one's managed to gain 3lbs. HURRAH! God knows what happens next.

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This is what gets me: if an obese person goes to their GP, explains they're worried about their weight and wants to do something about it, the last thing a GP will do is put them on a starvation diet. Equally, if an underweight, malnourished person admits that they're motivated to gain weight, no doctor in their right mind would subject them to the kind of, or quantity of food that the poor sods are faced with in the Supersize vs Superskinny clinic. In fact, putting a severely malnourished person on even a 'normal' diet puts them at risk of re-feeding syndrome which can result in heart failure and even death; lovely! If that's a bit extreme for you, look at it like this: this diet swap is just swapping one extremely unhealthy habit for another; akin to an alcoholic swapping their booze for heaps of painkillers from a prescription drug addict. Health is about balance. This programme gawps over extremes.

During the last two series of the show, Emma Woolf, great niece of Virginia Woolf and “recovered anorexic” or “former anorexia sufferer”, has offered a quick diversion from the dreaded feeding clinic via her investigation into all things eating disordered. This is Supersize vs Superskinny's chance to redeem itself from all the other inane bollocks; to educate rather than fat-shame and to raise awareness rather than ogle over nutritionless plates of wank. Emma certainly covers a lot of ground (hard not to over 20 episodes) and her Twitter lovers confirm that she's doing a decent job. It's still troublesome though. See, Supersize vs Superskinny likes to think it's doing a good thing by 'spreading awareness' of nasty things like evil pro-ana websites and warn of the danger of anorexia by bombarding viewers with lingering camera shots of the stick thin legs of “the thinnest woman in the world”. What a title for probably the world's most competitive illness – sadly, the best anorexic is the one who dies.

What's my problem? See, I'm all for spreading awareness about eating disorders, busting all the shitty myths that exist about them and exposing them as boring and horrible, relentless illnesses that can happen to anyone and don't disappear at the click of a finger or a good, wholesome meal. But the truth is that those hapless people who use the pro-ana websites that this programme warns about are the same ones who use Supersize vs Superskinny to fuel their illness. Details of diets, calories, weights, images of emaciation, clothes hanging depressingly off bones and failed attempts at recovery might be realistic, but the explicit and sometimes exploitative nature of the programme appeals to those who are ill and vulnerable; they know they will be triggered by the material and it acts as a vicious and sometimes unwanted magnet.

Many take to Twitter to vent their frustrations at Supersize vs Superskinny, branding it as triggering and dangerous. Doctor Christian is always quick to defend Supersize vs Superskinny, usually by referring to viewing figures (and the fact that I'm still watching). But viewing figures tell us fuck all about morals. Dr C and Emma Woolf might joke between themselves about this stuff, but that just proves to me, and should to everyone else, that that's how much they care about those who are actually affected by this programme. It's pretty sad really, and not in the way they intend it to be.

Follow Ilona on Twitter, @ilonacatherine