Way back in 2011, we wished that some of TV’s unhealthiest shows, like NBC’s The Biggest Loser, which places much more emphasis on extreme weight loss and dieting, would disappear in the New Year. We didn’t get our wish, and now, The Biggest Loser returned last night for a 13th season of yelling and sweating and the occasional bouts of vomiting. But there’s something missing this season–a female personal trainer for the contestants to choose from. Really, NBC? Way to set your female participants up for success by offering someone they feel comfortable with.
Last spring, it was announced that uber-motivator Jillian Michaels was leaving the show, because she was having a baby. NBC decided to take the opportunity to replace her with tennis star Anna Kournikova, and make some tweaks to the show, like moving toward goals that were more motivated by fitness than by weight. Of course, that part didn’t really last long–dramatic weight loss fetches better ratings–and neither did Anna. Instead, we saw last night, there are two male trainers: the beloved Bob Harper, and returning hearthrob Dolvett Quince. Which means, for the first time since the show debuted, contestants don’t have the choice of a female.
Not featuring a female trainer isn’t just disappointing from a feminist perspective–though it is, because it sort of underscores the message that only men can be motivational and inspirational for people trying to lose weight–it’s also upsetting for the participants in the show, who are given the choice in the first episode to pick a trainer that they think will help them meet their goals.
Picking a personal trainer who will work is a huge step toward success, and to be honest, a lot of women just feel more comfortable and more motivated by another woman. Forcing all of the women on the show–and by the way, there are more female contestants than men–to work out with a man might make some of them uncomfortable, which could hinder their success. But in a season with the theme of “No Excuses”, it’s unlikely their complaints will be given much (pardon the pun) weigh.
While there hasn’t been a lot of research on the topic, there have been a few studies which indicate that, overall, women prefer training with another woman. One very small one that was published in The Sport Journal showed that 4 out of 5 women preferred to work with a female, because they felt more comfortable, and felt that another woman would be more understanding. Additionally, though not as scientific, there have been numerous articles by trainers–both male and female–citing their experience with clients who have excelled with a female trainer.
And what about women watching at home? Doesn’t a female personal trainer on the show motivate audience members by offering a role model? I can’t speak for other women, but Jillian and even Anna felt more encouraging–like what they were doing was attainable. If those women could do it, so could anyone. Watching Bob and Dolvette, I don’t feel the same way. If anything, they appear to be on the show together because they’re attractive–which isn’t exactly the point of the show, nor does it demonstrate very much respect for the profession.
We’ll see how the rest of the season shakes out, but it’s definitely started out on a sour, sexist note. So far, it’s been a lot of host Allison Sweeney (who has an inspirational weight loss story of her own, but has been relegated to the realm of gatekeeper, rather than motivator) wandering around in a trendy shirtdress and delivering bad news, while Dolvette and Bob yell and the contestants look sad. But I suppose that if it gets even one viewer to make a change toward a healthier life, it can’t be that bad? I just wish it was doing a better job of reaching its female audience.