Because you’re a good an decent human being, you probably would never attend a circus sideshow, which, back in the day, put “freaks” (often entirely adept individuals who happened to be born with congenital defects) on display for “normal” people to stare at and feel better than. But it seems that we, as people, still have that urge to stand and stare at someone worse or weirder than we see ourselves. And, thanks to TV shows like TLC’s My 600 Pound Life, we don’t even have to leave our houses to stand in awe and horror at just how America’s obesity crisis is impacting the lives of other people.
My 600 Pound Life, which debuts on February 1st, is a four-part series that’s taken seven years to film. Following four different morbidly obese individuals who have become entirely dependent on others to exist, the show graphically details their lives before, during, and after gastric bypass surgery–which, they all say, is their only option. And while that may be true, it doesn’t do much for viewers who may be battling similarly crippling weight problems. It isn’t about redemption–it’s about staring in pity at what the people in the show have become.
While I’ve had my issues with The Biggest Loser (which can be unnecessarily body-negative and too focused on weight, rather than health), at least it gives viewers, who may be struggling with their own weight and unhealthy lifestyle, a chance to see that, through hard work and conscious choices, real transformation is possible. The trainers are tough on the people on the show, but that tough love may be just what it takes to get those watching at home to decide to make a change toward a healthier life. But I’m pretty sure My 600 Pound Life isn’t going to inspire nearly as many people to get off the couch and start walking. In fact, if anything, the message it sends is that at some point, unless you can afford gastric bypass, you’re a lost cause.
And the last thing that America’s overweight individuals need to be told is that they’re too far gone to be able to get healthy through traditional methods, like eating better and moving more. If the diet pill industry has taught us anything, it’s that humans love a silver bullet, and loathe to be told that a big struggle–like substantial weight loss–is only possible through hard work. Shows like Heavy and The Biggest Loser may not be perfect, but they show that hard work. My 600 Pound Life just shows graphic images of very obese people seeking salvation through surgery.
The success of programs like Intervention, Obsessed, and even Hoarders indicate that while the “freak show” has fallen out of fashion, we’re still hungry for people whose problems seem worse than ours. But mercifully, unlike an actual sideshow act, these kinds of shows often end in a resolution that may give hope–and at least spur discussion–among onlookers. My 600 Pound Life, though? That’s mostly just an opportunity to step right up , ladies and gentlemen, and see the amazing obese person overcome years of sorrow and sickness on the over-sized operating room table.