TLC’s My 600 Pound Life: Turning Obesity Into Another Fat-Gawking Sideshow

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.

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    • Steven Scaccianoce


      • Steven Scaccianoce


      • Julie Gurney

        Steve, I’m guessing you should be more focused on dinner time “without” distractions…….such as watching tv while you eat…..better yet, maybe you should have a discussion with your WHOLE family on having compassion towards others…….I’m guessing you wouldnt be boo hooing had it been a Documentary on people living with CANCER…….but hell you’d probably even b*t*h about that…….Dispite peoples conditions/situations, we are ALL still HUMAN BEINGS and WE do have Feelings…….Best advise for you…….GROW UP!

      • cath

        eat dinner at a different time. fool.

    • REALLY


    • Galen

      I see other comments about this show being disgusting and how it should not be shown at dinner time. Considering the obese rate among Americans maybe dinner time is the perfect viewing time for this show. When we are stuffing our face we have a form of amnesia that does not remind us why we should eat correct portions of healthy foods. This show brings it home. We do not want to live the life this 600 pound woman has had to live. We do not want our children to live such a life either.

    • lumpkins

      Prescribed diet pills are not a “silver bullet” – they allow people to eat less and in response to genuine hunger cues OR on a normal schedule by taking the appetite out of emotions. I relearned how to eat healthily on phentermine – prior to taking that drug for a few months, I would eat and drink when I felt strong emotions, and had no idea when I was full. Your post is not particularly well-researched or considered. Being fat is a terrible choice: I chose to stop. Damning diet pills AND surgery makes you sound like as if you believe being fat is inevitable and unfixable. And yes, when you’re 600+ lbs, you’ve ruined your body and cannot fix it alone.

    • Kate Imm

      Perfect timing! The family’s demise: watching TLC during dinner! Guess why 67% of the population are overweight and 30% are obese!

      Judging others for making surgical decisions to get help? Let’s see if we can “diet away” Diabetes type 2? Sleep Apnea? Oh! We can get rid of them by surgery, but that’s the easy way out??

      Obviously the author has no idea you still have to work very hard after you have WLS to get the weight off and maintain your health! Great Research Author!

      • Julie Gurney

        Thank you Kate…..WLS is NOT the easy way out. It IS a daily battle to beable to stay commited to the program, and use your TOOL as it was intended.

    • Ken

      I’m a little different in this respect. In my mind, if you want to be thin, that’s cool. If you don’t want to be thin, that’s cool too.

      However, what’s never cool is to go on television, and spend two bleeding hours talking about your body.

      I don’t care whether you’re thin, fat or superman. If you’re going to spend two hours talking about something, it had better be something that matters. Talking about your body for two hours will provolk one of two reactions from the audience.

      Reaction 1; the audience will experience a -huge- wave of pity and come away feeling either better about themselves for not having lived your life, or worse about themselves for having gone through the same thing. That’s not cool.

      Reaction 2; if the audience likes the way you look, they will experience a -huge- wave of lust. That’s not cool either. You do not talk about your body for that long, no matter who you are.

      If you want to give me a show where a very big person is a key character, or even a main character, I say; bring it on. If you want to tell me the life story of a very big person, I say; bring that on. But you don’t get a pass on talking about their relationships, their hobbies, jobs, religious beliefs, dreams, hopes, fears, imagination, education, friends, family, past, present, and all the other things that make up the human soul just because they’re fat.

      This kind of program will, I guarantee you, only refer to any of those things when it’s directly effected by her weight. Why? Because they don’t care who she is on the inside. It’s not a program about her. It’s a program about her weight. That’s superficial and it’s wrong.

      I’ve seen a hundred programs with very fat people on them. Only one of those programs treated the person as an actual human being with a real heart and soul, and this kind of empty, body-centric mentality is only one of many reasons why I don’t often watch TV anymore.

      I don’t hate fat people. Far from it, in fact. I like fat people, but only when they’re people first and fat second.

    • Steven Scaccianoce

      Julie, I see it constantly always AFTER dinnertime and they do not have to show the gross part of the stitches! We do have compassion for people but we do NOT need to see a cut open body to show that we have compassion and we always see it after dinner when we’re trying to have our limited amount of FAMILY TIME we can have and watch a show we all like! I MYSELF HAVE RECENTLY HAD SURGERY!!! SHOULD I SEND YOU PICTURES OF THEM CUTTING ME OPEN!!? WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THAT NOOOOO! I’M AN AMPUTEE! I DO KNOW COMPASSION AND MY KIDS ARE COMPASSIONATE TO AND FOR EVERYONE! SO MAYBE YOU SHOULD GROW UP AND GET YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT! I KNOW MORE THAN YOU THINK! AND THEY DO NOT NEED TO SHOW THE STiTCHES AND THE SURGERY MY CHILDREN AND I THINK EVERY CHILD DOESN’T NEED TO SEE THAT!!!!

      • Sonia

        Well Steven you always have the option too change thee channel and not watch.

      • Kelly

        It’s called Reality TV, which means it’s going to show whats REAL. Maybe some people will watch this show who are gaining weight, and it will make them get serious about losing weight so that they don’t have to go thru this surgery. Maybe it could same someone else who didn’t know they have the option of getting this surgery to save their life. If you don’t like a show or a channels commercial, then turn the channel.

    • Michelle Thomas

      Well said Julie :) Thought it was a great show.

    • Reo

      There are so many comments about this being showed during dinner time. 1. Maybe you shouldn’t be watching TV during dinner time and 2. You can always change the channel!! I thought it was an excellent show!

    • mary

      Hmm…the author of this article is in good company when she assumes that having weight loss surgery is the “easy” way out of obesity. As someone who has had weight loss surgery and still has to fight against my weight every day of my life, let me assure you, there’s nothing “easy” about it. Weight loss surgery is what is considered when you’ve exercised (no pun intended) every other option and none of those options are working. I’ve gained and lost 100lbs at least 5 times in my life, each time swearing that I would not go through this again and would keep the weight off. I never could. Most obese people who lose weight tend to retain it with a little bit more for added measure. I never regretted my surgery but if you think there’s anything “easy” about it, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn with a “for sale” sign on it for you.

      • Celeste

        I totally agree with you Mary. There is nothing easy about gastric bypass. It is not cheating! It is something that you have to live with for the rest of your life. I had surgery 4 years ago and lost 165 pounds.

        I am reminded about it every time I put anything in my mouth, whether it is water or a piece of fruit, or a piece of candy. I am reminded when I am so thirsty that I want to chug a glass of water, but realize I can only take sips at a time.

        I had complications from my surgery, but would do it all again in a heartbeat because it changed my life – it gave me one!!

    • Steven Scaccianoce

      Why do people think they are so clever by saying ” Well you could have changed the channel”? my point is that my kids and I have been watching ” the next great baker”, a FAMILY SHOW, each week AFTER DINNER. The grand finale was last night and we really were excited to see who would win. ONCE AGAIN, a FAMILY show about baking cakes that we really like. Yet TLC ran that image of the surgury and stitches every commercial break for “My 600 lb. life”and my kids were grossed out. They didnt have to show the graphic parts that should be accompanied by the disclaimer ” Images may be disturbing to some people -Viewer discretion is advised”. We just wanted to watch the finale without being forced to change the channel every commercial break . THEY COULD HAVE ADVERTISED THE SHOW IN A LESS GRAPHIC WAY!

    • Kim

      Clearly the writer has no point of reference regarding weight loss surgery nor was any time spent actually researching the subject.

      Yes, I “took the easy way out” and had RNY gastric bypass surgery. To save my life. Just like I’d have chemo if I had cancer. Is THAT the easy way out too? Oh, and I drive my car to work instead of walking the 15 miles…is the the “easy” way out too?

      I was metabolically broken and had exhausted all other conventional weight loss methods….oh, and I was also a regular exerciser…at 324 lbs…..I tried it all. I come from paternal and maternal super morbid obese families….I had to break the chain.

      Today I am “normal” size, I’m a runner and an avid fan of P90X. Surgery saved my life and I never regret it. Is it easy-no. Hell, no. Every single day I have to count the calories I eat and many days I don’t want to work out, but I know I must. Could I have just “eaten less and exercised more”? Yes, and I did, and the weight didn’t go away. I’d lose 20-30 lbs and then nothing. My surgeon said I’d have to exist on 300 calories a day to get my body to let go of the fat….it was that efficient.

      While this show may not be everyone’s cup of tea, for some it provides an accurate account of seven years of a changed life. If one person can gain insight into a way to free themselves from the hell of obesity, it will be worth it.

      • Lorra

        Actually, chemo is the easy way out – of life. Chemo will kill you faster than cancer will, and there IS a cure for cancer – there is just no money in it – look up Gerson therapy.
        Man, people are so brainwashed.

    • Tara

      I have just lost 63lbs… the old fashioned way and I found this very inspiring. While I don’t agree with surgery, I found many wonderful sentiments in this show. Her quote about feeling guilty for sleeping because there are so many things to do in the world gave me a fabulous perspective on life. As well, watching her joy at being able to do a simple thing like walking to the mail box was lovely.

      It DID show that even under medical care, people can go to extremes and not do the right thing- she had pushed herself way too hard after one of her surgeries and was so obsessed by the scale numbers that she stopped eating enough… and ended up back at the hospital.

      In the end she seemed to find some assemblance of balance and admitted she still needed to be aware of and work on emotional issues.

      You may have seen it as ‘gawking’ (and that’s ok) but some people may find hope in it.

    • melissa

      this show is inspiring, and has inspired me to continue to work at losing weight. shame on those calling overweight people side show freaks. you are the freaks. at least these people are trying to change their lives. be it the outsides, you all need to change your insides. I’ve lost over 100 pounds on my own. I am neither for it or against it (the surgery)

    • joanna

      The show is very inspiring. We are reminded to have compassion for these people, as well as the importance of making healthy choices. Some of the comments posted here are sickening….the show itself is not the problem, rather it’s the negative attitudes. No one wants to be obese. Food is an addiction.

      • Dane

        Really? Really? 600 pounds? They didn’t notice that something was wrong at 300? 400? 500? Really? The problem is that Americans refuse to accept that obesity is a serious problem and want to blame things on the media or anything that doesn’t point the blame at the person. It’s ridiculous IMHO.

    • Dianna

      @ Steve, Change the channel! Are you glued to that channel. REALLY!
      Myself having weight problems i had talked to my doctor about this surgery. I am half the size of these people. I was scared about the thought of dying because of this surgery. But after this show i think i can do it. No i know i can do it. I think this show will help alot of people with their weight problems. And People if you think this is a gross show or cant stomach it. TURN THE DAMN CHANNEL. NO ONE IS HOLDING A GUN TO YOUR HEAD!!!

    • Erik

      The writer of this article is really rude. Basicly calling fat people freaks. Thanks. And for that steve guy. Get a life seriously. And have some real family dinner time, not “stare at the tv and be brain dead and unsocial” time.

    • Kori Riley

      First of all, I have NEVER heard that surgical shows are “family oriented.” Regardless of the time it is on, EVERYONE is given fair (and legal) warning, “this show contains disturbing images involving live surgical procedures.”

      What part of these disclaimers are hard for you to understand? So WHAT if it’s during (or after) your dinner hour. The program warns *all* viewers; first at the beginning of the show and then after EACH commercial break, so you can’t possibly be “surprised” no matter WHEN you catch up.

      Secondly, I have to agree with the other posters about “disgusting versus interesting and/or educational. It’s perfectly simple: I’ve been a nurse for almost 30 years, and while there are many surgeries I don’t minnd watching, I’ve had to turn MY head once or twice. That doesn’t make the SHOW disgusting, it just means SOME people will simply *never* find watching surgeries “pleasant,” or even tolerable. That doesn’t mean they have to cancel the show, or even change the time slot. All it means is that YOU have the right to choose to look or NOT. If you like it and you don’t want to expose your kids to it, explain first: “honey, mama’s going to have to cover your eyes sometimes because you’re too young to watch this. Geez, if that doesn’t work, for goodness sake, tape it on your VHS, DVD or DVR and fast-forward through the icky parts!

      As TO the time slot, we’ve been shown open-heart surgery on TV (and PBS) for over a decade, and sometimes it shows earlier in the day (especially in the Central & Mountain time zones. You want to sanction public television now too?
      As I said, I don’t like every kind of surgery either. I get VERY disturbed watching orthopedic surgeries such as knee surgeries, the hammering of joints REALLY grosses me out. Guess what I do: I look away for as long as I can her the hammering. So what?

      I have been a psychiatric nurse for several decades, and the fact that ANYONE who would reference the people in these reality series, featuring people such as the super-morbidly obese, hoarders and so forth, and equate it to ogling “freaks” at a circus is *despicable.*

      The nay-sayers and finger-pointers have NO idea that these people are SICK. Whether emotionally disturbed from traumas that they are unable to cope with (for lack of insurance, no less!) or from mental or physical illness is FAR more disturbing than anything on TV.

      Keep in mind that “reality television” is a product of ad companies and television corporations are simply rising to the public DEMAND for them; originating with such shows as America’s Most Wanted, branching into COPS, right up to our current (and HUGE) list of sophomoric, unintelligent and boorish drivel for low-brow knuckle scrapers who have no appreciation for art, history or even good-natured humour.

      The list of horrors include watching drunken, half naked kids puking their cocktails on the Jersey shore, or which weepy, histrionic, beautiful but empty-headed woman is going to get the rose and then stomp off in a screeching whine about their “missed opportunity” (to get a rose from some other loser) or to scratch each others eyes out if some nasty, toothless rap artist refuses to slip them some tongue (shudder) and Heaven knows what else?

      Is THIS the programming you prefer? Peeking into the lives of losers? Watching a Border Control officer kick the s**t out of some poor schnook who wants a better life than he could ever have as a civilian, living in a country that’s being razed to the ground by drug warfare?

      Let’s all SERIOUSLY consider what we learn from this “voyeur” lifestyle. Do you think Ultimate Cage Fighting is ok for our kids to watch? Blood-letting gladiator sports or female mud-wrestling? We don’t need complaints, we need TOLERANCE. And if even THIS show doesn’t help you learn that and instead prefer to subject yourself (and your children) to the false reality of reality TV, then perhaps you’re beyond redemption in the first place.

      So stop whining about what’s one one single LEARNING channel and watch the other millions of TV shows and movies and stop JUDGING others, especially those who choose to share their pain with the world in the hopes of helping themselves AND others to overcome their diseases, their problems or their neurosis.

    • djlollie

      Surgery isn’t salvation and that is what they tell you before you get any procedure done.
      Anyone can compare weight loss surgery to something like getting a facelift or breast enlargement, but it is most definitely not the same. Severely overweight people can injure or kill themselves exercising. If it came down to life or death, you’d do the same thing. Some people simply don’t have the will or strength to do things on their own, and no one should ever be ashamed of that. We’re human.
      I think this show is more about showing what extremely obese people go through, the struggles.. and that it’s not something for ‘normal’ people to be afraid of or insensitive to. We all have our own struggles, and its actually the people who never ask for help are the ones who fail.

    • Jessalyn Wise

      My biggest problem with the show is the attitude of the surgeon–I don’t think his post-surgery diet is very healthy, and when one woman (who had been walking and strength training) came in and hadn’t lost weight that month, he scolded her. Yet this woman had made huge strides in her physical activity, and had undoubtedly gained muscle (which weighs more than fat, density-wise). She most likely lost some weight in terms of fat, but made some admirable gains in muscle that this idiot doctor, looking only at the scale, interpreted as *failure*.

      The problem is, with many people who lose weight through very strict low calorie diets, they gain it back, because those diets are simply too impossible to maintain for a lifetime. Plus, the body slows its metabolism down to conserve weight (starvation-mode).

      I admire the people who go through all of that and wish them the very best, but I can’t watch the show.

    • DMS

      These people are disgusting!! How int he fuck do you go from 200 to 300 to 400 to 500 to 600 to more????? I mean don’t you see your clothes getting tight?? I do NOT feel sorry for these wasted pieces of flesh!!!

    • Chubby

      I don’t watch gaming and fishing shows for the same reason a person who has never battled with weight may do best avoiding a show like this– hunting and fishing have little or nothing to do with me therefore I often misunderstand, misinterpret, or worse- minimize the significance of what makes such a show valid enough to televise. I can understand an insensitive, yet relatively normal sized person considering a 600 lb person to be little more than a “freak show”, but I can assure you that the full scope of issues, pain and trauma involved with excessive weight gain is not lost on all of us. If you’re “pretty sure” that the struggle of a 600 lb person won’t inspire a 300 lb person to rethink their lifestyle, you’d be wrong. In addition, if all you get from the show is that the message of gastric bypass (or the show itself) is the missing link to severe obesity, then clearly you were simply channel surfing… just long enough to get a quick, judgmental peak into the freak tent. If you had bothered to stay long enough to listen rather than just gawk at excessive fat, you’d have heard that the after surgery thoughts and feelings prove that most of the mental and emotional issues which helped create the condition pre- surgery will still be there to battle post surgery. Millions of people struggle with the need to close their doors and satiate pain; be it drugs, alcohol, other people, or in this case food. Living in a society that is now well known throughout the world for its obesity epidemic, I find it hard to believe that you wouldn’t find televising worst case scenarios at least somewhat useful to someone.

    • Chubby

      continued…. Hoarders, Intervention, and My 600 lb life may be freaky, but its the world we’re actually living in- as opposed to Kardashianville or other worlds we’d prefer to live in. These shows are friends, neighbors and people who represent those like them suffering behind closed doors and in silence; people whom for whatever reason decided that the dignity they might lose by allowing their struggles to be televised may not be worth the rest of their lives. You see no lesson in that at all? You sure? If none of those very deep struggles or pains apply to you or anyone you know; so much so that they are merely freaks to you, post something about nail art or Gossip Girl. I suggest steering clear of issues and/ or programming you don’t understand and obviously know nothing about. Not cool.

    • Slim Jim

      As a tax payer, I am guessing that somehow people like myself are paying for the majority of these hospital stays, treatment plans, ambulance trips, etc. My wife recently went to an ER for one day and part of a night and it cost $5,000 (paid by my company’s insurance and me). The woman in tonight’s episode was in and out of hospital stays for 12 months. Her total bill has to be astronomical. WHO PAID FOR THIS? I am assuming that taxpayers are dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars for each of these cases and this is absolutely ludicrous. This infuriates me because I am certain that ACCESS or Medicare or some other program funded directly by tax dollars supports this lifestyle. They are no better than the rest of us nor are they any more deserving. Hopefully, I am completely wrong about the funding source for the treatment plans for these people and someone can call me out on this by explaining how the bills are paid.