On last night’s episode of ‘The X Factor‘, a Tennessee minister named Freddie Combs made the first round of auditions, but on one condition: That he lose weight. I have a lot of reservations about the good intentions of the show’s producers or Simon Cowell, who struck a deal with Combs to allow him on the show if he’d “work on” his health. But whatever their motivations, I can’t help but wonder: If The X Factor can only accept an obese man on the show on condition of weight loss, why don’t producers force entertainers with eating disorders and mental health problems seek help?
The proposal would sound ludicrous with just about any other contestant, but at 540 pounds, Combs is bound to an oversized wheelchair, and his wife doubles as his caretaker. He says he suffers from his weight, and has already lost 400 pounds since a scare in 2009 when he almost died at his peak weight of 920 pounds. Most people would agree that he has urgent health problems.
Still, there are a lot of foreseeable problems with The X Factor taking on a ‘Biggest Loser’-esque storyline. The Biggest Loser is an entire show devoted to the physical and mental ins and outs of weight loss, and even they manage to get it wrong. By glossing over the details of Combs’ situation and simply portraying him as the ailing, sad fat man on the show, they’ll likely do little to educate audiences, and a lot to perpetuate fat stigmas that are already damaging and deeply ingrained.
This isn’t to say that Combs shouldn’t be on the show: His talent should earn him a spot just like any of the other contestants who’ve made it past the first round of auditions. But just because his health issues are visible doesn’t mean that he should be have to provide a health report for the right to be on the show.
Admittedly, the judges are in a tough spot. They could have rejected Freddie because of his health condition, but it would likely appear discriminatory and mean. They could have passed him through the round of auditions without discussing his weight or health, but that would seem callous , right? Not really. Producers push ailing artists to power through their health issues for the sake of making money all the time–case in point: Demi Lovato; Britney Spears. It would sure be nice if record companies and producers told anorexic girls or drug-addicted stars that they could only get work if they’d promise to go into treatment, but unless they can’t work or look terrible, most of their problems are ignored.
The X Factor is shameless about finding people with compelling personal stories and diamond-in-the-rough talent who will keep their ratings up. I hope that instead of exploiting Combs for ratings, they help him meet his goal of showing other people his size that they can achieve their dreams–and show their entire audience that health is as much a priority as performance–and not just for the obese.
Watch the X-Factor’s video about Combs and tell us what you think: