“No Longer Will People Profit Off Of Us Because We’re Fat”

James posted a new video on his blog I wrote about yesterday. The video’s intent was to clarify his real the message he wanted to convey. For the record, I was probably blurring the lines between his statement, my reaction to his statement, and my opinion on society and television in general. Anything I said that wasn’t directly quoted from James was MY opinion, and I stand by those.

The part of the video that moved me most was him saying, “”I was dumb, but you don’t have to be… No longer will people profit off us because we’re fat. No longer will people look at us like we’re stupid.” And I think this speaks to the weight loss “reality” television phenomenon, diet industry, quick-fix schemes, and anything else that isn’t losing weight through a healthy lifestyle. Healthy defined here as actually healthy. Not “healthy” as the diet industry defines it. You know the difference.

And there are two things I’d like to say about the video and this movement (and the subsequent reactions). First, I respect James clarifying his intended message, and taking blame for being “stupid.” That’s a big move. Good for him. I assume in pre-blog post days he had ridden the wave of self-blame and guilt, and this step in his process was realizing ABC WAS to blame, and venting the frustrations of them not admitting and accepting their part of the blame. I never suspected James didn’t blame himself, but sometimes when you’re not there for the whole journey, you can’t see where he’s already been. So when he finally spoke out, he was focused on making clear their accountability. And rightfully so. ABC is huge, and James was in a position of being manipulated. And he was. There’s nothing OK about what ABC did, from intentionally putting him in an unhealthy situation, drawing on his weaknesses for power over him, or making him sign his life way knowing they’d be liable for it if they didn’t. Trust me, ABC knows what they did was wrong. And they know, legally, they’ve covered their asses. But that does not make it ethical, moral, or OK. They are a mogul in and industry of manipulation. And for some reason it’s so commonplace, we’ve started to accept that it’s OK. Well, it’s not.

 Second, victims can look back at their decisions or actions and in hindsight see where they could have made different choices. That’s the beauty and curse of hindsight. And, as humans, it’s natural to blame the victim. Many rape victims are blamed for what they did, wore or how they acted. Parents of victims of pedophilia are blamed for their lack of action, intuition or mind-reading. Are there things that could have been done to prevent the resulting outcome? Maybe. But the problem isn’t the victim. The victim is a victim. Chances are even if a rape victim hadn’t worn “that dress” or walked to her car alone, it could have happened anyway, or the rapist would have found another way or another victim. And a pedophile will relentlessly stalk his prey and find a way to get what he wants. Same thing in James’ case. Could he have said no to the show? Sure. Could he have walked away when or if he suspected the diet pills, diuretics and saunas were bad? Absolutely. But he was a victim, and that doesn’t make him “stupid.” He was manipulated (see Chris Powell’s email) to feel as if he was ungrateful, that his “lack of commitment” or selfishness or laziness or whatever was directly or indirectly stated was going to not only affect his health, but affect the well-being of the show writers, the jobs of trainers, future contestants, and the families of everyone involved. It’s a heavy weight to carry. And all based on unhealthy expectations.

James was manipulated in the worst way. In hindsight and with pre-show research on what’s healthy and what isn’t, maybe James could have said, “Hey, this isn’t healthy.” But manipulators will have an answer to every concern, and often times these manipulation tactics poke at a person’s weak spots, self-esteem or other use other belittling tactics. I know James is a smart guy, and let’s be honest, usually weight loss results in higher self-esteem. So he is probably more likely now to speak out than he was 300 pounds ago. That’s the nature of the beast, and the weakness ABC is preying on. And again, it’s not OK. And it’s not right. And to blame one person when he’s facing a team of greedy, self-indulgent, smarmy manipulators intent on getting what they want at any cost, knowing full well it’s wrong, is unreasonable.

The psychological reason we blame the victim (and I’ll admit I’ve done it, but also am consciously trying to re-route that thought process) is because if the victim is to blame, then we can control the situation. If it’s the victim’s fault then we can avoid it happening to us by not doing what they did. But flip the perspective. If a rapist or pedophile is to blame, then we have no control, and suddenly our world is filled with fear, paranoia and helplessness. I don’t suggest we live in a world filled with these things, but sometimes there ARE victims. And we can take steps to avoid being a victim, sure, but often times we hold very little defense because we’re not expecting it. We’re not living a life in constant cynical speculation and fear.

Specifically, in the case of James, he could harden his heart to avoid ever being manipulated again. He could seclude himself and never face someone who could hurt or mislead him. But is that the way to live? Should he constantly be speculative and accountable? Certainly God (or the evolution or whatever you believe) gave us brains and we should use them. But we also have hearts, and we can’t stop using them. If he becomes bitter, cynical, and totally closes his heart to anyone’s good intentions, assuming they’re bad, he stops living. And the whole point he went on this weight loss journey was to live a healthier, fuller life. Just like there are bad people in the world, there are good people. And we’re responsible for making judgments and being cautious, but not so extreme that we can’t ever trust someone and let good things in. I would never say James or anyone should suspect everyone who says they want the best for him. There are plenty of good people in the world, and because so many of us (me included) are hurt, put off and mistreated by a few, we become cynical, exhausted, frustrated and closed off. There are times I assume everyone is only out for himself or herself. But the times I’m most at peace with my life is when I’m in the company of people I trust, living without worrying or being paranoid. Could they have selfish motive? Yes. But I will never be happy if I’m always suspicious. And by opening myself up, I will face embarrassment, blame and hindsight. But those are the risks we to take to live a rich, full, meaningful life. If I never let anyone in, as many are indirectly suggesting, I live a risk-free life of very little value.  

If James had never taken this risk, he wouldn’t be the guy he is today (and I’m not talking from a physical standpoint, I’m also talking from an emotional standpoint). Sure he’s more skeptical, but maybe that’s how we grow and mature. And hopefully his health will recover and he won’t be indefinitely indebted to medical bills, and in the end this will be a turning point in his life. Hopefully he always respect himself for standing up and revealing the truth. And maybe he’ll make a difference in not only how these shows are written and produced, but the way the rest of us look at healthy weight loss and how we approach a healthy lifestyle.

Oh, and finally, here’s the video:


Update: I keep meaning to post a link to this TMZ newstory which broke not only before James said any of this, but before the show ever aired. The news story discusses another contestant, LaRhonda, who was hospitalized for dehydration for taking diuretics through the show. Of course the show denies the claims. And since LaRhonda’s signed a non-discolsure, she can’t confirm the claims. Extreme Makeover: Weightloss Edition was originally titled Obese.