A couple of days ago it was announced that Holley Mangold is going to be on The Biggest Loser, season 15 which airs soon. I've talked about Holley Mangold a few times, but for those who don't know her, she's a super heavyweight Olympic weightlifter. She is bubbly and funny and obviously a serious athlete. In high school, she was a linebacker along with her brother Nick Mangold who now plays center for the New York Jets. The girl has power and tenacity and I really respect her as an athlete who has performed at the top of her game. Mad props.
She also deals with a lot of shit about her weight (sorry, there's really no other way to put it.) Before she made it to the Olympics, she was on MTV's True Life: I'm the Big Girl, which addresses the scrutiny of being a larger gal. At 5'8 and 350 pounds, I can relate to her size. And to see her in the Olympics representing the USA as the top of her sport – at my size – I was blown away. A plus size athlete exists. Maybe I CAN do something with this body.
I'm such a fan that yes, I have her autographed photo in my office.
Here's a video of her prior to heading to the Olympics:
I've had so many people going against me saying I was too fat to do something, I was too slow to do something… Even though I am rather large, I am a great athlete and I am a great weightlifter.
So fast forward to Wednesday when it was announced she would be on The Biggest Loser, withdrawing from the Pan-Am games to be on the show. I have my own issues and history with The Biggest Loser. In short, I believed for so long that if I didn't work out as hard as those people on TV- puking, falling off treadmills, being yelled at – I would never lose weight. I sat on the sofa with millions of other Americans year after year watching the show. I decided that was how I would lose weight, so I auditioned twice, but no cigar. I thought my world was over. Surely losing as much weight as I needed to was an insurmountable challenge.
Something in me clicked and I decided that if I couldn't be on The Biggest Loser, then I needed to get the resources like they had: a personal trainer, good gym equipment, nutritionist, therapist. That is how my whole “Skinny Emmie” journey began.
So I began losing weight, and then would watch the show in a different light. Why wasn't I losing those numbers? Why did they look so different week after week? And why do they have to push themselves to physical exhaustion – am I not working hard enough? And really, why do they have to be yelled at all the time?
Reports pop up from time-to-time about the extreme amount of cardio plus super low calories and allegations of dehydration prior to weigh ins to game the scale. I get it – it's a game. But for the millions of insecure, unknowing girls out there, it's what they perceive as reality.
So this is where I'm torn. I loved seeing the reality of Holley Mangold in the Olympics. She was a beacon of athletic hope for larger girls and women. I watched her and Sarah Robles compete live online during the Olympics because I didn't want to wait for the nightly recap. And I was damn inspired.
She says in this video, just released (and wearing a jersey with her weight on it):
“They’ve talked about how I was inspiration for big girls. I felt like I never got a chance to be the in-shape, smaller girl. I never had that chance. This is kind of like my second chance to do that. I wanted to show all of them you can do it.”
Part of me is screaming, “No! Be the beacon of hope for all girls who don't look like beach volleyball players!” but the other part of me is saying “let it go, we all have our own reasons for doing something, and if she thinks losing weight will make her better, then we have to support her.”
So after all that blabbering, here are my current thoughts:
- Watching a plus athlete like Holley accomplish great physical feats was such an eye opener. The only other time I would see people “like me” on television or in the media was either being shamed for laziness and poor lifestyle choices, OR watching weight loss as a game on The Biggest Loser. These two worlds are colliding.
- Holley has the opportunity to show her true physical strength and how awesome that is to the world. I applaud showing an effort to be better at her sport, if that is her ultimate intention.
- I believe with all my heart that people of all sizes are of equal worth. The stereotypes of fat people being weak is bullshit, and I hate it. Fat shaming is disgraceful, and Holley was a brave face against it.
- I also believe with all my heart that it's not my right to judge Holley (or any other person) for pursuing losing weight.- just as it's no one else's right to judge another for their weight as it is. Her body, her choice.
- In a best-case (but unlikely) scenario, the show would follow her journey as the path to become a better athlete, not to become a lower number on the scale.
- Her weight, my weight, or your weight is NOT our worth. We are all so much more than a number, but with the show basing winning or losing on the number, it's perpetuating the notion that the number is most important – not the quest for health and all the bumps in the road.
All this being said, I'll probably watch the show. Over time, I've learned there are parts of it that are disturbing to me (footage of contestants binge eating in their audition videos is a trigger – I fast forward on my DVR), but part of it is inspiring. I see myself in those people (I hate calling them “contestants.”) I feel like my head is flipping around so much on this that I'm going to get whiplash. On one hand I want to scream at the top of my lungs to everyone watching: YOUR WEIGHT IS NOT YOUR WORTH! On the other hand, I relate to people working hard to lose weight if they want to lose weight. I have learned over years and over 100 pounds that the workout methods they use on the show aren't for me, and I've accepted I'll never lose weight remotely as fast as them. Even though I know these things, it still causes a little flicker of frustration deep down.
All this rambling to just reiterate the first two words of this post: I'm torn.