Back when Size Zero dominated the headlines and all we heard about were malnourished supermodels and day-by-day analyses of Nicole Richie’s weight loss, TV production companies jumped on the bandwagon with a host of celebrity fronted documentaries. Stars experimented with ridiculous fad diets; fasting (stupidly) and exercising their way to squeeze into a pair of size 0 skinny jeans. All in the name of education, of course.
Now, obesity is the devil that no government scheme or nutrition labelling systems can seem to control. 64% of adults are classed as being overweight or obese, costing the NHS over £5billion each year; we obviously can’t ignore this, but unfortunately, TV production companies again have created a whole new genre over recent years, ‘Competitive Weight-loss’.
Programmes such as ‘The Biggest Loser’ and ‘Supersize vs Superskinny’ parade obese people around in their underwear before pushing them to their absolute limits, both physically and mentally, in order to lose huge amounts of weight in an often dangerously short period of time.
The latest effort to attempt to educate us about obesity is brought to us by the ever-controversial ‘professional loud-mouth’, Katie Hopkins in TLC’s Journey to Fat and Back. The two part documentary will see her ‘piling on’ over 3 stone and losing it again, to prove what her narrow little mind believes to be true, that losing weight isn’t nearly as hard as obese people make out.
Katie Hopkins isn’t the biggest fan of obese people; she’s openly said that she wouldn’t employ an overweight person because they “look lazy”. With an aim to prove her point that overweight people should stop blaming others and control themselves, she’s putting herself in their shoes, in a way, temporarily and with her own hypothesis at heart. Just slightly biased then.
Viewers will no doubt be subjected to Hopkins strewn across a sofa scoffing crisps, chocolate, microwave meals and takeaways whilst scoffing at the ‘lower classes’ who actually live like this, because a microwaveable lasagne is cheaper than a Waitrose sushi set. In her usual snobby and condescending style, she’ll look down from her disgustingly judgemental pedestal and question why she’s doing this to herself. She’ll gain the weight quickly, because this is television and this is a woman on a mission to prove herself right – that’s incentive enough. But it’s hardly realistic; nobody becomes obese overnight. Then she’ll lose it again, huffing and puffing dramatically along the way but ultimately, nobody as opinionated and narrow-minded as her is going to change her mind and her prejudices will remain.
Like those celebrities who’ve gone before her, Katie Hopkins is briefly stepping into the shoes of someone that she isn’t, to get a taste of what it’s really like so that she can relay how awful she feels and how appalled she is at her own body. Unlike those millions of people who really struggle with their weight, Katie is a) being paid to do this, b) making a living out of being controversial – there’ll be no fairytale transformation into a caring, compassionate and understanding human – and c) performing an experiment using herself, knowing that her natural weight, a lower weight, is achievable.
The trouble with experimental or challenge-based weight loss shows is that they very rarely focus on the issues behind obesity, whether it’s biological, genetic, mental health issues or even a diagnosable eating disorder. Hopkins might dip her foot in but she’ll quickly pull it out and shake it off. We need to listen to those who have struggled for years, who can’t afford to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, who don’t have the provisions or services they need to help them along the way, who might have given up trying and feel hopeless or depressed.
That’s the reality, and watching a smug Katie Hopkins transforming herself back and forth isn’t going to change a thing.
Ilona Burton is a mental health campaigner and writer