Saturday, February 26, 2011

What Does Self-Worth Look Like?

I let it slip yesterday that I was spending my Friday night working as a mental health representative at a campus event for undergraduate students. In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a campus organization arranged for Amanda Arlauskas, a past contestant from the Biggest Loser, to speak. Given the strict diet and the extreme exercise routine contestants adhere to on the show, there was a concern that some students might react negatively. So, I was on hand just in case. 


Listening to Amanda talk was pretty interesting. During her time on the Biggest Loser she lost about 87 pounds in just a few months. But, she revealed that to lose that much weight in such a short period of time she worked out eight hours a day and only consumed an average of 1,000 calories. It was also interesting to hear her discuss how the competition got to her head. For example, she shared that she became quite paranoid that the other contestants were trying to sabotage her weight loss by putting salt in her food.

While Amanda was very sweet (a persona that no doubt helped her get cast on the show in the first place), there were a lot of things about her talk that I found problematic. For example, Amanda shared, as though it was the most normal thing in the world, that she currently thinks about her weight "every minute of every day" and even dreams about it. She bills herself as an inspirational speaker, but is that really what we want to inspire women to be like?

Another theme in her talk that was actually really sad for me to hear about was the idea that self-worth is largely based on weight. She perpetuated the dumb (and completely false) idea that being overweight is synonymous with having poor self-worth, but being thin is part of having high self-worth. For example, she talked about deciding she loved herself enough to lose weight so that she could wear skinny jeans and men would find her "sexy." REALLY??? I'm honestly not knocking the fact that she wanted to lose weight to look better (I can relate to that), but to say these things with absolutely NO critical analysis of our culture that equates thin with beauty is doing a disservice to every single college woman who goes to hear her speak. Even just a few sentences on the idea that it is possible to feel good about yourself no matter what your weight would have gone a long way. 

i think these women look mighty fine. via the healthy apron.

Another unfortunate trap she seems to have fallen into is the "I'll be happy when" mantra. First, it was I'll be happy when I've lost weight. But, now that she has lost the weight she still isn't happy with the way she looks. Instead, she hopes she will finally be happy after losing twenty more pounds and getting her excess skin removed. But will she actually be happy then or will she find something else that needs to change before she can feel good about the way she looks? 

She spoke for a good 45 minutes, but here is a two sentence run down of her talk - being fat stops you from doing the things you want, like wearing skinny jeans, going to prom, having fun, being pretty, having a boyfriend, feeling sexy, being happy, loving yourself, etc. So, you should love yourself enough to lose weight so that you can have those things.

If I could waive a magic wand and change her speech up, this is what it would sound like --

We live in a society that shames fat women and makes them feel like they can't wear skinny jeans, go to prom, have fun, be pretty, have a partner, feel sexy, be happy, or love themselves. But, all of these things are possible at any weight. I'm happy that I've started eating healthier and being more physically active because I'm less concerned about my health and it makes my every day life is easier. But, now that I've lost 87 pounds and I'm still preoccupied with my weight and still too self conscious to wear what I want to wear, I see that true self-worth doesn't come from a number on a scale or the size of your jeans. 

ANYWAYS, my rant is over. Are you a fan of the biggest loser? What do you think about the show? Do you think Amanda is a good role model? What do you think self-worth should be based on?


  1. I like the show, because it does show that anything is possible. No one in real life has that kind of time to work out all day long, but it does show that with hard work comes results. It has spawned a lot of healthier programs that encourage people to lose weight in a healthy way, and it has also done a lot to collect food for food banks.

    Having struggled with my weight, bulimia, and depression since I was in my teens, I know that there is a lot more to liking yourself than what you see in the mirror. It took me a long time to learn that, and finally understanding that didn't come from losing weight.

    I had always wanted to eventually get married and have a family, but I realized that as long as I hated myself, I couldn't expect any one else to like me. Why should they? I had to learnt to like myself. Sure, losing 87 pounds would've been nice, but I decided to focus on other things about myself that I didn't like. I started dressing nicer, I stopped biting my nails, I stopped saying "like" all the time, I started keeping a journal and forcing myself to go hang out with people. I started going to free dance lessons and taking a yoga class. And it worked. I stopped feeling sorry for myself, and I started liking myself, and I noticed that when I was happier with myself, other people were happier to be with me. Sure, I still have faults - but as long as I am doing my best, that is all I can ask of myself.

    I feel bad for Amanda, and people like her. Our society puts so much emphasis on looks. There is so much more to a person than their weight, and changing one thing is not going to fix everything.

  2. I love the show but I do always wonder what goes on behind the scenes to make them lose so much so fast. I think it's a positive thing because I've seen it inspire others to lose weight for their own reasons when they see how much is actually possible. I agree though that it's really sad that she felt she couldn't live the life she wanted until she lost weight.

  3. I have lost and kept off about 100 lbs, so I understand a bit about where she is and where she's been. And I think, while self-worth should ultimately be tied to your personal accomplishments and life strategies, there are periods in your life when it inevitably gets tied to something different.

    There have been times in my weight loss when I've connected my self-worth entirely to the scale. Then, I come around and remember that's not true. So let's hope she's like me and "this too shall pass." Weight loss is as much about self-realization as it is about weight-realization. For me, it taught me a lot about who I am and what I need to feel good about myself - not the weight, but the fact that I'm taking care of myself mentally, physically and emotionally.

  4. Its been so wonderful hearing everyone's perspective on this!

    @ Jessica - Thanks for pointing out some of the good things about the show. You are right - it does show people that change is possible, which is a really powerful thing. Also, I had no idea there was a charity component to it.

    @ Penny - Yeah, it was pretty crazy to hear about what goes on behind the scenes! I can't imagine working out that much. She described her day as broken into four workout sessions and she would nap in between them. She also said that at the end of the season the final challenge was to run a marathon and she trained for it in 40 days! Crazy, right?

    @ Chicago Career Girl - Thanks for sharing your story. I appreciate your perspective on this and I totally agree with you - inevitably there will be times when your self-worth gets based on weight. I have empathy and patience for Amanda the individual. She is a person looking for happiness just like the rest of us. But, I guess I have less patience for Amanda the speaker, who girls look up to. Either way, congrats on your weight loss! You are inspiring!

  5. I actually stopped watching the show, for the reason that you're talking about. How healthy is it for someone to work out for 8 hrs a day while only eating 1,000 cals?? It's not. It's crazy that people have begun to think this is normal or ok because of this show. I hate getting wrapped up in weight issues (even though I do.) It makes me feel overwhelmingly self-conscious at times. Soo I guess my take is... she isn't a healthy role model. That "I'll be happy when..." thinking is SO destructive and I believe she perpetuates the idea that in order to do the things you want to do you have to be thin. I loved this post. I'm a new follower on your blog and on 20sb.

  6. Hey Mandy! Thanks for stopping by! I totally agree with you. She seemed super friendly and nice, but I wish she would spread a different message.


Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Every comment brings a smile to my face!