Holley Mangold, the Olympic weightlifter, about whom I have written before, has signed on for the next season of The Biggest Loser (good grief, I would love to have several minutes alone in a locked room with the pig-dog who came up with that title). There are so many things wrong with this that it hurts my brain to hold on to them all at once.
But let’s try:
1. TBL’s abusive, unhealthy, inhumane, and immoral. It is also medically bogus, spiritually repugnant, and a full-fledged member-in-good-standing of the keep-the-masses-drugged club. It pretends to be a narrative of human transformation, self-determination, and salvation. But it succeeds by starving, screaming at, and stomping on the egos of people who are worn out and worn down by living in a culture that believes them to be criticially, humanly inferior based on their body size.
2. Holley Mangold is an Olympic athlete. She doesn’t have a discipline problem. She had, famously, a money problem. She’s never had adequate support to train properly and has, instead (mostly because she’s not “pretty” enough to attract advertisers or be useful to the Olympic committee as a “face.”) scraped by with food stamps and her own grit. Her brother makes a zillion dollars a year playing for the NFL, btw, but seems to have been reading too much (by which I mean “any”) Ayn Rand and is not only NOT one of the players who “gives back, ” he can’t even support his sister in her struggle for an Olympic medal. I will not pretend to understand what are undoubtedly more complex family dynamics than I have a right to know about, but for crying out loud, the surface, in which the schmuck who makes, what, over $7,000,000 this year can’t cut his athlete sister a check for the roughly $40,000. a year her training would cost, looks pretty cruddy. Maybe he could grow a heart? A spine? A brain? A pair? Golly, he’s the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Wicked Witch of the West all rolled up into one great big I-get-paid-vast-sums-to-hurt-people body… So I doubt that Holly’s discipline (one of the things TBL purports to “teach” its victims) is her problem. The stresses of training without any reasonable support from her sport or the Committee seem more likely culprits in her 10th place finish. And, in so far as her weight was a factor in that 10th place finish (Okay, I get that she didn’t medal, but she’s certifiably the 10th strongest woman in the world…no small thing), which we cannot actually know, then the aforementioned stresses are likely the critical factors there. Which is a proven issue in weight gain, especially at the lower ends of the economic scale. And since TBL is about stressing its victims into compliance, yeah, that’s going to help… Her brother could have fixed this.
3 thru 100. I wish her well. I sent her money before the Olympics. I used the blog to try to get others to do the same. I don’t know what to wish now. She’ll lose a lot of weight, for sure. She’ll exercise her ass off. Maybe it’ll kickstart her training for the next Olympics. And then maybe she’ll medal. Which one wishes for her–she will have certainly sweat blood for it, one way or another. There is no question that TBL will have paid her big bucks for the whole thing, which, were I her, I might have also succumbed to. Poverty sucks. It’s draining, humiliating, exhausting. I cannot have helped her dreams. But if she does TBL and then goes to Brazil and medals, TBL will be able to claim responsibility. TBL will be able to point to her and say that she’s the model the rest of us fat folk should be following. I’m willing to bet they already have the ad campaign written and that she’s already signed her life away to them, kind of like Jennifer Hudson and Weight Watchers. And maybe TBL will, out of self interest, give her a constant coach (which I sort of suspect WW has with Hudson) to watch over her for as long as they need her and keep her starved and sale-able. And maybe the devil’s bargain she’s entered into will be worth it to her. And it’s her body and she can do what she wants with it, including selling it to TBL.
Maybe I’ll still root for her. Maybe she’s just doing what she needs to do to get whatever it is she wants.
But it’s not about Holley Mangold and her medal dreams. It’s about the whole revolting, criminally de-humanizing, woman-hating culture (and yes, I do wonder whether Nick Mangold would have left a brother hanging unsupported…), fat-hating/fearing, body-loathing, sadistic, salvation-obsessed culture that produced TBL, made it a hit, and keeps watching it.
And it is about Holley Mangold, because she’s going to do things to her body that will hurt it, because as surely as she’s using the culture to get what she wants, she’ll pay a heavy price that she could have avoided, and wouldn’t have had to pay if the Olympic Committee funded athletes fairly, and truly believed all the blather it spouts about the honor and dignity of non-professional striving. Or if her brother hadn’t read too much Ayn Rand.
Maybe the worst thing is that she’ll generate enough excitement to keep the damned program on for another year.
It is not insignificant that the news about this was sent to me by a friend/former student who is a weightlifter and gym owner. He knows his stuff. Part of the reason he was so upset is that he is also the feminist father of a baby woman, who he is trying really hard to raise to respect and love her own body. And part of the reason he’s so upset is that, even in the weightlifting community, he can’t really say very much about this and how wrong it is, because that community is just as nuts as the culture it exists in and has its own practical knowledge about what it does and supports all tangled up with the 0% body fat crap the Weight Loss Industrial Complex has so successfully peddled to them, too, so he’s in a minority even within a community to which he is deeply dedicated. But his daughter’s a lucky human. She’s also a major cutie, which is beside the point, but worth mentioning, just because.