So last night it happened. Someone's "after" reflected, on the outside, what so many of us "Losers" have safely and dangerously harbored on the inside, standing on a confetti-covered stage in all our spray-tanned, bleached-teeth glory.
Let me preface with this: Rachel (the winner of this season of "The Biggest Loser"), is not someone I know personally, and I clearly have no idea what her medical records say, as far as whether or not she is "healthy". Maybe she is. Maybe 105 lbs is the ideal weight for her, she's not dehydrated or exhausted, or mentally and physically drained. I really don't know, nor will I speculate.
Because this isn't about Rachel. This is about what Rachel, unfortunately for her, now represents.
I appeared on "The Biggest Loser" 7 years ago. It was a season of change- Alison Sweeney's first season hosting it, the first season with 3 trainers (Jillian, Bob and Kim), the first season NOT on a swanky ranch (nope- we were on a mosquito-ridden mental institution-turned-college-campus....not joking), and the season of Jillian's triumphant return. It was special, and it felt like it.
I was 21 years old, and had graduated college and moved 1300 miles away from all of my family and most of my friends to start a new life in Nashville. I was sad, homesick, and bored...disillusioned. Biggest Loser was an opportunity to escape that, and maybe create something new.
Prior to Biggest Loser, I actually felt pretty great about myself. I had ALWAYS struggled with my weight, and had had some temporary successes in years past, but never anything I was able to maintain. Despite being big, and knowing it, I also knew a lot of other important things about me: I was pretty (or at least "had a pretty face"...ugh. Hate that phrase), I was talented, I was smart, dynamic, interesting, loving, kind, generous. In short, my weight didn't define me. It was a small (pun intended) piece of who I was.
When I got to LA, I knew my weight would have to, by nature of the show, come to the forefront of my attributes. Yes, the casting directors were looking for someone who was all of the GREAT things I was, but first and foremost, they wanted to dig into the corners of my psyche and figure out WHY I was how I was (as in, overweight) and what physical and seemingly emotional transformation I could make in front of their cameras. I braced myself, knowing that insecurities, very private stories and emotions would undoubtedly be exposed to quite literally MILLIONS of people. "I'm strong enough" is what I'd repeat to myself. I'm strong enough to be exposed. I'm strong enough to be broken down, because at the end, I will be built back up. Surely I will.
My story played out on national TV, so I don't need to tell you the ins and outs of my Biggest Loser experience, which, for the record, was positive. The people that worked with us truly became friends. They cheered for us. They cried for us. But they didn't HELP us. Because...they were production assistants. Casting coordinators. People handlers. Producers. They were NOT therapists, family, nutritionists, caretakers. They were there to do a job, and truthfully, for them to NOT do their job would have been irresponsible.
But equally as irresponsible is the truth that now NBC and "The Biggest Loser" cannot escape. Contestants are broken down- their most revealing truths and deeply-seeded fears exposed, in the interest of making them "stronger". But strength, for some, is not always born in the wreckage. Contestants are trusting that they are being broken to be rebuilt, but the building doesn't come. Not from the show. Not from the way you expect it to.
I finished Biggest Loser at the thinnest I had ever been in my adult life. With an estimated 30(ish) lbs of extra skin, I went from 298 lbs to 185 lbs, from over 55% body fat to 24% body fat. I ran races for the first time. People stopped telling me I had a "pretty face" and started just telling me I was "pretty", or better yet "hot". I wore a size 10 dress and could shop wherever I wanted. I should have been flying high, and man, did I fake it well.
But while I'd been working my butt off on getting skinny (really- weight loss was my ONLY goal), I hadn't even thought about what the internal ramifications might be, and how drastically I was changing on the inside.
I knew as I got deep into the production of the show that my self esteem was rapidly diminishing. I sat for hours a week doing interviews or having filmed conversations about how "awful" it must feel to be the "black sheep" of my overly fit family. I had never felt THAT out of place until it was reinforced regularly that I *should*. I remember one day one of the people on production sat down with a group of us (pretty early on in the process) and said, "I just don't get it. Like...what do you even DO when you're overweight?". She/He literally didn't even view us as human. He/She had no inkling that I grew up climbing mountains, swimming competitively, took 7 years of dance lessons, and played for my high school soccer team. Conversations stirred up deeply personal issues- how the abandonment of my biological father "must have" been the cause of my never-ending struggles with my weight, how I "must have" used food to self-medicate through bad breakups or relationships, or struggles. How it "must have" been so hard to be SO close to being a "catch", but still be so "undesirable" because of the shape and size of my body. Internet message boards picked apart my every feature and action, and like a train wreck, I couldn't look away. I remember reading after the finale, "Isabeau looks like Portia De Rossi....only....bigger". AFTER the finale. Strangers would follow me around the grocery store and sometimes even stop me to tell me why I shouldn't put "that" in my cart.
I sucked it all up because I could see the finish line. I could see where I would be all of these things I was told I should want to be. "Limitless"-any opportunity I wanted or imagined would flow to me once I lost weight. I would finally "fit in" with my family that I had never felt like I didn't fit in with until I was told maybe I should. I would be "desirable". I would be whole, and complete and gloriously confident.
But that confidence never came. It never came because I didn't work on it. I felt like a failure standing on the stage at the finale because that's all I had been told I was, and I started believing it. It wasn't anyone's fault but my own. It was my own fault for allowing myself to believe the lies I was being told about myself, my fault for perpetuating them, and my fault for not getting help in dealing with them. What was demonstrated last night at The Biggest Loser finale, is nothing new. It's just the physical manifestation of what so much of us have felt internally- that we can never do, or be, enough. That we can never work too hard. Or lose too much. Or be too extreme. Because we seek and crave the resolution of all our dreams come true, that are seemingly hinged on whether or not we're skinny.
So, here's the truth, dear whoever-you-are. The only thing holding you back from anything is YOU. It is not your weight. It is not your finances. It is not your appearance. Well, actually, maybe it is. But not in the way you believe. Ambition and Success stem from the same root, and it has nothing to do with a number on the scale or any other "circumstance" in your life. It has to do with how you FEEL about life. How you FEEL about yourself. Are you worthy of being ambitious? Successful? Desired? Sexy? Strong? You are. You are at 300 lbs. You are at 100 lbs. You are $20,000 in debt. You are at 21 or 78 years old. You are worthy of all of those things the moment you believe you are.
After Biggest Loser, I spent several years trying to fill the void that was left when my confidence and self esteem was diminished. I sought that feeling of fullness in money and what money could buy, relationships that were inauthentic, and in choices that were guided by my mind, over my heart. I forgot who I was, and because of that, made decisions I never would have made.
There wasn't a day that things shifted, but things did. I felt like I was perpetually MISSING not just something, but someONE. And at some point, I woke up and realized that that someone was me. I missed me. I missed who I was, and all those wonderful things I had known about myself before weight became the most important thing in my world.
It's been a long journey to get back to me, and it's meant learning to trust people again. I was taught once that opening up and being "broken" will NOT always result in being rebuilt. I've had to start believing that that is the EXCEPTION and not the rule, and that, when you surround yourself with the right people, "tough love" truly is based in love, and is meant to expand you, not diminish you.
I would be lying to say that weight isn't something I still actively work on, worry about, and allow to define certain things in my mind. But I know now that it is a paper dragon. My weight, although something I work on now for longevity and health, is back to being just one, teeny, tiny part of a crazy, wonderful person. And lucky for me, it's a piece I can (and do) work on and change. My weight may be the most challenging thing for me, but how awesome is that? It's a lot harder to undo jealousy, or stinginess, or stupidity, or irresponsibility, or complacency than it is to take off a few pounds. If my weight is the worst thing someone can say about me, then I consider myself pretty lucky.
We need to stop believing and perpetuating the myth *someone* came up with that we all must be or do or look a certain way in order to be successful. Weight loss is one of the BEST examples of this because literally EVERYONE has a different opinion and experience about what works, what doesn't, what should, what shouldn't, etc. Every conversation about our body is laced with judgement. When will enough be enough?
The only answer is that you will have to put your foot down. I remember the night before my Biggest Loser finale weigh in, I had talked my "handler" into letting me go to the gym. I worked out for 2 hours and then went to sit in the sauna with my clothes on, to burn just a few more calories. My head spun and I felt weak, dizzy, awful. Sick. I got out. Enough was enough. I remember, conversely, gaining weight with my son and beating myself up that I was such a "failure" that even after having an opportunity to lose weight on national television, I couldn't keep it together. I knew I couldn't allow myself to live like that anymore. Enough, again, was enough.
Productivity starts where shame ends. I started seeing a therapist. I surrounded myself in people that (shockingly) ALREADY think I'm fun, and interesting, smart, pretty (as a whole), desirable, talented, strong and capable. I'm allowing myself to hear when someone says "You're a badass" or "Seriously... you're so good at xyz" or "Wow, you look great", instead of hearing "You're a badass (except for your weight)" or "Seriously...you're so good (except for your weight)" or "Wow, you look great (except for your weight)". Because it's not about my weight. In a size 10, I still heard the "ps" to every compliment I received, so I know it's not hinged on what people see... it's hinged on what *I* see.
My hope for Rachel, for every other BL contestant (past, present and future) and anyone else who is struggling (with weight- with anything) is that they start mining for their strength, instead of magnifying their weaknesses. That they can silence the "ps" in their mind that tells them they won't be enough "until this...", "until this...", "until this...". The word "until" is a vicious beast that will eat your dreams and stop you from achieving anything. You know what's on the other side of massive weight loss? Nothing. It's not about the weight. It's about the permission you give yourself to LIVE. To be worthy of a career you love, or a relationship that lights you up, or a path you've always wanted to explore.
This morning in reading the articles and seeing the pictures, I was sad for Rachel, who seemingly got lost in her "untils". Again, I don't know her, or this, but the physical sure looks depleted, so I would imagine the emotional would likely mirror that. But in my sadness for her, came gratitude to the people in my life. There has been one group of people that have more profoundly changed my outlook on fitness than any other: Crossfit Vector at Nashville Barbell. Joining this community was far and above the best decision (with the exception of having Beckham) that I've made in the past 5 years. This group of athletes come in all shapes, sizes and abilities, but share the consistent thread of unconditional support, true friendship and the ongoing pursuit of excellence in all things. Being in a healthy environment that promotes fitness and strength over purposeless, manic effort is the most refreshing experience I've had, and has shifted EVERYTHING in my life, but most importantly, my relationship and my value of my body- as it is, as it was, and as it will be. Pretty freaking amazing.
Beyond my hope for Rebecca is my hope for US. Can we learn from this? Can we start understanding that reality tv is not, in fact, reality? Can we stop exploiting peoples' weaknesses for entertainment? Can we stop being so darn judge-y and just kinda love each other for what we are, as is? I think in allowing that, and by just accepting and loving, we create the opportunity for people to feel what THEY really want for themselves, instead of projecting what they THINK someone else wants FOR them.
There is no gift more precious than giving yourself and others permission to live how they see fit. To be beautiful in their own skin. To love who and what they love. To be worthy and enough. I hope we all can take this bittersweet lesson that simply exposed truths, and turn it into a revolution of caring about more than a number on the scale.