… The Biggest Loser: the episode in Washington, D.C.
In that episode, the contestants travelled to Washington, D.C., to address the government about the dangers of obesity. Throughout the week, the contestants worked out in the streets and in unfamiliar gyms and on hotel stairs; they ate out and were busy with things outside of their physical training. It seemed likely that at the weigh-in they would not have been able to lose the kind of weight they were losing on the Biggest Loser campus.
The contestants gathered for the weigh-in on the lawn in front of the Lincoln Memorial; they all filed up to the scale discussing their struggles and how daunting everything had been. And then the camera shows a close-up of the statue of Lincoln.
It wasn’t that I poo-pooed the struggle of the contestants. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to work as hard as they do, or to be faced with the prospect of losing the weight they need to lose to be healthy. They’re often facing an early death and a limited life if they don’t succeed, and I honestly don’t know how I would do in their place. It wasn’t that.
It was that the image of Abraham Lincoln evoked companion images of so much struggle and hardship – the brutality of slavery and the devastation of the Civil War. On one hand, we saw this strong reminder of dark times, of death and worse than death, of sacrifice and loss … and on the other hand, we saw this group of people consumed with a personal struggle that had challenged most of them for their entire lives. On one hand, we saw this image of the end of slavery, and on the other hand, we saw people living in the modern world who wanted to free themselves from self-induced punishment. Were these two entities being offered to the audience as equal in intensity and importance? I hope not. That would be, at the least, insulting to the fallen.
But the contrasting images showed an important aspect of the Biggest Loser journey – and any journey, really: we are affected directly and immediately by our experiences, and because of that , those experiences become larger than life … and larger than ourselves. We care about other people; we know our problems aren’t (for the most part) the worst problems in the world. But we can see biggest and best the things closest to us – all of our problems and challenges and doubts and fears – and it’s so easy to get lost in all of that, and to forget the larger perspective outside of us.
Should we wander the earth ignoring our troubles and focusing at every turn on the horrible things that others have endured? I don’t think that would accomplish anything, and I don’t know why that would be expected. But if we can take a step back from our troubles, we can see that they aren’t necessarily big at all, or incredibly significant, or insurmountable; they may, upon more distant examination, not be problems at all. Most importantly, if we step back far enough to be able to compare (for example) the Civil War with our weight-loss struggles, we will certainly be standing in a place that makes us bigger than the challenges we face.
Will that perspective put money in your pocket, or pull the pounds off your body, or get you a promotion, or bring your ex-partner back into your life? No. But all of that stuff will be much easier to handle. You will be at the center of your universe, and all of your experiences will be floating around you at a distance, and you can figure out what to do with them and how to feel about them without trauma. By putting your troubles in perspective, you become the focus. You become important. You become huge. And from your new vantage point, you can see better all the people and good experiences that were obscured by your pain and fear.
You can see how much success you had all along … and start living the kind of life that honours yourself and all those who have come before.