As we demonize weight gain and celebrate weight loss, the news is out: Ricki Lake is losing weight. In proper regulatory fashion, this “victorious” act is being broadcasted. The Huffington Post reports, “‘Dancing with the Stars’ Premiere: Ricki Lake Already Lost 8 Inches.” MSNBC, OMG, Yahoo, US Magazine, and frankly too many other sources to name, all followed suit.
Naturally, I am reminded of our cultural obsession with the “right” weight, as if one exists, as if it fits for everyone, as if it is even healthy. Many of the articles citing Lake’s weight loss state that she will not be buying her “dream dress” for her upcoming wedding until the show ends, or as OMG puts it, “until her transformation is complete” (http://omg.yahoo.com/blogs/thefamous/ricki-lake-says-dwts-helped-her-drop-20-161141426.html).
The connection here between finding love, heterosexual coupling, and weight loss is uncanny. This connection is made most disturbingly in the VH1 show, “Bridal Bootcamp.”
This clip positions “every brides worst nightmare” as not just the inability to shed weight, but weight itself. Weight is abject. It is horror and it is feared, particularly for a bride-to-be. One of the women on the show states “I didn’t buy my dream wedding dress because I was embarrassed to buy such a big size,” while another states “I have no other option. I have to fit in that wedding dress.” According to these statements, weight stands in the way of love, beauty, and partnership, a ridiculous and dangerous statement. This assertion is more toxic because it is constantly reified by our culture; we are urged into believing it is truth.
In “Bridal Bootcamp,” the bootcamp instructors urge the women, “If you don’t have form you have nothing,” stressing that form, that thinness, is what makes a woman happy, what makes her beautiful, what makes her loved; here is a new desperation for thinness. One woman on the show states “I want to go home with a flat tummy and good self-esteem.” It is still disturbing, though not surprising, to me that the physicality of the body and feelings of self-worth are connected. Yet, the fallacy of the equating thinness with self-esteem remains.
Another troubling aspect of the show is its bootcamp format. Not only is the exercise, fluid and food intake of the women monitored, but we see their “progress” and “failures” on the screen. Think Foucault on steroids. The hyper-regulation and constant surveillance speaks to our current discourse surrounding weight: you will be publicly disciplined if you are overweight. You will be shamed. You will be yelled at. You will wrestle on a large cake covered in frosting (seriously). Further, you will put yourself through all of these humiliating tasks to regulate yourself.
There are many levels of disturbing in this show. Its production on VH1 and its mass consumption add to the current discourse which surrounds body image. “Bridal Bootcamp” shapes our imagination. It shapes how we understand our bodies, women, and marriage. The show exists primarily to propel the majority of women watching who do not fit the “ideal body type” advocated for on the show into self-regulation. We must fight for our imagination and the ways we relate to our bodies. The hyper-vigilance and policing of weight only serve to normalize thinness, a body type which is as unrealistic as it is uncommon.