Date of Award
Master of Arts
Dr. Heather Addison
Dr. Sandra Borden
Dr. Joseph Kayany
obesity, semiotics, reality television, cultural studies, biggest loser
Masters Thesis-Open Access
This study explores how The Biggest Loser, a popular television reality program that features a weight-loss competition, reflects and magnifies established stereotypes about obese individuals. The show, which encourages contestants to lose weight at a rapid pace, constructs a broken/fixed dichotomy that oversimplifies the complex issues of obesity and health.
My research is a semiotic analysis of the eleventh season of the program (2011), focusing on three pairs of contestants (or “couples” teams) that each represent a different level of commitment to the program’s values. Specifically, I focus on dramatic “breakdown” moments in which these contestants are disciplined by the show for becoming emotionally fraught, overwhelmed, or antagonistic during their weight-loss journeys and “breakthrough” moments in which they are celebrated for overcoming an obstacle, proving their worth, or triumphing in a specific way. Such moments provide the most explicit examples of the ideologies that the show endorses, which associate obesity with personal problems such as poor choices, laziness, and emotional baggage, ignoring cultural factors that may have an impact on body weight.
Rickert, "Liminal Losers: Breakdowns and Breakthroughs in Reality Television's Biggest Hit" (2013). Master's Theses. 136.