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A Big Challenge, Part 1 - Body by Henson, brain by Seuss. [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Kelly J. Cooper

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A Big Challenge, Part 1 [Jun. 28th, 2007|02:44 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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I hate the word fat.

Mainly because I was a fat kid. I'd gain a bunch of weight, then grow a couple of inches, stretching it all out, then gain a bunch of weight, then grow a couple inches.

It was stressful and painful. No one believed that I was experiencing growing pains, so I'd just sit by myself, pretending I was rubbing my bones to ease the pain, and cry.

Pretty fuckin' sad.

I spent a LONG time really fat when I was about 12. I looked like a pile of old vanilla pudding. There were a lot of different reasons. They don't really matter to this story. But it was formative.

Most people don't consider me fat, although I am certainly overweight. It helps that by being nearly five foot ten inches, it's well-distributed. It also helps that I developed a lot of muscle young, especially in my arms and legs, so most of the fat goes to my middle where it's easier to hide.

But I have a weak chin, a double chin, and a lack of a defined jawline that makes me think my think my fat cheeks just continue down my neck in one continuous flow of chub. And, according the the NIH, I am just shy of "obese" and I should be at least 30 lbs. lighter than I am to be at a healthy weight.

So although I've mostly come to terms with my childhood, there's a reminder of my weight issues in the mirror every day.

All of this preliminary whinging is to set the scene for why I might watch a reality TV show. (I hate reality TV.)

Tuesday evening, 9pm, 26 June 2007, ABC debuted "Shaq's Big Challenge."

For those who know absolutely nothing about sports, Shaq is the nickname of Shaquille O'Neal, one of the greatest basketball players ever, and a tremendously HUGE man. He's not just tall, he's built like a linebacker. Dude is SEVEN FEET plus one inch tall, weighs around 325 lbs. and wears a size 23 shoe. And that's all for a man who's in great shape. He also seems to be an incredibly intelligent and funny guy with an utterly engaging smile, who's taking a page from Michael Jordan's playbook and trying to cultivate a positive image while simultaneously building a brand.

BUT, he's also trying to change the world. Which I find kind of endearing.

Really. He's a law enforcement officer. He's actually arrested people. He doesn't just give money to foundations, he actually works with the foundations and goes beyond fund raising. He earned his MBA. He dramatically improved his foul shot after it became an obvious liability. He's a good guy.

For whatever reason, he decided to tackle childhood obesity. And someone convinced him to make a TV show out of it. Or the other way round. I have no idea, honestly.

An issue close to my heart. A talented athlete, whom I actually like, doing interesting things with his enforced celebrity status. All of my regular shows in repeats. What's the harm?

Well, it certainly jacked up my blood pressure.

The first half of the show was OK. The premise is that Shaq meets and helps six kids lose weight and change their lives, while bringing attention to the issue of childhood obesity, ultimately resulting in a visit to the Governor's house (the Governor of Florida, I assume).

He met the kids in their homes. They didn't know why the cameras were there until Shaq walked in the door and blew their minds. We saw the lifestyles that contributed to their weight and we also met their families and got little tours of their homes and lives. We got to hear about their hopes and dreams.

That was cute and fun.

Shaq tells us (talking to the camera) that he's confident he can make a difference.

Then he and his personal physician/trainer gave the kids the standard test for physical fitness. Every kid failed. Suddenly, Shaq's not so sure of himself (which was pretty amusing in and of itself given his "I can do anything" attitude and celebrity bullet-proof posture).

So then he got a doctor who specializes in childhood obesity on board and had all the kids checked out. (There's a funny montage while he's on hold with endless hospitals trying to navigate phone trees and find an expert while also dealing with people either not believing he was who he said he was or believing it and just wanting to talk to him instead of helping.)

The kids get weighed, measured, and CAT-scanned then put through a standard stress test. Several of them were morbidly obese. That scared the hell out of the kids and the parents. Many of them cried (some kids, some parents). They just had never realized it was so bad before. The kids ranged from 30% to 50% of their body weight as fat. At least one kid was off the chart, so they estimated him at 50%.

All of that was fine. Interesting and educational, a little voyeuristic but not too bad.

But Shaq had to go to training camp. So he rented the kids a gym, got them set up with a training program, made them promise to do their exercises, and called in periodically to check on them.

The kids, who range in age from 12 to 15, slacked off. Some came in, some didn't. They did the absolute minimum when they were there. They usually devolved into throwing giant rubber balls at each other. They fibbed to Shaq.

Doctor trainer was pretty sure this was going on, so he went on a spy mission and had the film crew filming the kids doing all this. He had them make a DVD for Shaq, which he brought to Shaq's house and played for him.

And, as you probably could have predicted, Shaq went ballistic. He's mad they lied to him and he's angry they aren't doing what they said they would. Although no one said this, it seemed to me that he was ripshit at least in part because they were squandering what he saw as his "gift" to them.

THIS is where my blood pressure hit the roof.

Does this man think people are BORN with discipline? Does he not remember what the hell it was like to be a teenager? Has he no memory of how he LEARNED through a lot of hard work and mistakes how to train and stay in shape? Was he so fucking BLIND when he visited their houses that he did not see years upon YEARS of bad habits right before his eyes?


Sure they were scared. Sure they're getting encouragement from their scared parents. But ya know what? Fear is a crappy motivator. And kids think, no matter what, that they will live forever. Fear fades. Living in a perpetual state of fear is considered a fucking PSYCHIATRIC DISORDER, DAMMIT.

The kids knew they were being filmed. I'm sure some of them fooled themselves into believing that they WERE doing the exercises, because they made some effort, they sweated a bit, and they were feeling pretty good. Plus, they're kids! They mess around! With most kids, you have to show them something over and over until it gets into their heads, especially things they don't like and don't want to do.

I'm pretty sure the TV people knew this was going to happen. I'll bet they were counting on it. I will even bet you that they SET IT UP this way, hoping to catch Shaq all pissed off on camera. Because it meant that, for the next segment, Shaq would feel justified bringing in a drill sergeant of a personal trainer to drive the kids batshit. A pissed-off Shaq plus miserable kids makes great drama, don't it? One of the kids ends up in the hospital in segment two. THEY SHOWED THAT IN THE FUCKING PREVIEWS! Jeeeeeesus.

I'm debating whether I want to watch the next segment. On the one hand, I am interested in the methods he uses to change the attitudes of the kids and I'm kinda looking forward to seeing him demand that the kids' school(s) change their menus and reinstate mandatory P.E. But, I'm still pissed. And I don't appreciate the exploitive element, that these are showcase kids for Shaq to point to when he talks to the Governor.

I would, however, enjoy having intelligent conversations about the show if anyone else is interested.

[User Picture]From: nothings
2007-06-28 04:07 am (UTC)
>demand that the kids' school(s) [...] reinstate mandatory P.E.




(Not to the demanding. To the need for the demanding.)
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-06-28 02:43 pm (UTC)
A lot of schools have dropped P.E. to save money or accede to the demands of parents/students or minimize liability.


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[User Picture]From: nothings
2007-06-28 03:38 pm (UTC)
Somebody must have fussed about this before, and I just wasn't paying attention, right?
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-06-28 03:43 pm (UTC)
Probably. It's not all schools, just some.

But, yeah, there's been surprisingly little fuss.

It's pretty aggravating.
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[User Picture]From: metagnat
2007-06-28 09:28 am (UTC)
Hah! Mandatory PE did jack shit for me in school. Partially because I was already considered overweight and kind of a loss by the teachers, I think. Partially because it was constant interaction with kids who would make fun of me all the time because of my height.

Gym was full of fear and boredom for me. Gym was what taught me that physical activity is not fun. Something I've been working all my adulthood to unlearn.

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[User Picture]From: hammercock
2007-06-28 02:43 pm (UTC)
Gym was full of fear and boredom for me. Gym was what taught me that physical activity is not fun. Something I've been working all my adulthood to unlearn.

Wordy McWord.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-06-28 02:47 pm (UTC)
Yeah, gym was mostly useless for me, although it did get my heart rate up once a day and that's really a good thing.

The problem for me was that I was perpetually dehydrated, so it's a wonder my kidneys didn't collapse or something. (I'd subconsciously learned over the years that, the less I drank, the less I had to go to the bathroom - that den of female mockery, not to mention class interruption - so I barely drank ANY fluids and I didn't really sweat. I just turned bright red and got a really bad stitch.)

My ability to sweat took years to normalize.

The irony is, my body is built for exercise. My genetics demand a high level of activity in order for proper functioning (getting to sleep, waking up, optimal digestion). And I was born into a family of chubby slackers.
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[User Picture]From: drwex
2007-06-28 09:46 am (UTC)
Mandatory PE was hell on me as an obese and nerdy kid. I did what was fun and thought my way around doing the absolute minimum of things I didn't want to do.

I didn't watch this show so I can't really discuss it in any intelligent fashion. I agree with your statement that it was set up and staged. That's what these shows are about - the staging. They're no more real than a cooking show is real cooking.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-06-28 02:55 pm (UTC)
I think that mandatory PE, as conducted when we were kids, was done without any thought to the entertainment of the kids. It was a "doing what's good for you" plan, frequently enforced by ex-military types and ex-jocks who had no other careers open to them. That resentment and perpetuation of abuse came naturally.

I believe in mandatory PE, but I also believe it should be part of a larger program to help kids appreciate and make sense of their bodies, their future, and their nutrition.

I wish it could be tailored to individual kids, but when you put something like that out there on a massive scale, it just ends up being the equivalent of "tracking" with regard to special education for disabled students, average education for average kids (or those expected to be average), and super-ed for smart kids. You gravitate toward the expectations held out for you.

We'd end up with the fat kids' PE, the average kids' PE, and the athlete's PE, all of which would reinforce expectations. The fat & average kids would lose out, while the athletes would receive more inappropriate fodder for their off-balance egos (bad for them, because over-inflated egos are no healthier than bad self-esteem, and bad for the rest of the kids who would not only lose out on the opportunity to be great but also have to put up with the expectation of hero worship).
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[User Picture]From: ckd
2007-06-28 09:54 am (UTC)
Of course he expected magic.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-06-28 02:56 pm (UTC)
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From: moria923
2007-06-30 01:25 am (UTC)
How were these kids chosen? If they didn't know why the cameras were there, it sounds as though they weren't forewarned about the show. Did their parents volunteer them?

I haven't seen the show. I wonder if it will turn out to be one of those stories where harshness is justified in the name of good ends? I suppose that works for some people, but could turn out to be abusive, perhaps?
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-06-30 01:49 am (UTC)
I do think that their parents must have volunteered them or entered them into a drawing. Or, perhaps the kids entered themselves but it was so long ago that they forgot? It's not explained.

The preview for next week definitely shows harshness in the name of "forcing" these kids to shape up because they are too "lazy" to do it themselves.

I doubt they'd be able to put it on TV if it were outright abusive. But I'll be curious to hear if any social welfare experts chime in on that topic.
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