Tuesday night can only mean one thing. For most normal students, it’s a night of hardcore partying at Smack. However, for me and my fellow housemates, it means we will be glued to our sofa watching Supersize Vs Superskinny.
The premise of the show is quite simple. A painfully skinny person and a morbidly obese person are thrown together into a ‘feeding clinic’ and forced to swap diets for a week in the hope that they will realise the damage their current diets are doing to their bodies. All of this is overseen by Dr Christopher Jessen, who at first glance appears to be rather handsome. On closer inspection, though, he is definitely not. The programme is supplemented by snippets from Anna Richardson (not from Changing Rooms, this one is a journalist), who chirpily makes her way around both the UK and the US in order to enlighten us about the newest fad diets and exercise crazes.
The intention of such programme is to inform and entertain, and it does just that. The highlight of the show, in my opinion, is the dreaded ‘tube’. The two participants are confronted with an accumulation of their week’s food consumption, which is thrown together into one giant plastic tube. They’re horrified, and so are we. Believe me, the sight of a week’s worth of greasy congealed food is enough to put you off eating for life (and this is coming from someone who would marry food if it was legal).
There is something morbidly entertaining about the show. Watching a six stone teenage girl grapple with a burger bigger than her head is torturous and yet compelling. It’s even worse watching a thirty stone bruiser sit down to a meal of six strawberries and a can of Diet Coke. At the beginning of the week you find yourself irritated at the lack of enthusiasm for food shown by the skinny, and horrified by the zealous greediness of the more portly contestant. As their week progresses, though, you start to warm to them, and by the end you’re desperate to find out if they have lost/gained the weight that they needed to.
The final weigh is in itself another highlight and not merely for the fact that by this stage you’re hoping they will have achieved their goals. Alas, the best part of the weigh in results are the hilarious before and after shots; in the before photos the participants are required to pose in drab white underwear, without a scrap of make-up, under lighting so harsh it would make Angelina Jolie look like Dot Cotton. In the after shots however – just for dramatic effect – they are dressed in slinky ballroom gowns complete with full make up and hair extensions. Who wouldn’t look good like that?! To make matters worse, the end credits see our two dieting victors wink and point cheesily in front of the camera for about five minutes.
Still, you can’t help but feel happy for them. We have accompanied them through their challenge and seen them overhaul their unorthodox eating habits in favour of good healthy food all round. The show has a serious message about the dangers of eating disorders, body dismorphia and obesity. The beauty of the show also is that it is not just looking at people who need to lose weight, as many diet shows do, but it is also tackling the problem of under-eating, which in today’s image obsessed society is more crucial than ever.
Each week we see a group of girls battling to overcome anorexia struggle with such trivial tasks such as eating a full-fat cheese sandwich, or going shopping for jeans. At the same time we follow Lisa, a woman who has become so obese that she has no choice but to undergo extreme gastric bypass surgery. The show does have moments where its need to sensationalise seems to compromise the sensitivity with which these subjects need to be handled. For example, when the obese contestants are bought to see Lisa as a deterrent for over-eating, you cannot help but get the feeling that she is being treated as a freak-show. The participants usually burst into tears at the sight of her, and she is then forced to undress and be stared at whilst the participants continue to wail ‘I don’t want to get like her!’ Not quite the boost I think poor old Lisa could do with.
Despite this, Supersize is generally informative, entertaining and enlightening. It celebrates the importance of healthy eating, but also of body acceptance, refreshing in our current size- zero crazy world. Plus, if I had not watched this show I would never have known what ‘carb face’ is (a term used by people in LA to describe someone who has supposedly eaten a few too many carbs the night before – imagine your reflection after a night at Millennium Balti). So, next time you fancy giving a Smack a miss and you’re pondering how you’ll fill your time, switch to Channel Four and prepare to be shocked and educated.