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Bob Harper on the Biggest Loser

“Biggest Loser” Host Bob Harper Had a Heart Attack, Proving Thinness Won’t Save You

Anti-fat people have two things to unpack from Bob Harper and his heart attack. One is un-health at any size. The other is their own mortality.

Let’s just get this out the way first: no one is happy that The Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper suffered a heart attack that left him unconscious for two days. I’ve never had a heart attack, but I’ve heard they’re kind of a bummer. No one is reveling in Bob Harper’s pain. What we (as in, all body-positive fat people) are doing is savoring every minute of this we-fucking-told-you-so-moment.

Read any news story covering Harper’s brush with death while at the gym (because of course he was at the gym). Not one reporter dares to bury the fact that Harper’s mom died of a heart attack and that genetics plays a huge role in heart disease. Not one doesn’t include an affirming quote from a doctor, insisting the benefits of exercise far outweigh the risks. Every piece of coverage might as well include a giant banner reading, “Nothing to see here. Return to your normal lives. 2+2=5.” Genetics is a health factor no one ever wants to talk about — unless you are thin. Unless you are otherwise “responsible” with your health. Otherwise, fatty, you should have seen this coming.

You are watching the Diet Industry Machine at work right now, people. Do not ignore it. Take note. Watch how it cocoons fitness gurus until they are well enough to hop back up on their wagons, grab their loudspeakers and recommence the peddling of lies. Harper is a snake oil salesman. He is a professional who makes money selling fat people straight-up lies. It’s a lie that you can achieve perfect health. It’s a lie that diets work. It’s a lie that extreme exercise does more good than harm. I can only wonder if facing his own mortality will make an honest man of him.

Why do we on the other (fat) side pay special attention to the health of these fitness professionals? Every person who has ever been fat-shamed has a special file of all fat-shaming incidents labeled “Grossly Misguided Concerns for My Health.” My first one was at the ripe age of eight, when a grown woman followed me into a Costco bathroom to ask me how old I was, then barely waited for me to answer so she could tell me I was way too big for whatever the fuck age I was going to say, all in the soothing legato of a mother’s voice. I would love to know if that lady ever experienced a tingling sensation in her left arm.

It’s not hard for me to understand why people do what that woman did to me, especially in this kind-of-but-not-at-all delicate manner. Most people are not willing to sacrifice their good-guy label for their need to do bad-guy shit. Bad-guy shit includes letting a complete stranger know that above all, you just want them to disappear. Not get better, as their good-guy persona would suggest.

Related: No, Gold’s Gym, Fat-Shaming Doesn’t Work

This is basically the entire emotional motivation behind Harper’s show, The Biggest Loser. Before becoming the host of TBL, Harper was a celebrity trainer. Getting already-thin movie stars into peak performance is quite another thing than ripping everyday fat people out of their lives, starving them and subjecting them to 5- to 8-hour workouts while hurling motivational insults at them.

All of this “tough love” is carefully veiled by the idea of helping people achieve “health.” With health comes all these other treats like a fun, active lifestyle, a better sex life, blah blah blah. But really all of this is neatly compacted in this idea of health. However, the show is literally called The Biggest Loser. Its contempt for fat people can’t be hidden. I think some of us would rather people cut the bullshit and say, “I hate you” instead of “I just care about your health.” Perhaps the heart attack of a perfectly fit person will take health out of the equation.

Anti-fat people have two things to unpack from Harper’s heart attack. One is un-health at any size. The other is their own mortality. Taking time out of their days to tell us we’re going to die because of our bad choices seems like a desperate attempt to tell themselves their good choices will save them. Clearly, they might not.


Briana is a plus size fashion/body positive blogger at Mamafierce.com. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband, son, and tortie cat, Divvy.

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