Weight Makeover Shows Can Be Awful, But Is Suing Rachael Ray Really Called For?
Television’s professional smile is getting sued — by somebody she supposedly tried to help. A young woman named Christina Pagliarolo filed a lawsuit this week alleging that Rachael Ray and her team are guilty of having been “grossly negligent, careless, reckless, wanton, and outrageous” during Pagliarolo’s experience with the show during a weight loss makeover episode.
In April 2011, Pagliarolo participated as a guest on The Rachael Ray Show, hoping to lose a considerable amount of weight. At 260 pounds, she came to the show and talked about how bullying due to others’ intolerance toward her weight had affected her life negatively, and that she wanted to drop 70 pounds in order to gain more confidence in preparation for prom. 70 pounds is a huge amount of weight, as anybody who’s ever had difficulty losing even 15 or 20 knows, and should absolutely not be taken lightly or quickly. Unfortunately, the program Pagliarolo was put through was seemingly detrimental to her wellbeing.
According to Pagliarolo, the trainer she was assigned, Eric Viskovicz, would scream at her “in a manner that caused Plaintiff to feel anxious, demeaned and threatened.” She revealed one incident when Viskovicz allegedly pushed her into working out on a Stairmaster and continued to increase the speed even when the young woman “begged” him to stop. Then, when she fell off the machine, he “yelled and screamed” at her. In another portion of the suit, Pagliarolo recounts Viskovicz “coercing” her into taking a hike during which her “extraordinarily weak and painful” gave out and caused her to fall in a way that caused her “serious injury” and pain.
If true, these incidents are rather disturbing, to say the least. While many people might ask why she didn’t just leave, it’s not really that simple. First of all, she undoubtedly signed a contract, so there was likely a lot of legal ties that bound her to participation or perhaps would penalize her for leaving the episode’s activities early. Second, when you’re 18-years-old and a high school student, you’re taught for well over a decade prior to listen to people who are in authoritative positions, as she likely saw and was introduced to Viskovicz. Additionally, a teen who has been bullied about her weight for years probably has a lot of mental stress, and pushing her into an environment wherein she feels anxious and criticized further is probably going to lead to a “break” of sorts.
These rationales aren’t necessarily grounds for her to sue the show, and I can’t speak as an authority regarding legalities of whether or not Pagliarolo will be successful or not. That said, they do highlight something disturbing about television episodes where teens or adults are pushed to losing weight in angry, irate and frightening manners sometimes. Having somebody scream harsh critiques at you can lead to anxiety and further shame, thus perpetuating the negative feelings that often accompany the stigma of being overweight. When you don’t feel like you’re in a safe, respectful space, it’s difficult to lose weight. There are plenty of trainers who are stern, serious and even quite loud, but screaming and criticizing and not listening to their teenage client’s pain limits? That’s unacceptable.
Plus, weight loss episodes of shows are often just 30 or 60 minutes, and make progress look entirely too fast and easy. This gives people an unrealistic perspective on how people are able to lose weight healthily and safely, and can lead to expectations of dropping pounds fast — perhaps even encouraging unhealthy habits.
Whether or not Pagliarolo will get what she wants out of this suit, I can’t tell you. However, I am hopeful that this lawsuit will open up a discussion about the wellbeing of participants in these types of shows — particularly ones who are so young — and how ill-advised they can be, despite good intentions.
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