Want to be on top? Drop 80 pounds in 12 weeks

Reality television hasn’t entered the realm of popular culture without making its fair share of waves. Shows like The Moment of Truth, Who Wants to Marry My Dad and The Swan have all tested our moral fibers and led us into many a heated squabble the likes of which the cast of The Hills would envy.

MTV is about to add another name to the list of controversial unscripted television shows — one that will surely be mentioned in the ongoing water cooler debate that asks, “Does reality TV go too far?” Currently the cable station is casting women for its new series Model Makers, a show that will take 15 wannabe models that are on the plus side of the scale and drastically slim them down so they may be welcomed into the world of high fashion.

We have all seen weight-loss makeover shows before and, of course, we all know that Tyra Banks rules the roost in making ordinary gals into model hopefuls on America’s Next Top Model. Armed with that knowledge, consider, then, Model Makers a hybrid of these two breeds of show. It is this pairing of weight loss and beauty that is fueling the controversy surrounding the new reality television series.

The chosen women on Model Makers will have only 12 weeks to lose a minimum of 30-80 pounds — or the mass equivalent of a miniature poodle or small child. (No pressure there. That’ll be a piece of low-fat cake.) The prize — if the girls are consistent in losing weight each week — will be $100,000, along with the window of exposure on MTV (and maybe, if they are really lucky, an opportunity to compete in The Inferno with all the other MTV reality show alums). The demand for these young women to lose such an extreme amount of weight in such a short amount of time has caused quite a fury among critics concerning the show’s unsafe concept.

Here is an excerpt from the casting call:

Have you always wanted to model but don’t know where to start? Maybe you don’t know the right people. Maybe you are not thin enough. Maybe you are not photogenic. Model Makers will give you the ultimate makeover and transform you into the model of your dreams.
Women come in all shapes and sizes, but models don’t. The term model conjures an image of stick-thin, towering beauties oozing confidence, glamour, poise and sexuality from every pore. “Skinny,” “no body fat,” and “size zero” are the words and phrases associated with models. “Chubby,” “well-fed,” and “big- boned” are not — until now!

Oh darn, that ad almost sounded like it was trying to make being “well-fed” the new accepted body type in the fashion world. Alas, they are saying that if you are pretty, and got some “back,” all hope is not lost. They can whip you into shape that so you, too, can be associated with models via phrases such as “uber-skinny,” “waif-like” and “teeny-tiny.”

According to obesity expert Keith Ayoobc, “anything more than 25 pounds in 12 weeks is really overstepping the boundaries,” but this fact hasn’t stopped other shows from having contestants shed serious poundage. Shows like The Biggest Loser, whose contestants lose large amounts of weight, have also faced the same controversy. The difference between MTV’s Model Makers and shows like The Biggest Loser is the motivation that lies with each contestant and the overall message of the show. The Biggest Loser’s contestants lose weight for the benefits of their own self-esteem, to be eligible for life insurance or to stay healthy for their families. The message is that if you work out and eat right, you will live a healthier life. The model hopefuls, on the other hand, are losing weight for the chance at fame and a career in fashion.

So should their motivations for wanting to do it affect our view of a show? Technically, I know that it shouldn’t. If being a model is something they have always wanted but couldn’t attain because of society’s standards of beauty, then why shouldn’t they have access to the tool that can help them attain their dreams? In the end, my gripe with the show comes down to the message it sends. When you scrape down to the basic concept of the series, it will be showcasing overweight girls with pretty faces who after having been primped, buffed and scrubbed, and having managed to lose a drastic amount of weight, will deliver a result that says, “skinny is more beautiful” — a message that I can turn to the cover of any magazine to find; I don’t need a reality show to tell me that. We get it: skinny, good; fat, bad. Message received, loud and clear.

The series has yet to be given the green light for production; currently MTV is casting the program and seeing how that works out.

So what do you think? Is MTV just giving these women a shot at their dreams? Or is reality TV taking a dangerous turn?