Friday, 4 September 2009

What Gillian Did Next

Gillian McKeith is back. Her new show, Eat Yourself Sexy, starts a 13 episode run this weekend on the W Network - in Canada.

In the show, she challenges her charges to reveal the sexier woman within - in just eight weeks. The trailer shows the husband of one of the women who gets the McKeith treatment; he says "She was Little Miss Sexy. Honestly, how sexy is she now? A three." She responds with "If he was having an affair, I couldn't really blame him". He is neither thin nor particularly sexy himself. The plucky Scot has crossed the Atlantic to help.

The show has been widely reviewed and hyped in the Canadian media. McKeith is described on one website as 'the renowned Scottish born nutritionist'.

The site with the trailer has the following text: According to Dr Gillian McKeith, "Good food equals good sex' hence the title of the series". The good doctor is on a mission - to whip drab, frumpy, libido-less people into sexy shape through diet, exercise and more than a little of her own pointed commentary. Eat Yourself Sexy uses clever devices such as a head-turn meter that counts every time a head turns when a central character walks down the street (before and after going through Dr McKeith's sexifying regimen), but it's the doctor's snappy no-holds-barred repartee with her subjects that will keep viewers tuned in.

Has no one told the Canadians that she is not now nor has she ever been a doctor, as Real Doctor Ben Goldacre explains. Even if she did not write the text, she has not corrected the error.

Judging by the trailer and various press interviews, the show is a mixture of common sense about healthy diet and exercise, mixed with her trademark haranguing and some random science words. She says that healthy food will help with sexiness because 'The B vitamins in green leafy veg should help hormones needed for good sex'.

I'm not a scientist (and nor is she) so I consulted someone who is - Alastair Duncan, the Principle Dietician at Guys and St Thomas' Hospital in London. He described this statement as 'tenuous' and said: "Zinc and the B vitamins are important for the metabolism but unless someone was B vitamin deficient, they wouldn't need extra. Deficiency to the level that would negatively impact on the hormones needed for sexual function is very rare. Eating green vegetables would not boost sexual function".

And that's just in the trailer. Not-Doctor Gillian also advises eating a lot of seeds of various kinds - and it just so happens that she sells a seed mix. There is no book to accompany the series yet but it can only be a matter of time.

It doesn't take a scientist to see that she is playing on women's fears about their bodies and their desirability. The trailer shows her grabbing a handful of a woman's belly and wobbling the fat vigorously while the woman looks miserable and humiliated. Self-loathing makes great TV.

This is the casting call that was put out to find participants:

Would you like to lose weight, eat better and feel sexier and have your own nutritionist and personal trainer for Free!!

W network is making a new TV series with renowned nutritionist Gillian Mckeith from TV shows "You are what you eat" and "Super size Vs super skinny." She is here to help You!

Do any of these Statement describe you?
-Are you more than 30lbs or more overweight?
-Do you have bad eating habits and an unhealthy diet?
-Are you in a relationship?
-Do you feel unattractive and undesirable to your partner?
-Have you tried every diet under the sun only to end up back at square one?
-Would you feel comfortable discussing these issues on TV?

If you answered yes to each question and you want to get healthy, lose weight and feel sexier,get in touch with me and tell me your story.

Single women need not apply, by the look of it. In fact, the ad doesn't mention women but it is clearly targeted at them. How often do men talk about the need to feel sexier?

Even though Not-Doctor McKeith claims the show is about making women feel better about themselves rather than making them skinny, it is clear that fat = unsexy. Not only should women feel bad about being overweight, they should worry that they are inadequate as women too, that their partners will find them undesirable and maybe even leave them.

She does a 'sexual health profile' on each woman, telling them how sexy they should be for their age and how sexy they currently are - which is of course not nearly sexy enough. To do this, there is a sexy-o-meter but it's not clear on what scientific principles it is constructed. There is also the 'head-turn' test to see how many men turn to look at the woman before and after she has been McKeithed. All randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, replicable methodology with a sufficiently large sample, then. She is a doctor, after all. Oh wait, no she isn't.

And yet. No one forced these women to be on TV. These are willing victims, accomplices of the Not-Doctor. Whether it is the lure of micro-celebrity or desperation that causes them to expose themselves to the nation, I don't know. It's the women watching who are most vulnerable to the fat= unsexy message, the ones who do not have Domme McKeith to transform their lives from lumpy frump to sex kitten. No matter how many products she markets and how many books she writes, these women will have their negative self-image and insecurities re-inforced. The men, meanwhile, can continue to be as lardy as they like

Maybe the show will encourage some to change but not for the right reasons, not just to be more healthy. They will change to be more desirable to others (men), because they have been emotionally blackmailed to care more about what others (men) think of them than about being healthy and content in themselves. Their complex psychological relationship with food will not be reshaped in a more healthy way, making relapse more likely.

If they are not feeling 'sexy' because of physical or psychological factors, or because the marriage is in serious trouble, then changing their diet and waistline is not going to fix anything.

It would be entertaining if, at the end of the show, the sexied-up woman was told that she could now do so much better than her judgmental slob of a husband and was given the number of a good divorce lawyer.

Good luck, Canada.

UPDATE 10.3.10

The show has arrived in the UK. Not the high-profile slot on Channel 4 she once had but 10pm on the Discovery Channel on Mondays. Lucky us.

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