"My Big, Fat Revenge" is a real television program that takes several of the most unsavory reality TV narratives and mixes them together into a hideous agglomeration: fat-phobia meets fat-as-entertainment meets gleeful schadenfreude, all sloppily wrapped up in a redemption arc.
From the show's press release:
After being discounted, humiliated, and rejected because of their weight, these women are ready to take control of their lives, put their painful pasts behind them, and finally stand up to the people who inflicted the hurt. From the girl whose boyfriend proposed with a ring two sizes too small to the girl who was tormented about her size by her childhood dance instructor, these women will get the ultimate chance to get healthy, change their lives for the better, and teach their former offenders the lesson of a lifetime. With an eye for an eye approach, these ex-boyfriends, former classmates and even family members will get a taste of their own medicine as they’re set up on blind dates, auditions, and nightmare jobs to experience what they put their offenders through.
There's a lot to unpack here, and none of it is good. While "My Big, Fat Revenge" does recognize that fat-shaming is awful, it's really telling that weight loss is seen as the critical first step to exacting revenge on everyone who treated you poorly. The underlying message is clear: you can't emerge victorious unless you look like the "after" picture in a Jenny Craig ad.
The premiere episode features Jennifer, who met Hiren on a plus-size online dating website. At first Jennifer thought she was living her fairy-tale romance with a man who accepted her, but Hiren soon started suggesting she lose weight, dye her hair blonde and change other physical characteristics. After never introducing her to his friends or family, he finally told her they could never truly be together because she was fat. Now, with her confidence back, Jennifer wants to show him how it feels to have your date be ashamed to be with you; and with the help of a friend, Hiren will be set up on blind date he’ll never forget.
Losing weight and embarking on a "healthy" and "better" life path have nothing to do with the malicious prank aspect of the show — something which is shown in more detail in the program's trailer. "I want him to feel just how he made me feel," intones one woman, many pounds lighter, as some cruel man from her past is faux-arrested. "I'm on top of the world right now," she adds, beaming through her new makeover.
"My Big, Fat Revenge" puts the exact same pressure on its female "contestants" as those who shamed them in the past did. The show reinforces the social pressures that allow fat-shaming to be seen as acceptable. Only, because "My Big, Fat Revenge" employs trainers, a film crew, producers, etc., it can be even more dogmatic about enforcing those pressures. Both "these ex-boyfriends, former classmates and even family members" and the show itself are espousing the same viewpoint. In the first episode, for instance, Hiren was ashamed of Jennifer; Hiren said that Jennifer should lose weight. Pedagogically, the only way to teach Hiren a lesson (in the sense of "showing him something new that he was not aware of before") would be to somehow show him that Jessica's worth as a human isn't linked to her weight or physical appearance. What happens is the exact opposite of that.
The narrative of "My Big, Fat Revenge" is basically, "You wanted me to change, so, um, well, I did — but now that I'm thinner, I WILL SHAME YOU. HA-HA." Perhaps even more troublingly, each participant's new body is supposed to somehow excuse her negative actions. We're supposed to root for her as she sheds pounds and triumph with her when she gives the fat-shamers from her past a taste of their own medicine — medicine that she's finally thin enough to administer.
As Laura Bogart put it in her wonderful essay, "I Choose To Be Fat":
When you’re obese, you are your body. Every decision you make is viewed through the prism of your weight... [I]f you choose, as I have chosen, to stop the presses, to throw out all the “inspirational” sizes in your closet, that your weekly meals don’t have to be more meticulously planned than the raid that killed Bin Laden, you aren’t just flipping off cultural expectations; you’re upending other people’s hopes for you.
Being overweight and being happy with oneself aren't mutually exclusive; improving one's body is far from the same thing as improving oneself.