“I don’t really care if nobody else believes, ‘cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.”
Just when you thought it was over, Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” made it’s way back into yet another commercial over the past few weeks. This time, to promote NBC’s new show “Strong,” which premiered Wednesday to 3.4 million viewers. For reference, that puts it just behind ABC’s “Nashville,” but well ahead of The CW’s “Supernatural.”
The show follows 10 “regular” women, mostly moms in their late 30s or early 40s, on their path to getting in shape on both a physical and mental scale. They are each assigned a male professional trainer and the two compete together in physical challenges against the other contestants. Think “The Biggest Loser” meets “American Ninja Warrior,” whose executive producers are also working on this show.
What’s different about “Strong” is that it tries hard to stray away from weight loss shows such as “The Biggest Loser” or “Shedding for the Wedding.” Sure, the contestants are working hard to change their bodies for the better, but they are also doing it to feel good about themselves and learn how much they are capable of.
“Skinny is no longer the goal,” one trailer proudly stated.
…Except it kind of still is.
At the end of each episode, the losing contestant gets to reveal how her body has changed from the start of the show to the present. She definitely looks stronger and more confident, but that is overshadowed by the fact that she is also wearing a tight dress to accentuate how much weight she has lost. A graphic pops up that demonstrates how many dress sizes she has gone down and how much her body fat percentage dropped.
“A lot of them do look healthier and definitely stronger, which is important, but I feel like that’s where it kind of went back to ‘The Biggest Loser,’” said Tami Bergan, Coordinator of Fitness Programs for University of Maryland’s University Recreation and Wellness. “They really focused on the weight loss and looking a certain way. Everyone’s going to look differently, and you can’t tell by the way someone looks how healthy they actually are.”
That’s something that UMD’s University Recreation and Wellness knows all about. At the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, they announced that they would be switching their official title from Campus Recreation Services to University Recreation and Wellness, hoping to “highlight a broader focus on wellness and really support students holistically in all eight dimensions of wellness,” according to Kate Maloney, Communications Coordinator for UMD RecWell, who played an instrumental role in the department’s transition.
“We just felt that it was more representative of the work that we do and wanted to be more welcoming and inclusive,” Maloney said. “Especially for people who may not have identified with us under the name ‘Recreation,’ we hope ‘University Recreation and Wellness’ will be more welcoming and inclusive for everyone… No matter where you’re at on your journey to fitness and wellness, there is something here for you and we can support you.”
Another way “Strong” tries to differ itself from weight loss shows is by making the trainers a bigger part of the journey. They aren’t just there to whip trainees into shape from the sidelines. They’re competing right alongside them. Each contestant learns to communicate and trust their partner.
“You’re not only getting all the great physical and emotional benefits of being active, but you’re also connecting with someone else and getting the social wellness benefits of being active,” Maloney said.
Still, the trainer and trainee relationships leave something to be desired. As Bergan pointed out, utilizing only male trainers wasn’t necessary. The trainer’s job in this show is to be somewhat of a role model for his trainee, and what better way is there to show someone they’re capable than to have a role model just like them?
“That was kind of a question for me,” Bergan said. “I’m not sure exactly what their motivation was behind that and why there were no female trainers used on the show.”
Though no trainers on the show are female, the show’s host is. It’s pretty unprecedented for a woman to host a reality television show not surrounding dating or fashion—save for Cat Deeley of “So You Think You Can Dance” and Julie Chen of “Big Brother” among just a handful of others.
All in all? “Strong” is neither the best nor most groundbreaking show on television right now, but it can teach us something. Working hard and feeling good should take priority over losing weight, and believing in yourself and those around you should take priority over hating yourself and being jealous of others.
“It’s encouraging women to lift weights and be strong and be active and hopefully we can get away from stressing the need to be skinny and thin,” Bergan said.
In a time when reality television shows are all too abundant and it’s more than easy to make fun of people on those shows, this is one of rarity that celebrates the strengths of ordinary people. Just like Platten sings in her song, “Strong” “only has one match, but it can make an explosion.”