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Working hard on the outside: a multimodal critical discourse analysis of The Biggest Loser Australia

Monson, O., Donaghue, N. & Gill, R. (2016). Working hard on the outside: a multimodal critical discourse analysis of The Biggest Loser Australia. Social Semiotics, 26(5), pp. 524-540. doi: 10.1080/10350330.2015.1134821


The Biggest Loser (TBL) is a reality television weight-loss programme that positions itself as a response to the so-called “obesity crisis”. Research on TBL has thus far focussed on audience responses and its effect on viewers’ beliefs about weight loss. This article focuses instead on how meaning is constructed in TBL. We conducted a multimodal critical discourse analysis of a key episode of TBL (the 2012 Australian season finale) to examine how the textual, visual and auditory elements combine to construct meanings beyond the ostensible health messages. Although the overt message is that all contestants have worked hard, turned their lives around and been “successful”, examination of editing choices, lighting and colour, clothing and time spent on contestants allows us to see that the programme constructs varying degrees of success between contestants and provides accounts for these differences in outcomes. In this way the programme is able to present itself as a putative celebration of all contestants while prescribing narrow limits around what constitutes success. TBL reinforces an ideology in which “success” is a direct result of “the work” of weight loss (both physical and emotional), which can apparently be read straightforwardly off the body. TBL’s “celebration” of weight loss thus reproduces and strengthens the widespread view of fat bodies as physical manifestations of individual (ir)responsibility and psychological dysfunction, and contributes to the ongoing stigmatisation of obesity.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Social Semiotics on 17/01/2016, available online:
Publisher Keywords: The Biggest Loser, obesity, fat studies, reality television, multimodal critical discourse analysis
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Media, Culture & Creative Industries > Culture & the Creative Industries
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