April 18, 2013 at 4:55 PM ET
Morbid obesity leads to a multitude of health issues. Enduring verbal abuse about it is even worse. Add TV cameras, and the emotional fallout might even lead someone to seek legal retribution.
That seems to be what happened after Christina Pagliarolo, a 260-pound teen, agreed to participate in a weight-loss program two years ago on The Rachael Ray Show. In a rumored lawsuit, Pagliarolo is suing for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, based on the harsh tactics used by the show's physical trainer. As you can see from this clip (click here), the trainer didn't exactly ease Pagliarolo (who'd never exercised before) into a routine. Viewers watched her go through an early morning "boot camp," even as the trainer's voiceover stated that someone her size should not be pushed too far.
What the episode doesn't depict, according to Pagliarolo, are the trainers yelling and screaming at her, even when she fell off a treadmill that was too fast. She missed her goal to lose 70 pounds by prom. Click here!
In the episode, Pagliarolo comes across as a weak-willed quitter, while Ray and the trainer express their disappointment in her. So it's understandable that Pagliarolo feels the urge to sue the show. But litigation isn't the way to go here.
Pagliarolo agreed to participate in the show, and she must have known that losing 70 pounds would require a rigorous exercise routine. A quick glance at NBC's The Biggest Loser or VH1's Celebrity Boot Camp would have prepared her for what was coming. It's unfortunate that when the going got rough, Ray and the trainer seemed more condescending than "concerned," but Pagliarolo shouldn't have expected otherwise. TV shows rise and fall on the drama they create, and public shaming is one of the most popular forms of it on TV these days. (Execs at The Rachael Ray Show, by the way, deny receiving a lawsuit as of yet.)
Alicia Menendez of HuffPost Live points out that this doesn't let The Rachael Ray Show off the hook, either. "There's a perfectly healthy conversation to be had about these shows, where they try to transform peoples' lifestyles," she says. "And a lot of people have written very thoughtfully about the fact that this [lifestyle overhaul] is not a reality for a lot of people." The producers may have expected too much from Pagliarolo. When she didn't achieve the unrealistic goal, they spun her failure into TV drama.
Sadly, the other commentator in the HuffPost clip displayed the insensitivity that so many obese people deal with daily. Responding to Pagliarolo's complaint that she was yelled at, he cracked: "'Put the sandwich down!' I mean, that's what you have to say when someone's climbing a mountain." It's a reminder of why Paglairolo probably wanted to lose weight in the first place—so people would stop treating her like an unlovable glutton.
Which is worse—this guy's outright disdain or Ray's well-meaning condescension? Pagliarolo shouldn't be suing the show, but she certainly has a right to feel let down. Ray's disappointment in her did nothing to help her achieve her goal. And now she must continue to live in a world where people reflexively tell her to "put down the sandwich," even when she's not holding one.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.