Counter Culture / January 7, 2022

Is Operation Transformation worth saving?

Image via Unsplash
Counter Culture / January 7, 2022

Is Operation Transformation worth saving?

Words: Eva O’Beirne

Operation Transformation has been on our screens since 2008. But is it time for it to go?

There’s been a lot of buzz in the Irish media this week around the return of the weight-loss/exercise themed program, and not in a positive way. Between Twitter debates, Primetime discussions and think-pieces, its clear that RTÉ is missing the mark when it comes to this TV show.

Operation Transformation may not appear that controversial but when you realise the disregard for eating disorders in Ireland, its very easy to call for it to be taken off the air.

In 2020, there was a 61 per cent increase in hospitals in admissions for children and teenagers with eating disorders. Adult admissions rose by 32 per cent. Also in 2020, Operation Transformation received over a quarter of a million euro in funding from the Irish Government. Eating disorder services received none.

Its not the first time a state department has used an outside organisation to promote a certain lifestyles, (as we’ve seen with the Department of Justice’s confusing partnership with Ruhama), but Operation Transformation sticks out like a sore thumb amongst a crippling health service, poor Social Personal Health Education (SPHE) and little to no funding for eating disorder services.

In fact, in 2020 the entire amount of the for eating disorder services was used to cover other areas of mental health services. Last year, the opening of three eating disorder treatment centres was pushed back.

Bodywhys, a national voluntary organisation supporting people affected by eating disorders, released a statement the day Operation Transformation returned to our screens, acknowledging the triggering nature of the program and requesting for clearer sign-posting for support services as well as more inclusive content.

Similarly, an Uplift campaign for RTÉ to decommission the show has also been launched with a petition that has reached nearly 7000 signatures. The organisers claim the show is “promoting unsustainable rapid weight loss, encouraging disordered eating behaviours and perpetuating weight stigma” and that “that dieting does not result in long-term weight loss for the vast majority of people.”

But so much of this criticism is contingent on the common belief that the program hasn’t changed. It has. I sat down with my dearest mammy last Wednesday, ready to make my prepared remarks on diet culture but found myself silent. Mentions of mental health, social media breaks and repairing family relationships – surely these are all signs of progress?

Admittedly, after watching the first episode, I’m still conflicted. In a country where we have so little, should we really be asking for a health-oriented TV show to be taken off the air? But then I look at myself, and so many other people my age who have normalised irregular eating habits, who feel ashamed about growing older and want to stay the same shape we were at 16.

Ireland can be a horribly restrictive place, and pressure on young people is ever growing. Being stuck in awkward financial positions, working as much as possible to afford rent and balancing academics isn’t easy. Combine this with body image issues obtained from social media and beauty standards and you get generations of ticking time bombs.

We’ve yet to assess the full impact of the pandemic on eating habits, but we’re certainly not at the same level of activity that we were two years ago. Ireland is a melting pot of mental health issues – so where do we go from here?

I don’t think Operation Transformation is intended for everyone. It feels targeted at a specific demographic of families who want to set a good example for children or older people who want to do better. But even then, it enforces the idea that to be bigger is wrong. Last Wednesday, when I heard a coach on the show explain how you can change your muscle mass in your twenties it automatically pushed me into a place of thinking I should reshape my body ASAP.

I do think Operation Transformation has the capacity to become a great show about overall health and well-being. But I think we’ve definitely outgrown the need to be constantly weighing ourselves.

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