Reality TV - what message is it really sending?

It never fails to grab my attention that our lives, as a society, are completely dominated by the television. I have met very few families who do not spend a decent amount of time glued to the TV, whether it is in the form of movies or cable or satellite packages.

Americans shape their lives around TV. It is often the background of many meals, the relaxing end of a workday evening or the start of a lazy weekend morning.

The phenomenon of reality TV is the most amazing thing on TV today. Many I know have begun to act as amateur interior designers after watching shows like "Trading Spaces." Others have taken to making over themselves and their closets over the multitude of beauty, fashion, fitness and organizational shows on any number of channels.

But what message do these shows really send? My analysis of this phenomenon came one afternoon as I tried to overcome some short-term boredom, as many of us do, by channel surfing. As is often the case in the middle of the afternoon, there was really nothing on, so I started to watch a show called "Celebrity Fit Club."

This show, I gathered from the 15 minutes I watched, takes TV stars that have faded from the limelight and gained a bit of weight. They put these celebrities in two teams and give them individual weight loss goals. Over the course of the show, these actors are put on health regimens including diet and exercise. They compete against one another in fitness challenges and their ability to come the closest to reaching their weight loss goals.

The effects of these shows, as well as the racks full of fitness magazines at the grocery store, are obvious. Our country, considered the most overweight in the world, has become obsessed with how to quickly lose those unwanted pounds.

Society has always looked down on those people who don't have model bodies, and these shows showcase the stereotype that plagues America today. To be beautiful, we have to have that bikini-type body that graces the cover of magazines. While many of us can accept that we will never look like that, the idea has still been ingrained that somehow we are still inadequate.

Now don't get me wrong. These shows do have their merits. There is no lack of scientific information about the ill effects of obesity or even being underweight. Healthy eating is something that doctors have been telling us about for years. So, promoting a healthy lifestyle is good for the American public.

There are far too many fried foods and fast foods lining the highways of America. Many shows like "Celebrity Fit Club" and even "Biggest Lose" teach America that there is a reason why vegetables are good for you, fried foods and sugar are better in moderation and there are many benefits to being active.

However, I find that some shows cross the line. They blur the line between promoting a healthy lifestyle as a way to challenge competition and telling people how they should look to be accepted and beautiful.

I remember a show a few years ago called "The Swan." They hunted the country for America's "ugly ducklings." Women who's self-esteem was almost non-existent, who didn't have the bodies that grace magazine covers and had what are seen as physical flaws by many.

The producers of the show then confirmed these women's image that they were ugly by telling them they needed serious plastic surgery, as well as drastic exercise and diet regimes. At the end, each week two girls were pitted against each other, and the one seen as "the better of the two," was forwarded on to a beauty competition for all of the other "Swans."

The only saving grace of this show was the fact that the women were given therapy to deal with their self-esteem and depression issues.

Americans need to understand that there is no one way to be. Instead of telling our children that they need to constantly strive for perfection, we should be telling them that we are all made equal and worthwhile in our own ways. Our differences are what make us strong and unique. Nothing should allow anyone to tell us that our individuality is wrong. Being told by your doctor that your weight, whether it is too high or too low, is unhealthy, is one thing. Being told by complete strangers that your life is somehow unworthy because of how you look is totally unacceptable.

I know that producers are hired to entertain people and I agree that these shows are entertaining in their own way.

But the thing we always need to remember is to value ourselves as we are and not as what society is telling us we should be. Value your differences. They're what makes America the truly wonderful country it is.