Losing It on TV
Ruby Gettinger, a 30-something Sunday school teacher in Savannah, Georgia, who has battled obesity since childhood, received a death sentence from her doctor when she reached 700 pounds. But now she is determined to lose weight and live — and to do it on a reality TV show.
Years ago, Gettinger saw an episode of Oprah that showcased the dilemmas of overweight women who had stopped going out in public because people stared and ridiculed them. She realized she was part of America's obesity epidemic, but after eight and a half years of trying to lose weight — when over-the-counter diets, discrimination, Oprah, and romance failed as motivations — her doctor's dire prediction got through to her.
Ruby, a reality show airing Sunday nights on the Style Network, is about one woman's life-and-death battle against obesity. The show premiered Sunday, November 9, and will run for nine weeks.
I interviewed Gettinger by phone shortly before the show premiered.
Why did you permit the cameras into your life in such an intimate way?
Because I wanted to be the guinea pig and find out the truth about this disease, this obesity — the physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological aspects, all of it. I wanted to make a documentary at first that explored the missing link between the diet industry and the obesity epidemic. But I met some television people in Los Angeles who had the passion to tell my truth with my faith. At first, it was difficult being vulnerable and exposing my private feelings and emotions in front of these strangers, but it didn't take long to know I was blessed to have a crew who believed in me and saw myvision.
Many people think reality TV is phony and constructed. What's most real about this show?
I thought this, too. But these people came into my life to follow everything I was doing. I had to believe they were sincere and not judgmental. They were so quiet sometimes I didn't even know they were there. As long as they were telling my truth, it was okay.
When you started researching obesity, what did you find out?
There are so many prejudices against obesity. When I went to restaurants I had to find armless chairs. Even in the ER at the hospital, I had to find a seat to sit on. The world wasn't made for big people, but we need to realize there are 96 million people in the U.S. suffering from obesity. This is an epidemic. The market is selling every diet product possible, but we are not winning this battle. What is going on? What's the missing link?
Although it took eight years, that Oprah episode was a turning point for me. I wanted to find out the truth about myself and this condition. Then my boyfriend left me, so I had another reason to find out the truth about why I couldn't lose weight. And then the doctors told me I was going to die.
In the show your doctor says you're a metabolic time bomb, threatened with diabetes, kidney failure, sleep apnea, and premature death because you may stop breathing while asleep.
When he said this, the first thing I told myself was, "Maybe I am meant to die." I have been happy. I haven't really suffered, because I have been loved. I thought, I cannot beat this. It took me two or three weeks to tell myself, "I am not going to give up. God has a bigger purpose for you than death. You can do this; you can conquer this." I still believe this, that I will conquer this condition once and for all, for me and for everyone else.