Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski finds losing 100 lbs is easier with positive attitude, supportive friends, and two tiny Yorkies.
"I can if I think I can."
Ruby Gettinger is a 487-pound Savannah woman trying to lose weight with the help of friends, doctors, trainers, nutritionists, and a shrink. While Ruby recycles many of the conventions reality TV's weight loss genre (tearful confessionals, dealing with temptation, the fashion and makeover episode, and more), it has something no other show of its kind has: Ruby.
Facts of the Case
On the single disc Ruby: A Journey to Lose the First 100 Lbs. viewers get six of the "favorite episodes from Season 1" (I provide episode numbers here so that you can see what's been skipped):
• Episode 1: "Meet Ruby" (40 minutes)
• Episode 2: "Romance for Ruby" (20 minutes)
• Episode 5: "Ruby Hits the Road" (20 minutes)
• Episode 6: "Ruby's Revelation" (20 minutes)
• Episode 8: "Real Women Have Curves" (20 minutes)
• Episode 9: "100 Pounds of Hope" (20 minutes)
Ruby is a partial exception to the rule that very fat people rarely show up on TV—especially as sympathetic human beings—unless they're being shown trying to lose weight. Ruby is, of course, trying to slim down, but because the show focuses solely on her, it is also more than that. Typical weight loss shows such as Celebrity Fit Club and The Biggest Loser pluck participants out of their everyday lives and put them in controlled settings: group houses or "boot camps." Ruby, on the other hand, must stick to her workout and meal plan without these artificial living conditions (though one assumes the Style Channel is paying for some of her prepackaged healthy meals and personal trainer sessions). More importantly, though, we get to see Ruby not just as a weight loss success (or failure) story, but as a whole person.
Probably the single biggest reason that Ruby has a show of her own, instead of being the fat person of the week on some serial diet program, is her personal magnetism. Ruby is no shut-in, but rather a vivacious and generous woman surrounded by a tightly-knit group of friends. Even Anthony Miller, the fashion instructor at SCAD who was originally skeptical about designing for a 400-pound woman (saying "Fat is not fashion, to me!") is won over; he's forced to admit that she's "actually really pretty." Ruby charms, whether she's taking in her nephew and helping him get his GED, or avoiding swears by substituting other words: "That workout really kicked my as-tronaut," or "I told him to go to helicopter."
What makes Ruby so watchable isn't her being "actually really pretty," though—it's that Ruby stands up for herself so firmly and endearingly. Being, in her own words, "a big girl in a little world," Ruby faces a great deal of inconvenience and unkindness. Yet she doesn't accept that she should wait until she's lost 300 pounds to be treated decently.
For example, the most surprising and satisfying moment in the first episode comes when Ruby gently confronts a doctor's office receptionist about their not having any chairs she can use. Explaining her request, she says, "Let's put chairs in the doctor's offices we can fit in. I'm not saying make us able to be overweight. I'm saying, there's 96 million of us, so let's accommodate us while we're getting healthy." At this moment, we realize Ruby is not the stereotypical self-ashamed fat person we see on most weight loss reality TV. Similarly, though Denny defends Ruby when strangers at a restaurant laugh at her, Ruby proves capable of defending herself, saying to Denny, "Why would I fall for a guy that just admitted to me that he cannot love me unless I'm skinny?" Ruby also ties her struggles to those of other fat women. After hosting her first "Fat Night" support group, she explains that "Every single woman at my meeting tonight is totally beautiful, and they have every right to feel beautiful. But the designers have just totally forgotten about the big girls, almost like we don't exist." Later in the episode, she takes this opinion to her fashion consultation at SCAD, where she teaches aspiring designers about how to dress bigger women. As a show about Ruby, a rather extraordinary woman, Ruby succeeds.
As a traditional diet and weight loss show, however, Ruby comes up short. Ruby's value lies in its difference from other weight-loss shows—its compelling star—not in being a one-size-fits-all diet and exercise show. Yet whoever decided to leave out several episodes from the first season while including minutes upon minutes of workout and diet extras clearly thinks differently about this show than I do. The special features on this disc are divided into three sections: "Fitness," "Health & Diet," and "Fashion."
Out of six short segments in the Fitness section, the first three—"Ruby's No More Excuses Workout" (5 minutes), "Ruby's Beginner Workout" (5 minutes), and "Advanced Exercises" (2 minutes)—feature Ruby and/or her personal trainer, Reese. The exercises seem simple enough, and viewers can enjoy that Ruby and Reese seem to think it's twin day, wearing matching red and black outfits. The other half of the fitness extras are three mini workout videos—"Cardio Quickie" (3 minutes), "Dance With Me" (3 minutes), and "Oh My Legs" (3 minutes)—from Billy Blanks Jr. Besides their lack of connection to the rest of the disc, these segments are some of the lowest-budget, weirdest-looking workout videos I've ever seen:
Both the Health & Diet and Fashion special features are made up of a handful of short (1-2 minute) previously unaired interviews Ruby recorded on her "Diary Cam." Packaged as "Ruby's Reflections," these monologues add little insight—having been more articulately stated in the aired episodes. The fashion segment also includes a feature called "Ruby's Fashion Tips," which is just an on-screen list of (very obvious) tips for big women on how to dress. If the Fitness segments of the special features are intended to help viewers slim down, the Health & Diet and Fashion segments seem intended to help the disc bulk up.
Picture and sound quality aren't as bad as the extras, and perhaps slightly above average for a cable weight loss show. Or maybe I'm just saying that because Savannah is a very photogenic town.
Unlike most other TV shows of this genre, Ruby sparkles because of its star's charisma; Ruby's cheerful optimism, her humanity, and her refusal to let others treat her badly all help her rise above the ranks of most reality TV dieters. If you're looking for a DVD to help you get toned, you'd do better to pick up Dirty Dancing: Official Dance Workout (at least according to our DVD Verdict review!). But if you want to watch a show featuring a sympathetic and relatable fat person—and they're pretty rare—look no further.
I could never pronounce Ruby, the person, guilty. Ruby the DVD, however, is guilty on two counts: guilty of trying to turn Ruby's story into just another workout DVD, and guilty of getting its Pollyanna-ish theme song stuck in my head.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Unaired Footage
Review content copyright © 2009 Jennifer Malkowski; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.