Style Network’s Ruby documents a 500-pound woman’s efforts to lose weight

Ruby Gettinger currently weighs around 500 pounds, but has weighed in the 700s. Her underwear costs $30, she can’t go to the bathroom on airplanes so she fears flying and takes Immodium-AD first, and she has bricks under her box spring so her bed won’t break. She desperately wants to sit on a man’s lap or take a bubble bath. Tonight, the first of nine episodes of Ruby, Style Network’s docudrama about her attempts to lose weight, debuts tonight at 8 p.m. ET; it’s an hour long, and the rest are half-hour episodes.

Ruby lives in Savannah, and her Southern sensibilities inform the whole show, as does her colloquial language (at one point, she refers to “the way I was trained up”). She’s charming and polite and somewhat demure, but she’s also confessional and honest about her struggles. The first episode introduces us to Ruby and the people in her life, from her home-schooled nephew who says Ruby is “just my everything” to a woman identified as “Ruby’s West Coast Best friend.”

Ultimately, the first hour is a lot of her talking about transforming and changing and losing weight, but not much actual doing of anything. And since she’s unsuccessfully dieted in the past, it’s not a stretch to ask what’s different this time–except the cameras.

Still, I found the first episode to be fascinating, but not really because of her weight or her efforts to lose it. Instead, there’s a lot of subtext that seems rich but isn’t really mined here, at least not in the first hour. For example, she has to ask for a different chair at the doctor’s office because she won’t fit in the ones with arms that are in the waiting area. “There’s 96 million of us, so let’s accommodate us while we’re getting healthy,” she says. While there are not 96 million people who weight 500 pounds, in the moment, she points out that no one else has to ask for a chair, and notes how embarrassing that is.

Of course, she’s being filmed for a reality series while she says that, and it’s awkward and intriguing that she repeatedly points out how other people look at her while she’s being filmed for a reality series. She’s clearly ready to put herself out there–perhaps for external motivation, but the series doesn’t yet address that. That, to me, is actually the most interesting part of the story, especially considering that Ruby pitched the show to Style, originally envisioning a documentary about her life. Alas, the series ignores her ambitions and life outside of her weight loss.

Perhaps the answer comes in the response she gave to TV critics this summer when asked what she thinks about NBC’s Biggest Loser. She said, “I didn’t like it so much because I felt like they were mean to the people, you know, making them work out. I know that in my own experience that me working out too hard has messed up my knees. … And so that’s the thing that I get upset about when I see them pushing these people that
are so overweight. And it’s great if you can do it, but it kind of — you know, and sometimes they’re really mean and I’m like we don’t have to be mean to people because they’re overweight or something. Can’t you do it in a different way? I’m not cutting the show at all, but that’s just my opinion.”

I’m not exactly sure how to unpack that fascinating statement–it’s honest, raw, and even somewhat delusional all at once–but there’s a really interesting psychology and argument there, one that’s also present in the series. Hopefully, Ruby will deconstruct Ruby as she deconstructs herself.

Ruby: B

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.