Ruby Gettinger, Style Network’s one-time ratings star, has been out of a job since her reality show ended in 2011. With her book selling for a few dollars on Amazon and her blog just a handful of odd, rambling posts, partly in all caps and riddled with jarring but seemingly deliberate misspellings, the one-time recipient of public assistance is now shilling for a weight loss shake product, sold by multi-level marketing. Ruby’s sponsors, who have created “Ruby’s 90-Day Challenge,” are possibly unaware of what appeared to be some other “90-Day Challenge” on Ruby’s YouTube channel. That one was about 180 days ago.
At this point, Ruby Gettinger seems like both a precursor of Honey Boo Boo and a portent of Alana Thompson’s possible future. Portrayed by reality television as a lovable Southern eccentric, Gettinger charmed her way into high ratings with a toxic ex-boyfriend, mysterious childhood secrets, and her “Rubyisms,” made up words and phrases usually intended as euphemisms for expletives. And of course, there’s also the public’s freakish fascination with the immensely obese. Much of Ruby’s press will refer to her as a “500 pound woman” but a bit of sleuthing reveals that back at the start of her show she was at 716 lbs. Ruby’s actual weight and a timeline of her weight loss is difficult to find. Perhaps because the facts would reveal why Ruby’s popularity peaked, only to find her slip off the media radar. Her reality show was supposed to have documented an inspiring transformation into a new life of health. Instead, it dissolved into an abyss of depressing recollections, annoyingly unhealthy relationships, and personality quirks that ultimately grew tiresome. In a typical TV show ploy to bolster flagging ratings, Ruby’s entire entourage went on an “Australian adventure” in the third season. Weight loss and regain became a sub-plot to the drama of Ruby’s life as little more than an exhibitionistic reality show subject.
Many of us with food-focused brains can find ourselves getting into the high two hundreds, the three hundreds, or whatever number triggers a battle between extreme shame and an overwhelming need to arrest the situation by highly aggressive measures. It is a rare person who would reach 700 lbs and there can be no debate that person would need specialized care from a team of both medical and psychology professionals, all working together. A reality show would probably not be the most effective prescription.
Ruby has made it very clear that she would not consider surgery as she claims she wants “to prove” she can succeed without it. So where is this hollow victory, nearly five years out from the debut of her show? What if the show hadn’t been about silly euphemisms, a kooky roommate, a crazy ex-boyfriend, and adventures Down Under? What if we’d actually seen a 700 lb woman work with a doctor to get off about 200 lbs to prepare her for surgery. After surgery, what if we saw a woman drop hundreds of pounds, rebuild her life, maybe even pursue an actual profession as her confidence and belief in her own strength grew, day by day? But that did not happen. I’ve wondered if it was actually the producers of the show who convinced Ruby that surgery was a bad idea—bad for ratings and Ruby’s future as what one Australian news report dubbed “biggest celeb in the world” and a “larger than life personality.”
The story of Ruby Gettinger saddens me. I believe she has been manipulated and exploited. As a person with no apparent means of earning a living otherwise, she has used her weight to make herself the kind of “celebrity” only reality television could produce.
The money and power behind cable network television could have afforded Ruby Gettinger the best medical care in the country. The latest “challenge” does not reveal her current weight. I would estimate she’s somewhere in the low 400s to high 300s. While that may sound like a significant accomplishment, my real point is that I don’t think this latest venture in Ruby’s career as a Professional Fat Person is going to be the last.