The Untold Truth Of TLC's Hot And Heavy

TLC's Hot & Heavy is further proof of the network's commitment to push the envelope when it comes to reality programming focusing on relationships outside the mainstream. After introducing cultural clashes in 90 Day Fiancé, obese people trying to lose weight with the support of family in My 600-lb Life, and plural marriages in Sister Wives, TLC pushed those boundaries even further in December 2019, by announcing this new reality show exploring the world of "mixed-weight" couples.

Hot & Heavy focuses on three couples, all of which feature a male of average weight and a female who is morbidly obese. "Men who love plus-size women don't have a fetish, they have a preference, just like some men prefer blondes, others want more to love," explained TLC in a press release. "But, it doesn't come so easily. This new docu-series follows three men who defend the honor of their significant others and face judgment due to their mixed-weight relationships."

There's so much to discover about this show, which became engulfed in controversy before a single episode even aired. Read on to learn the untold truth of TLC's Hot & Heavy, a series that may go down as either one of the best or the worst shows on TLC.

Before TLC's Hot and Heavy, there was Extreme Love

Prior to TLC's Hot & Heavy, a documentary series called Extreme Love focused on "reimagined" relationships, including one mixed-weight couple Jean and Anthony.

"There is definitely a stigma of smaller men dating bigger girls, or vice versa, and I think it's because bigger people are looked at as undesirable," Anthony told Barcroft TV of the challenges the couple faced. "I get asked a lot why I'm attracted to larger women and I usually answer that question with another question: 'Why are you attracted to the people that you're attracted to?'" In Anthony's view, an attraction to a particular person, or even to a particular body type, isn't necessarily a fetish. Rather, it's a "preference."

His 415-lb. significant other Jean (Anthony weighed 185) agreed. "I have never been with men who love my size as much as Anthony but he doesn't make it into a fetish thing," she shared. "It upsets me that Anthony gets judged because of being with someone my size. It really is sad that people don't see us as people."

TLC's Hot and Heavy was hit with backlash before it even aired

Given the controversial subject matter and provocative title of TLC's Hot & Heavy, it shouldn't be surprising that the series was hit with backlash. What was surprising, however, was how quickly it erupted — and that it struck weeks before a single episode of the series had even aired. A big part of that had to do with a brief teaser the network, which is behind the likes of Breaking Amish and Little People, Big World, shared on social media, introducing the three couples featured on the show.

TLC's announcement of Hot & Heavy in December 2019 came nearly a month before the show's scheduled premiere date in January 2020. Yet after people watched the promo, media outlets ranging from CNN to The Blast to The Tamron Hall Show reported on all the intense controversy the show stirred up. "TLC has a new reality show about plus-sized women and their thinner love interests," reported CNN, "and it's turning into a bigger deal than the network may have imagined."

Reaction to TLC's Hot and Heavy was brutal

After the promo for TLC's Hot & Heavy was unveiled, Twitter lashed out, sending a tsunami of negative backlash toward the network. "HOT AND HEAVY????? MIXED-WEIGHT?????" wrote a Twitter user. "TLC needs to be cancelled immediately. This is ridiculous."

In fact, there were no shortage of angry tweets issued as the Twitterverse spewed its collective dismay about the show and its premise. "Let me tell you what we're not going to do. This. At all," wrote another Twitter user. Another user noted, "I get that obese people need love too but celebrating morbid obesity is just wrong, it's not something to aspire to. Definitely avoiding this show."

On an episode of her daytime talk show, host Tamron Hall discussed the Hot & Heavy controversy, admitting she felt the show was treading on dangerous ground. "In fairness, we know reality TV is not reality ... so you have the drama associated with it," Hall explained. "I think it's one thing to have a little drama on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, it's another when you're talking about body issues and self esteem."

People pointed out the sexist double standard apparent in TLC's Hot and Heavy

As anyone who's watched television sitcoms over the last half-century or so can verify, couples in which the male is heavyset and the female is slim are pretty much par for the course, and there have been numerous examples. Yet the term "mixed-weight" has never been used to describe The Honeymooners' Ralph and Alice Kramden, for example, nor the characters played by Kevin James and Leah Remini on The King of Queens. In fact, "heavy" guys with "hot" wives are pretty much a primetime norm.

However, TLC's Hot & Heavy announcement and the show's brief teaser made it perfectly clear that the series featured three mixed-weight couples in which an average-sized male was involved with a plus-sized female — and not the other way around. This understandably led the show to be criticized for an allegedly sexist double standard. In fact, numerous Twitter users called out TLC for precisely this reason. "So will there be a couple the other way around him big her not just curious?" wrote one Twitter user, while another added, "So ... a show exclusively about 'men who love plus-size women' but not women who love plus-size men. Why not both ways, @TLC?"

People thought the title of TLC's Hot and Heavy was terrible

The title of TLC's Hot & Heavy fueled controversy since it emphasized the sexist double standard that appeared to be at the heart of the show. As one Twitter user put it, "This is not OK and that title is horrible."

The show's title also received heat from radio host Veda Loca when she and her co-hosts on her radio show for The Beat 33, Veda Loca in the Morning, weighed in on the controversy. "I can kind of get that," the host admitted, referencing widespread criticism of the show. "Because you're calling me heavy but you're calling my man hot." 

As she pointed out, "hot" and "heavy" are not mutually exclusive terms, and a person does not have to be one or the other. "You can be heavy and be hot," she declared, and further made her point by name-checking an A-list pop star: "Shout out Lizzo!"

Not everyone thought the title of TLC's Hot and Heavy was so bad

While the title of TLC's Hot & Heavy was immediately criticized for its implication that the men are "hot" and the "heavy" women aren't, not everyone had a problem with the show's moniker.

During a discussion of Hot & Heavy during The Beat 33's Veda Loca in the Morning, co-host DJ Cruz took more of a devil's advocate position with regard to the show's title. "If you don't like the title of the show, don't watch it," he said, adding, "But if the actual people on the show, who are heavy, don't have a problem with the title, what am I gonna sit here and argue about?"

His co-host Jazzi Black, however, wondered why it was necessary for Hot & Heavy to even exist in the first place. "I don't feel like we should be shining a light on [mixed-weight couples]," she said. "People are loving whoever they want to love. ... Everybody's loving who they want to love. It doesn't matter if you're big, it doesn't matter if you're black, it doesn't matter if you're white. Why do we need a reality show about it?"

TLC's Hot and Heavy couples face society's judgement

In the controversial promo for TLC's Hot & Heavy, one of the couples, Ricardo and Adrianna, are depicted illustrating the judgement and derision that mixed-weight couples may encounter because of their relationships. 

In the brief scene, Adrianna and Ricardo are walking down a street, enjoying some ice cream. Their sweet moment is interrupted when a motorist drives by and yells, "Lay off the ice cream, ya cow! Mooo!" Adrianna is so shocked she bursts into tears. Previously in the promo, she explained the self-worth issues brought on by her weight that she's experienced. "I always had this idea that I didn't deserve love because of what I looked like," she explained.

Chris, who wants to marry girlfriend Joy, also expressed his frustration at the judgement they receive from others. "I knew it was going to be us versus the world, and it's very difficult," he admitted in the video.

The participants in TLC's Hot and Heavy want to end the stigma of "mixed-weight" relationships

One main goal of the three couples featured in TLC's Hot & Heavy is to eliminate the social stigma that surrounds mixed-weight relationships. "We're just two people that are different sizes, and I don't feel like there should be a stigma behind it," said Ricardo of his romance with Adrianna in the Hot & Heavy trailer.

"I absolutely love Kristin's size. I wouldn't mind if she was a little bit bigger," Rusty said about girlfriend Kristin, who is seen stepping on a scale that registers her weight as 329.4 lbs.

In an appearance on The Tamron Hall Show, the editor of Slink Magazine — which is geared to plus-sized women — discussed the kind of stigma that the Hot & Heavy couples face on a daily basis and explained why that stigma needs to be erased. Slink editor Renee Cafaro shared, "We need to be happy that two consensual adults find love and happiness in this usually bleak world."

Not all of the response to TLC's Hot and Heavy was negative

While TLC's Hot & Heavy was hit with criticism, there were people who liked what they saw. "I want to watch this," wrote one Twitter user. "I'm glad these men feel that way about the love of their lives. It don't matter what people think or say if they are in love and happy that's all that matters."

Another Twitter comment likewise saw the show in a positive light: "They weren't celebrating the fact that they were obese, they are celebrating the fact that love has no boundaries and that these men love these girls no matter what, and that's the beauty of it."

During her appearance on The Tamron Hall ShowSlink Magazine editor Renee Cafaro admitted she didn't want to render judgement based on the trailer without actually seeing the show, but explained that Hot & Heavy was clearly "triggering for some folks" because "we're worried that we're going to be seen again as a freak show, that we don't deserve love, and that, I hope, is not going to end up being what the message is."

The "hot" men love the physiques of their "heavy" women on TLC's Hot and Heavy

Regardless of the controversy, the trailer for TLC's Hot & Heavy clearly depicts all three men expressing their desire and appreciation for their respective partners' bodies. "I love every inch of Joy," gushed Chris of his plus-sized love. "There are a lot of inches to love." In addition, the promo also featured Rusty expressing his desire that his 300-pound partner, Kristin, was actually larger, while Ricardo described girlfriend Adrianna as "the hottest woman I've ever seen in my life."

So, does society place too much emphasis on weight differences? Body-positive activist Sarah Sapora thinks so, as she told Refinery29 that physical attraction is only one facet in a relationship. As she explained, a weight difference between two partners is akin to any other difference that couples encounter as they forge a union together. "We bring our own stories to the table in any partnership," she shared. "When we have differences of any kind, they'll come up in the context of a relationship developing. Being able to talk about any kind of difference without shame can only help two people grow closer and find common ground."

Some people wondered if TLC's Hot and Heavy was glorifying a fetish

Another concern over TLC's Hot & Heavy that emerged after the release of the trailer was that it may be glorifying a fetish. "A lot of times it is just a fetish," wrote a Twitter user. "Those men usually just love the fact that they're needed and that's why they try to keep the ladies that size. Once they start losing weight the men don't find them as attractive anymore."

On her daytime talk show, host Tamron Hall, who's had a stunning transformation over the years, discussed the trailer with Slink Magazine editor Renee Cafaro, mentioning concerns that the show was "fetishizing these women." Admitting she found the trailer to be "cringe-worthy," Cafaro said, "It certainly concerns me with how they're going to be portraying plus-sized women."

A show like Hot & Heavy, by its very nature, invites judgement on its subjects. "We do face a lot of scrutiny unfortunately and I don't blame those who scrutinize us," Cafaro said. "I just think that it's a cultural issue in society that everywhere you look, all the media ... is chasing this Hollywood standard that only one percent of the world looks like, and especially women are really forced into that."

TLC's Hot and Heavy was accused of exploiting the obese

Of all the criticism that was levelled at TLC's Hot & Heavy promo, the most damning was the accusation that the network was exploiting the women on the show, putting them in situations that were deliberately unflattering and designed to elicit ridicule.

It's a difficult charge to counter when one of these moments comes at the very start of the trailer, when three women get into a hot tub together and send a ridiculous amount of displaced water gushing over the edge. "What the entire f**k??? And to have the nerve to call it hot and 'heavy,'" wrote a Twitter user. "I wish fat people could be on tv without the show always pertaining to their weight/exploiting them." Meanwhile, others questioned the truthfulness of the scene in the trailer featuring a driver zooming by and hurling an insult at Adrianna. "Now you know damn well nobody gonna randomly do this," read one tweet. "TLC really handing out checks for people to be an a**hole lol."

Another tweet read, "Quit exploiting obese people. The only reason you are daring to air something like this is to get people to watch your crummy network."

Academics have weighed in on the type of relationships portrayed in TLC's Hot and Heavy

While TLC's Hot & Heavy may be the most mainstream media representation of mixed-weight couples to date, this particular type of relationship has also been studied by academics. A 2012 paper titled "'You're going to eat that?' Relationship processes and conflict among mixed-weight couples" tackled the issue and was published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. According to the abstract, the study examined "conflict among heterosexual mixed-weight (i.e., one overweight and one healthy weight partner) and matched-weight couples," finding that "mixed-weight couples, specifically couples including overweight women and healthy weight men, reported greater conflict both generally and on a daily basis, compared to matched-weight couples."

Interestingly enough, the study found that "relationship satisfaction" is actually lower for a mixed-weight couple consisting of a heavier female and smaller male than vice-versa. While the study didn't theorize whether this was due to social stereotypes, cultural stigma, or other factors, it did determine that "being an overweight woman in a relationship with a healthy weight man might be associated with more negative relationship consequences (e.g., relational conflict) than being an overweight man in a relationship with a healthy weight woman."

Is the focus on the "mixed-weight" relationships in TLC's Hot and Heavy just a new form of body shaming?

The phrase mixed-weight relationship might be a new one for those who first encountered it in TLC's Hot & Heavy trailer. However, the term itself has been around for a while, and there are some who consider it to be highly problematic. "The term 'mixed-weight relationship' is essentially another way of labelling people based on the differences in their appearance," Liam Preston, head of the U.K.'s Be Real campaign for body confidence, told The Independent.

"It only seeks to highlight the differences in a couple's shape and size," added Preston, whose organization strives to "change attitudes to body image and help all of us put health above appearance and be confident in our bodies." According to Preston, the term mixed-weight implies that two people shouldn't be together because of their different sizes. 

Added Preston, "If people want to embrace the label of a 'mixed-weight' relationship then that is great and individuals should be free to do so. However, many won't feel confident enough to do so or in fact not want to at all."