When looking through the television screen, diversity is something that can sometimes be hard to find. African American, homosexual, Arab, overweight… For those of us that don’t fit that straight, thin, white “ideal” there has been a limited choice of relatable characters in scripted series. Throughout time this has slowly improved, but even now in 2010 we still come across underrepresented demographics. Despite half of the citizens of the United States being classified as overweight, and the average size of an American woman being 14, being overweight still has a negative stigma and is socially acceptable to openly ridicule and criticize. There have always been overweight men on television, but the overweight woman has been largely invisible. Up until now, the only representation of the overweight on television has been NBC’s The Biggest Loser and Oxygen’s Dance Your Ass Off where overweight people strive to be the one to lose the most weight. Why are people so uncomfortable with talking about weight? Yes, there are serious issues coupled with being obese, such as diabetes, cholestoral and heart disease. The issue being ignored in pop culture as well as society is the difference between being morbidly obese and ill versus being overweight and healthy, but to society, visually unappealing. There’s a distinction that isn’t often recognized.
(SPOILER ALERT: Read only after watching Huge‘s Season One premiere)
ABC Family’s new show Huge is addressing these issues for the first time, from the female adolescent perspective. Nikki Blonsky stars as Wilhelmina, an overweight teenager forced to go to a weight-loss camp called Camp Victory. Co-created by My So-Called Life‘s Winnie Holzman and her daughter, the series hits the mark in the new modern trend of scripted shows portraying real, relatable, imperfect characters. Blonsky is fascinating to watch, and Hayley Hasslehoff’s portrayal of Amber is just as endearing. The thinnest and prettiest girl in the camp, Amber still oozes insecurity and self-doubt striving to be as perfect as the “thinspiration” super models she tacks up in her bunk. The effervescent Gina Torres (Firefly) rounds out the cast as the camp runner, Dr. Rand.
The premiere episode entitled, “Hello, I Must be Going” was pitch perfect. The show starts off with a bang with the campers lining up to take “before” pictures in their swimsuits, but Will remains clothed while commenting, “Can we, like, take a moment and ponder how sick this is?” When Dr. Rand insists that she be in her swimsuit like everyone else, Will does an elaborate strip tease for the whole camp. Will is comfortable with who she is, and doesn’t like being told there’s something wrong with her simply because she’s overweight. She announces early on in the episode that she plans to GAIN weight while at Camp Victory. Will even starts a black market in candy and sweets, selling to fellow campers. (Very reminiscent of Cartman’s own stint at weight-loss camp in the South Park episode entitled “Fat Camp.”)
Besides weight and overeating, the show touches upon adolescence in general addressing cliques, dating and peer pressure. While the show has comedic elements, it’s really more of a dramedy. Dealing with issues like self-loathing and insecurity adds depth and emotion, as well as the humiliation that the campers naturally feel and even inflict on each other. The one shock of the episode is when one of the cute, boy crazy girls named Caitlin gets unexpectedly sent home after being caught throwing up. Both Will and Amber are hit hard by this turn of events, since Caitlin was one of Will’s most loyal black market customers and Amber was Caitlin’s best friend at camp. Despite making friends, Will decides she needs to break out. She runs into Dr. Rand at a diner who talks her back into giving camp another try. The episode ends with Will deciding Camp Victory is where she wants to be, and that maybe, just maybe, she’d be willing to make a change.