There are a few things you might expect from a television show called Huge. The title conjures a reality freakfest: an hour or so of game-show challenges for morbidly obese contestants, whose bodies and lifestyles are just grotesque enough to keep us watching. Put that show on a family channel, though, and you're probably in for a heaping helping of "love your body" instead of fatsploitation. What you'll get on the Monday premiere of ABC Family's Huge is something in between.
Set in an upstate New York weight-loss camp called Victory, Huge is, at moments, as feel-good (and cringeworthy) as they come—complete with awkward teen crushes, chubby-girl bonding, and lakeside heart-to-hearts. But what it overdoes in sap it makes up for in sass with Wilhelmina, the heroine who mocks the entire premise. Lined up next to a bunch of jelly-rolled teens waiting for their swimsuit "before photos"—and refusing to take off her own clothes—Will quips, "Can we, like, take a moment and ponder how sick this is?" The irony, of course, is that it is kind of sick, which is exactly why we keep watching.
From the creator of My So-Called Life (and based on the novel by Sasha Paley), Huge stars Nikki Blonsky (of Hairspray fame) as Wilhelmina, the angsty, quirky rocker chick whose parents have shipped her off for the summer against her will. Resigned to hate every moment of it, she begins day one with a public strip tease (in protest of the required half-naked "before" photo), and by telling the camp director that she's "down" with her fat—"me and my fat are like BFFs," she says—and that she refuses to hate her body the way society (and the camp) demand. She then vows to gain weight, again in protest, and picks a fight with the camp's token skinny girl, Amber (played by Hayley Hasselhoff, daughter of David), as soon as she gets the chance. Before long, Will has established herself as the camp's underground junk-food pimp, selling Twinkies and Yo-Yos to starving fat kids as desperate as skinny girls popping fen-phen.
In an era of Hollywood plastic, Heidi Montag, and The Biggest Loser, Huge and its curvy stars are immediately refreshing—at least in the beginning. But they're also disappointing: even at family-channel-sanctioned fat camp, it's the skinniest of the fatties who rule. Under her tough facade, we start to see that Will hates her body just as much as the other girls; that it's skinny girl Amber—who chews each bite 30 times before she swallows—who will ultimately get the guy (the skinny guy!). It's clear that if Will is going to survive fat camp, she'll have to embrace a wispy body ideal—like that seen on Victory's cabin walls, which are découpaged in tabloid pics of skinny celebrities for "thinspiration."
Fat kids stuck at fat camp may be "the heart of America," as Blonsky has put it, but just because Huge is the only nonreality show featuring actual fat people, don't expect it to empower the big-boned. Blonsky the actress may not think she's been boxed in—"I've been really fortunate that people haven't [said], 'Oh, you're just going to play the plus-size girl,'" she told the blog The Frisky—but if a fat girl playing a fat girl at fat camp ain't a box, what is? Don't write Huge off yet, but its message so far is underwhelming: don't apologize for your body—as long as you're not fat.
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