After seeing an ad for Huge that featured Nikki Blonsky (of Hairspray fame) in only her bathing suit, I had high hopes that this show about a bunch of teenagers at fat camp would push the obesity and body issue discussion into unchartered territory. And last night, Huge followed through on that implicit promise.
Not only does the show actually feature many, many people with real bodies . . .
—it also doesn’t turn them into offensive fat jokes, which is what usually happens when we see overweight characters on film or in television, relegating them to being either the source of inane humor or the sidekick. Or—worse still—both.
But on Huge, “fat” people are real characters—fully developed people who are both likeable and fallible, making them incredibly empathetic and the show that much more interesting.
And let’s be honest, a show about “fat” people—real, appealing, honest-to-God “fat” people—is huge in and of itself.
But, as we know from Tobey Maguire, with great power comes great responsibility. And this show has a huge responsibility as well: simply put, it must be honest about obesity. This is so important that I’m going to repeat it:
This show MUST be honest about obesity.
In other words, it can’t convey the message that people are obese simply because they eat too much.
It’s hard to say at this point which direction the show is going on this issue.
No, Huge isn’t making offensive wisecracks about how much these characters eat, but it is showing them as kids who love their junk food. Blonsky’s character—the wonderfully sassy Will (short for Wilhelmina)—keeps a stash of candy and snacks underneath the fake bottom of her suitcase, some of which she eats herself and some of which she sells on the fat camp black market. And after Will tries to run away from camp, the first thing she does is order a big plate of french fries and a large chocolate shake at a roadside dinner.
The message is clear: “fat” people like fatty foods.
And I don’t really buy it.
I don’t believe, for instance, that Blonsky is the size she is because she eats three times as much as the rest of us. I believe, instead, that she’s that size because of her genes and because of the chemicals in our environment. (If you don’t know what chemicals I’m talking about, be sure to read my “Rethinking Baby Fat” post.)
Still, I’m not ready to throw out the baby with the bath water.
And here’s why . . .
Though camp director Dr. Rand—played by Firefly‘s Gina Torres—sends the message that Will is overweight solely because of the food she eats when she asks Will, “Don’t you want to change your life?” Will isn’t buying it. On more than one occasion, Will actively resists the idea that she needs to lose weight or that she shouldn’t like herself the way she is, as do some of the other campers who post signs like this near their bunk:
Early on we also find out that Will’s parents made her go to fat camp against her will. More importantly, she reveals that she doesn’t even want to lose weight. “I’m down with my fat,” she says during one scene, and later rolls her eyes with disgusts at one character’s “thin-spiration” wall. And when Torres’ Dr. Rand questions her in the diner, she responds by accusing Rand of wanting her to hate her body, something she is unwilling to do.
It remains to be seen whether or not Huge will fall in line with Will’s take on her body or Dr. Rand’s, but I can say this: as long as Will refuses to dislike herself the way she is, I’m there.