First Impressions: Huge

by d

When I saw the previews for Huge, I knew ABC Family had taken on something rough. The protagonist, played by Nikki Blonsky, hates the fat camp she’s been sent to, and makes no bones about it. “Wow,” I thought, “How are they going to play a pro-body/pro-fat message while we have a national obesity epidemic on our hands?”

What I know about so-called fat camps isn’t great. Kids (sometimes adults) are sent to a closed environment to lose weight, through enforced diet and exercise. Better programs will also address psychological issues and provide counseling. They’re controversial, with detractors saying they’re too harsh, unhealthy, and have poor success rates, or that campers gain the weight back after they leave. Others consider it a sort of tough-love, life-changing push toward health. Data is still be collected, so there isn’t yet a definitive answer. (My guess is that, like most things, the approach works for some people and not for others.)

Huge begins on the initial weigh-in day at Camp Victory. All campers must line up and have their photo taken while wearing their bathing suit. You don’t have to be overweight to consider this a nightmare scenario. Our protagonist, Will, is always, always wearing more clothes than any other character. She hides behind bulky t-shirts and sweatshirts, hiding her body in fabric. When the camp director (Gina Torres) tells her everyone must strip down, Will strips–complete with her own music and a chair for a stage. This sort of snarky humor is her calling card. She’s not without sense, though. When she realizes all the boys are looking at her speculatively, she groans, “Why did I do that?”

It turns out that on TV fat camp, hooking up is one of the major draws. In the words of Will’s shy friend Becca, it doesn’t just level the playing field–there actually is a field. But all things are relative, and there are skinnier, prettier girls even at fat camp. Amber is beautiful and blonde, and the thinnest girl there. She’s been dieting since she was ten, but she’s still plus sized. Will hates her immediately.

Will is 100% committed to subverting everything. She resolves to gain weight. She’s snuck in a giant stash of junk food. Then she starts selling it. And she even attempts to make a run for it. This is one determined girl. But something inspires her to come back, give the camp a shot. I’m not sure what.

I think the most important issue addressed so far is what it means for these girls to be real friends to each other. The camp is strict–serious infractions will get you kicked out. To some, not getting kicked out, not going home, is the most important thing. The need to lose weight is greater than real health. One girl is vomiting up her food. Almost all the girls in the cabin knew, or guessed. Some even knew she was doing it the summer before. Will is horrified. They should have spoken up sooner! Amber is horrified as well. Surely the camp itself could offer counseling? Becca, who has been here before, explains that it’s just too serious. This terrible push and pull ought to remain a major feature of this series.

This is certainly one of the deftest premieres I’ve seen, especially for ABC Family. A huge amount of information is communicated without beating the viewer over the head. There’s no obvious, preachy message yet. I’m not sure why Will has decided to give the camp another try, but I don’t think they’re going to go down the ‘Losing weight fixes everything!’ path.

I am really quite pleased.

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