Why Huge Was Such An Important Show

Huge was not a good show. Airing just 10 episodes in the summer of 2010, when Freeform was still ABC Family, Huge followed a group of teenagers as they attended a weight loss camp. Moving at a sometimes glacial pace, the series included horribly stiff dialogue ("You have sensitive gums too?" a camper asks a fellow tooth-brusher in what is meant to be a genuinely poignant bonding moment), and too much time spent on the problems of an adult character without a clear emotional tie to the teens at the heart of the series. But I'm glad it existed, and reached teen viewers, even briefly. Why? Simply because it was one of the few shows to feature an overweight teen girl who was totally comfortable with her body.

Will, played by Hairspray star Nikki Blonsky, explains to a disapproving counselor early on in the series, that she is "BFF with her fat." When her bunkmate covers her wall with magazine clippings of stick-skinny models for "thinspiration," Will decides to glue photos of voluptuous women from Renaissance paintings, dubbing her collage "fatspiration." From the moment she arrives at camp she makes it clear she's not just there against her will, but against her principles. She performs an exaggerated strip tease in front of the entire camp to change into her bathing suit for her mandated "before" photo, sending a clear message — she already felt sexy.
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Frustratingly, the show's publicity campaign chose not to highlight their body-positivity protagonist, but to tell a more familiar narrative — a teen girl utterly ashamed of her body. The show's promo photo features Will, looking uncomfortable and miserable in a bathing suit, folding into herself, as if she's trying to make herself smaller. It's completely at odds with her constant campaign to get her fellow campers to love their bodies, to not change for anyone. The other campers do struggle with body image in interesting ways. There's the "thinnest" camper who is both hated and revered by the other campers and revels in the new place of privilege she never experienced outside of camp. There are also male campers who struggle with what they see in the mirror vs how they perceive themselves. But what sets the show apart from other teen dramas is the fact that Will's angst (and there's plenty) stems from crushes, her relationship with her parents, bullying, but not how she feels when (or really if) she steps on a scale.
Huge ended a short season with a loose thread and cliff-hangers that would never be resolved. But it added something important to the TV landscape. A lead character who wasn't afraid to say, "Everyone wants us to hate our bodies. Well I refuse to."
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