Though I was just turning 11 years old while Angela Chase crushed on Jordan Catalano, I was hopelessly devoted to My So-Called Life. And, like many, was left a heartbroken tween when the revolutionary teen drama was cancelled after only one half-season. So, my ears perked up when I heard that the creator of MSCL, Winnie Holzman is back. With her 24 year-old daughter, Savannah Dooley, Holzman has written the new ABC Family TV show, Huge, based on the novel by Sasha Paley.
Starring Nikki Blonsky of 2007 Hairspray redux fame and Hayley Hasselhoff (yep, daughter of David), Huge premiered on Monday night. The jist: It’s summertime, and that means that at Camp Victory, a weight-loss camp, registration is in full swing. We initially meet Willamina, or Will (Blonsky), who while waiting in line for “before” photos, claims that she’s just peachy with being fat. In fact, she says that she’d like to gain weight while she’s there. We also meet Amber (Hasselhoff), the hot, tall, blonde girl that everyone else thinks is the thinnest one at camp. But she seems to see something completely different in the mirror, as she pinches her belly and posts magazine cut-outs of models as “thinspiration” (cringe) above her bunk bed.
I’ll admit that when I tuned into the pilot, I was feeling a bit defensive. See, I actually went to a weight-loss camp when I was 12 years-old. Here’s what I thought: Based on the first episode of Huge, I have to say that my experience was different in that I didn’t get shipped off into the woods up in Vermont or Michigan. No, admittedly, my grandpa treated me to a slightly more luxe experience: I got to shed my pre-adolescent pounds by the beach, on the campus of the University of California San Diego at Camp La Jolla. I remember reading ads in the back of my teen magazines for camps that were like the one featured in Huge—where kayaking, swimming in lakes and living in cabins were part of the paring pounds fun. But, at Camp La Jolla, we lived in the UCSD dorms, we took 2 mile walks to the most gorgeous shore I’d ever seen in my life, we did water aerobics in a pool and we got healthy, Californian—and as I recall, actually really yummy—meals. And I don’t think any of my peers at Camp La Jolla were sneaking Kit-Kats and chips… Of course, we were slightly scared 12 year-olds, whereas the kids on Huge are bordering-on-brazen 14-16s.
Other aspects of the show definitely rang true: We also did several hours of exercise every day—just like in Huge, although the show makes it out to be torturous, whereas I remember having a blast doing dance aerobics to Madonna’s Immaculate Collection. When we went to the dining hall, we were served our meals with built-in portion control (that’s the point, though, right?) And from the outset, we knew that outside food (like the black market candy that Will sells to other campers) was no question grounds for being sent packing. There were camp romances (aren’t there always?), thinner campers who were considered the hotties (girls and guys…everyone loved a boy named Tyler!), “before” and “after” photos, embarrassing moments in bathing suits and camp counselors who I’m sure had to deal with their share of drama from campers.
Having lived through my own summer at weight-loss camp, it’s easy for me to be critical of false representations of the phenomenon. But so far, I feel like Winnie, Savannah and ABC Family do get it. Which makes me happy, because a show like this is necessary. With up to 33 percent of American teens considered obese, it’s about time that Hollywood shelved stale stereotypes and offered a realistic drama about young people struggling with their weight and body image. It sounds like the mother-daughter creators feel the same way:
“For my whole life, Winnie and I have often watched portrayals of chubby girls on TV and movies and felt really frustrated by the portrayal,” Savannah told New York Magazine. “We would say to each other, ‘Oh my God, of course she just has to listen, and give advice, and have a little crack about how fat she is.’ As two people who throughout our lives have struggled with body image for ourselves, we’ve always been really attuned to how that’s been reflected in the media. In doing this, we wanted to create the complicated look at body image and weight that we had always wanted to see.”
And if the pair can really accomplish that, then I hope this show becomes as big as its name.