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'Huge' marks advance for fat acceptance on TV

After years of reality weight-loss and diet shows, the first episode of "Huge" on cable channel ABC Family this week featured a rare scene on scripted U.S. television: numerous overweight actors.
/ Source: Reuters

If there is one thing that fat people hate seeing on television, it's shows where large people get screamed at to lose weight.

Another is the predominance of waif-like actresses in a nation where some two-thirds of U.S. adults are considered overweight.

"Huge," a new drama series about a group of teens sent to a fat camp, suggests that the "fat acceptance" movement may finally be making some headway in Hollywood.

After years of reality weight-loss and diet shows like "The Biggest Loser," "Dance Your Ass Off" and "Celebrity Fit Club," the first episode of "Huge" on cable channel ABC Family this week featured a rare scene on scripted U.S. television.

"A screen full of actors with rolls of fat who aren't there to be frowned-upon as freaks," said Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker, describing the new show as taking a tricky premise and turning it into a clever, well-written hour of TV.

Later this year, a new romantic comedy series called "Mike & Molly," about two people who meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting, will debut on CBS.

"Huge" features seven male and female teens and their emotional journeys at the fictional weight-loss camp Victory.

"Hairspray" actress Nikki Blonsky — whose swimsuit-clad curves promote the show on billboards around Los Angeles — leads a largely unknown plus-size cast.

Blonsky, 21, plays a sarcastic rebel who is quite happy with her size (as is the actress in real life) and is mad at her parents for sending her to fat camp.

Big hit with viewersThe new series made a splash with audiences, drawing 2.5 million viewers and becoming ABC Family's biggest ever series debut among 18-49 year-old women, according to ratings data.

While groups fighting discrimination against fat people lamented the fact that the main premise of "Huge" was, once again, about weight loss, there were signs of hope.

"So far, we don't see people being pushed and abused like we do on reality shows, which is nice," commented Peggy Howell, public relations director for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.

"And it was nice to see so many fat people have an (acting) job!" Howell told Reuters.

NAAFA, which encourages healthy eating and active lifestyles but without focusing on weight loss, says discrimination towards fat people in the U.S. workplace, in schools and in the healthcare system is growing rapidly.

The brightest spot in "Huge" was seen as Blonsky's character Willamina, and her rejection of the notion that weight is a problem.

"Fat people are supposed to be ashamed, supposed to want to change, supposed to want to look like 'thinspiration' pictures. So when someone like Willamina says they are not buying into that, no one knows how to handle it. That to me is a good thing," said Deb Lemire, president of the Association for Size Diversity and Health.

What the fat-acceptance movement would really welcome, however, are more TV shows like the award-winning 1990s sitcom "Roseanne." The blue-collar characters played by Roseanne Barr and John Goodman "were just fat people who had kids and a family and it was a hysterically funny show," said NAAFA's Howell. (Goodman recently unveiled a new, svelte figure.)

"Why does everything on TV about fat people have to be based around weight loss these days? There are a lot of us out there who are fat, who are not on diets and aren't going to go on diets. And the rest of the world can just get over it," she added