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ABC Family’s HUGE

ABC Family has a new show which aired Monday night: HUGE.

On their website they preface the program with:

At ABC Family, we believe that healthy living means living life to the fullest.  In order to live your best life, it’s important to take care of yourself — physically, mentally and emotionally.  Here you’ll be given tips on how to eat nutritious snacks and meals, add exercise into your busy life, and build a stronger, more positive sense of self — because living a healthy life means having healthy self-esteem too!

Interesting. Their site is full of interactive pages and information about healthy recipes, a Live Huge Bus Tour, healthy living panel questions… and of course information about the show itself: cast, music, network etc.

Huge follows the lives of seven teens and the staff at a weight-loss camp, as they look beneath the surface to discover their true selves and the truth about each other. [ABCFamily] I watched the episode, “Hello I Must Be Going” twice last night. First to just watch, second to take notes with my critical thinking cap on.

How did I feel about it simply as a viewer? I liked it! Okay, I readily admit I like a lot of ABC Family shows (Make It Or Break It, Wildfire, Kyle XY… I’m such a nerd) so, there you go.

The show brought up a lot of visceral feelings for me. When I was a kid I was a lot like Becca (Raven Goodwin) – almost painfully shy but well-intentioned, and as a teenager I was very similar to Amber (Haley Hasslehoff) – extremely self-conscious and desperate to “fit in”… but also aware that others gravitate toward her even if she doesn’t understand why. As an adult I can admire Willamina (Nikki Blonsky)’s self-conscious-yet-in-your-face attitude as well as her disdain for a warped system and misguided authority.

As someone who watches a fair amount of TV and pays attentions to the work actor’s get, I was excited to see Gina Torres as the camp director Dorothy Rand. I must say though, this is an odd character. Because we’ve just seen one episode I can’t decide yet if it’s Gina’s acting, the direction she’s given or the writing that is off. I get that the character has secrets which will be revealed as the show progresses. I already have a few guesses as to why she is so uptight and unnecessarily anxious when one would think a seasoned camp director (weight loss camp, even!) would hardly bat an eye at these typical camper antics. It seemed very forced in this episode though, so I hope it either makes sense in retrospect, or they work their kinks out as they continue filming.

Now, here’s the commentary through my Body Image & Eating Disorder Awareness Advocate perspective. (and FYI — shit tons of spoilers)

“You know, this could be a nice summer to gain weight. I feel like inside me there’s an even fatter person trying to get out.” – Will

Soon after she makes this provocative statement she performs a strip tease when Dr. Rand requires she take off her shirt & shorts for the “Before” picture. What I saw in Will was a frustrated girl who is at a weight loss camp against her will (no pun intended) and in order for her world to make sense she needs to control the situation. Gaining weight would be the ultimate “F You” to her parents and to society. When she’s literally facing off with the person who represents “the enemy” she again controls the situation by not only drawing attention to herself, but doing so in a manner that is meant to glorify and approve one’s body in the eyes of others.

I love the shots of the other campers’ reactions to Will’s strip tease. Especially the immediate clique of “cool” girls (i.e. the ones with the most mainstream-acceptable body types) who looked disgusted, nervous and threatened. I found myself simultaneously scoffing at their close-minded clique-ness and identifying with their reactions. At their age I would have reacted the same way to a girl with Will’s body type blatantly putting it on display seemingly unashamed. Why? Because I was (as these girls are) perpetually caught up in self-body-hatred, fat-hatred and life was all about losing weight and getting thin. Having someone defy that mentality puts a crack in it, it means that mentality isn’t 100% RIGHT. That’s scary!

Once the girls settle into their cabin, we see more of their personalities start peaking through. Caitlin, one of the “cool” girls, has a poster that says “Beauty Comes From Within.” Amber, the new girl who is immediately crowned Queen Bee by the cool girls because she has the most proportionate body and she is pretty and well-groomed, says how much she likes it. I appreciated how genuine her tone was, it was obvious to me this girl is desperate for some self-love. This was only heightened by her installation of “thinspiration” (cut-outs of magazine images) above her bed. I identified with this as well… during high school my closet walls were covered in those sorts of images. I kept a scrapbook full of them.

I look forward to watching Amber’s development. My favorite Amber scene was when the campers were jogging in the woods and the cute male assistant trainer, George (Zander Eckhouse), tells her she’s doing a good job. Then their conversation unfolds and the next three lines are imperative to understanding Amber’s character.

GEORGE: What’s your name?
AMBER: Amber.
GEORGE: Well keep it up Sandra you’re doing great.
AMBER: It’s Amber…
[George runs ahead]

This shows how she is a sweet, insecure girl who will go so far as to not make sure her trainer/crush get’s her name right. Yes, she does say it, but in such a meek, unobtrusive manner he doesn’t hear her. She doesn’t think it’s (i.e. she’s) important enough to warrant calling out his mistake. I felt like this was a key insight to her character because the writer’s set her up in the eyes of Will as a vapid, self-centered potential Mean Girl which, clearly, she is not.

Amber’s sensitivity is shown again during “Sharing Time”. When Dr. Rand asks Will to express her feelings she says, “Sorry, I’m down with my fat. Me and my fat are BFF. Everyone wants us to hate our bodies, well, I refuse to.” Dr. Rand replies after a beat, “No one here wants you to hate yourself. Our focus is on health.” This doesn’t fly with Will who retorts, “Oh right, our health, you want to tell me she’s here for her health?” Pointing at Amber who snaps back, “Don’t say what I’m here for!” A typical Mean Girl would have an inflated ego and either not bother responding or agree… of course she’s here to get thin/improve her image, which was what was insinuated.

Clearly, I like Amber. But I was also quite interested in the development of Caitlin and was rather disappointed the reveal of her eating disorder happened in the pilot episode. That seemed rushed, a trying to hit as many quotas as possible kind of deal. But what’s done is done, and I do appreciate that it was written very realistically and the gravity of the situation was well portrayed in the scene where the girls discover she had been sent home and have to deal with their own feelings and unanswered questions.

In a situation like that emotions are intense and when you’re in a room full of virtual strangers it is very easy to start attacking which is of course what they did. Amber (who we later discover is the one who told on Caitlin) snaps at Will, “You’re the one who gave her all that crap to eat, what’d you think was going to happen?!” To which a shocked Will responds by climbing onto Amber’s bunk and tearing the clippings off the wall, “And you’re the one who made her stare at all this crap!”

Both girls are not wrong. They each contributed to Caitlin’s bulimia. What is important to differentiate is that neither of them (nor what they represented: junk food and photoshopped magazine models) caused her eating disorder. I think the complexity of an eating disorder was implied through the hushed, confused, intense dialogue that went on during that scene but I’m not sure the implication was understood by the general public. I can see how the average viewer would decide to side with one of the two girls and come to their own conclusions on why this character had an eating disorder, what it meant and why she was sent home. This is why I wish they had prolonged the reveal and developed the issue over several episodes. Hopefully Caitlin returns in some capacity and the issue of eating disorders is not simply swept under the rug “now that we got that over with” so to speak.

I was glad to see that in the end Will and Amber come to a truce and are able to see each other’s humanity beyond their differences. The last scene was very “typical camp” which I appreciated, as a former awkward camper. The two girls whispering after lights out, bonding through their mutual internal conflicts related to identity, cultural expectations and new rules in unfamiliar territory.

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