Although the term insecure teenager is redundant-confident teens are about as rare as pink pigeons-imagine how much more insecure an overweight or obese teenager must feel. With teen magazines and TV shows glamorizing svelte women with Barbie doll figures and hunky men with six pack abs, overweight teenagers can feel invisible or, even worse, ridiculed and despised.
ABC Family provides a glimpse into the complex emotional lives of larger teenagers on its new Monday night TV show Huge, an hour long dramedy about overweight teens at a summer weight loss camp. Underlying the comedic elements of the show is a sobering finding from a 2003 study cited in Health.com that “obese teens liken their quality of life to that of childhood cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.”
Huge vs The Biggest Loser
Unlike the popular weight loss show The Biggest Loser, in which fat is treated like a four letter word, ABC TV’s Huge takes a more nuanced view of obesity, balancing fat acceptance with the health risks of being overweight. As one insightful teen commented on the official ABC Family’s Huge website, “It really comes down to what makes you feel beautiful and not care what other people think. I’m not going to give into the media and feel like I need to be stick skinny. At the same time… I want to lose weight because there are health issues in my family and I don’t want to be a statistic.”
A teenager watching Huge would likely get a mixed message from the show. On one hand it is okay to be fat and refuse to allow the media and other people to dictate your body size. On the other hand, if you’re fat, it’s probably because you’re an emotional shipwreck.
New York Times reviewer Ginia Bellafante acknowledged the writers of Huge teeter on a slender tightrope. She credits Huge for its “deftly detailed rendering of the ritual humiliations of imposed weight loss,” but frankly laments “the series can go only so far because a real sanctioning of teenage obesity would feel like a renewed condoning of the subprime mortgage market.”
Bellafante concludes that Huge equates being overweight with being unhappy, as illustrated by one of the lead characters played by Hairspray’s Nikki Blonsky. “Will is by no means a happy girl; she longs for parental approval, and implicitly we understand that if she had it, she wouldn’t be fighting the world one pint of ice cream at a time. Ultimately the message that only the discontented plunge their spoons ever deeper into the sundae remains intact.”
Huge Debate on Show’s Impact
Whether Huge will have a positive impact on overweight teens has sparked a super-sized debate among viewers and TV critics, as well as advocate for both fat acceptance and preventive health. Some people believe Huge favors fat acceptance and glosses over the health risks of being obese. Others think the show ridicules fat people and furthers negative stereotype of overweight people as being less emotionally and physically healthy than their slinkier brothers and sisters.
Tipping the scale in favor of Huge being an overall plus for overweight teens could be the show’s less obvious function as a support group for overweight teens, a growing segment of teenage girls and boys who can intimately relate to the characters on the show. For obese teens struggling with their feelings about body image, merely watching the emotional ups and downs of people like themselves could validate their oversized angst. As clinical psychologist, Angela Celio Doyle, noted on Health.com, “…the show could work if it offers a sense of social support. Huge can be very helpful if overweight teens watch and think ‘Gosh I am not alone’ and ‘other people feel this way too.'”