(Originally posted at riotsnotdiets)
Full disclosure: I LOVED Nikki Blonsky in Hairspray. Yeah, yeah John Waters devotees swear that it totally shat on the original AND John Travolta is no Divine (not even close, amirite?), but I actually really, really dug that movie. I saw the Broadway musical when it debuted in Seattle, and I think it might have been my first experience with something even remotely approaching fat acceptance/body love. When I first heard “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful” it warmed my own little big, blonde and beautiful heart.
But I digress. Nikki was the shit as Tracy Turnblad, and she sadly hasn’t done much since then, aside from a shitty Lifetime movie and a little-known, straight to DVD indie flick. (And of course there was that pesky arrest.)
So I was excited to open my recent Entertainment Weekly and see this ad:
Of course, I’m a little perturbed that she looks so scared and uncomfortable (especially given her character’s own self-acceptance attitude), but HOLY FUCK! That body! That beautiful fat body that looks just like mine! In a magazine! If I had seen this in high school, my mind would have been thoroughly blown.
Anyway, onto the episode itself.
I missed it last night, so watched the replay tonight on ABC Family along with my trusty DVR remote and my snarky boyfriend (Joe).
First of all, the show gets props for the sheer amount of fat actors (all shapes and sizes!) it employs. I haven’t seen this many fat kids since Heavyweights (although it’s sad that these things gotta be set at fat camps in order to get more than 1 or 2 fat characters in ‘em).
The episode opens with a whole lot of fat teens in their bathing suits, hanging out on the first day of camp and taking their “pre-fat camp” (and, ostensibly, “pre-weight loss”) photos. (Joe called this process “disturbing”—he doesn’t share the same sordid history with extreme childhood dieting that I have, so he’s not really acquainted with these sort of dehumanizing rituals.) BUT THEN: Will/Willamina (Blonsky) strips supersexystyle in front of the whole camp when the formidable Dr. Rand (Gina Torres, whom I’m already inclined to dislike thanks to her turn as the maggoty-faced big bad from season 4 of Angel) forces her to take her clothes off for the “pre-fat camp” photo… and I love Nikki Blonsky even more than I did before.
The rest of the episode is really about introducing us to the characters:
There’s the radically self-loving Will, who refuses to buy into the camp’s anti-fat bullshit and sells candy like a crack dealer (more on this later);
Will’s new BFF Becca (Raven Goodwin), who is bookish and shy, and is (as Lesley points out) one of the first NON-sassy black girls on mainstream/white TV like, ever. (Glee ought to take a cue from Huge here.);
Ian (Ari Stidham), Will’s cute potential crush and fellow Pixies lover, whose feelings for Will might be compromised by his more obvious feelings for…
Amber (played by David Hasselhoff’s daughter, Hayley), the skinniest and prettiest girl at camp. She is (despite her new-found popularity) incredibly insecure and self-loathing, and comes complete with her own set of “Thinspiration” pics torn from fashion mags. She quickly befriends the other camp queen bees, Caitlin and Chloe.
A “Jillian Michaels”esque trainer (petite, loud, super mean, wants people to work out until they cry, etc.) is the exact opposite of her assistant, the attractive nice-guy and all-around “golden boy” George (Zander Eckhouse) whom Amber immediately falls for (and the feelings are mutual).
And then there is Dr. Rand, the former fatty who has redeemed herself by becoming thin and beautiful and the head of a fat camp so that she can make other sad fatties thin and beautiful, too. Blechhhh. (Also, the camp’s cook is her dad and they seem to have a weird relationship. Dunno what’s up with that.)
There’s a whole lot of drama from the very beginning, and while my 24-year-old self is a little “over it” already, I know my high school-aged self would have loved the shit out of this show.
- There are ALL sorts of fat characters, which makes stereotyping really hard
- The stripping scene
- Will’s incredulous facial expressions at all the fat camp ridiculousness
- The super shy/awkward Alistair, whom we haven’t really had a chance to meet yet but does funny things that make me laugh
- Will: “Me and my fat are like BFFs.”
- Random character, reading a celeb gossip magazine: “Miley Cyrus walks her own dog. She’s so down to earth.”
- Will, to Dr. Rand, insisting that she is not “too afraid” to “change her life” via weight loss: “I’m not scared, I just think everything you stand for is crap.”
- Will as candy drug dealer. While I’ve so far read a lot of complaints about this part (especially because it reinforces the stupid ass stereotype that all fat kids have fucked up, secretive relationships with candy and ho-hos), I still thought it was a fair depiction of what might happen under such extreme food-related deprivation… and it also highlights just how much like prison this fat camp really is. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that this bit is more about the “fatties love junkfood” trope than about making a “deprivation is ridic” point.
- The show seems to be framing Will’s body acceptance as stubborn resistance to the well-meaning folks who just wanna help, rather than as radical self-love.
- Amber randomly sits on a dude’s lap. I don’t get this scene: it’s supposed to show how surprised and relieved Amber is when she realizes she can sit on a guy without killing him because she is a big fat whale, but really? It’s just creepy. Joe’s only comment: “….aaaaaaaaaand boner.”
- The acting in general is questionable (but maybe it’s super good for ABC Family? I dunno.)
- All of the pro-weight loss stuff in general. For as fat-pos as Will the character might be, the premise of the show is still that these kids are here to lose weight, because being fat is unhealthy/bad/etc. When Will runs away from camp and her only recourse is to hitchhike, Dr. Rand expresses her disappointment that Will would “rather risk [her] life than change it”—because losing weight is, you know, the most life-changing thing you can do for yourself as a sad, self-loathing, cake-eating fatty. Puh-lease.
- Amber’s “thinspiration” (my teenaged self SO had a computer folder full of thinspo pictures of plus-size models).
- The camp counselors take away all “illegal contraband,” including sugar-free gum. Joe’s response: “You can’t have gum?! Is it because chewing is like eating and eating makes you fat?”
- Amber: “I’ve been dieting since I was 10, it’s probably the thing I’m best at.” This is so honest, and is one of the many things that is horribly wrong about our society.
- Caitlin gets sent home because Dr. Rand finds out she’s been binging and purging. First of all, props to the show for reminding us that fat kids can suffer from bulimia (and other eating disorders/disordered eating), too. And man, fuck the culture that cultivates this kind of whacked relationship with food and our bodies. Fucking fuck!
The verdict, according to Joe:
“It has potential.”
And I, with a healthy dose of cautious optimism, agree.