From Pretty Little Liars to Bunheads and Girls to Glee, young girls are not only everywhere on television but have entire channels and shows dedicated to them. Amidst ABC Family’s rise to the top of teen TV with shows like Pretty Little Liars and Secret Life of An American Teenager, the network launched the sadly short-lived Huge (2010). Huge followed a diverse cast of characters during a frustrating and fraught summer at Camp Victory, a weight loss camp. Huge garnered a devoted following, which took to the internet when the show was canceled at the end of its first season. In this post, I look back (briefly) on Huge’s cancellation in terms of ABC Family’s brand.
By featuring a protagonist and ensemble cast that refused to align with the traditional image of beauty, Huge did not fit within ABC Family’s growing “real and really relatable, and at the same time escapist” brand. Despite the camp setting, replete with talent nights and campfires, Huge was not escapist as it confronted body shaming and impossible beauty standards. Early in the pilot, Will (Nikki Blonsky) declares, “Everyone wants us to hate our bodies. Well I refuse to. I’m down with my fat.” By contrast, the girls of Pretty Little Liars, Secret Life of an American Teenager, and The Lying Game, among others are not only decked out in the latest trends—versus camp garb—but have the kinds of bodies Amber (Haley Hasselhoff) might cut out of magazines for “thinspiration.”
Unlike other weight loss shows like NBC's Biggest Loser or MTV’s I Used To Be Fat, Huge was not only critical of extreme weight loss but also of aspiring to thinness and mistaking thinness for health. The show consistently interrogated the assumption that thin is good, better, or best and made visible “thinspiration’s” toll on young men and women. Huge was refreshing in that it was not about massive transformation via weight loss but rather about friendship, self-acceptance, and becoming comfortable and sexy in your own skin.
If self-acceptance is—per Huge—outside consumerism, then what does a network sell its audience? ABC Family coupled Jamie Oliver’s healthy cookbooks and Katherine Schwarzenegger’s body acceptance book with the show’s promotion. However, given Huge’s cancellation, these marketing efforts seemingly didn’t take. Huge didn’t fit on ABC Family because it didn't sell purchasable happiness via beautiful hair, thin female bodies, and high fashion. Amber’s “thinspiration” wall and Huge's self-acceptance message might even be read as a critique of ABC Family’s brand as it showcased the destructive nature of wanting and valuing TV’s brand of beauty.