Huge Challenges: Fat Acceptance on Television

Presenter: Mara Williams, PhD Student in UO School of Journalism and Communication; MA Media Studies, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Mara Williams has produced independent media in a variety of formats including zines, comics, and radio. Her research focuses on the ways subcultural groups use digital media to create accessible and exciting community spaces.

cast of “Huge”

“Eat less. Move more.” “Love your body.”  Discussions of fatness are often oversimplified and contradictory. On one hand, magazine covers of skinny models and photoshopped celebrities are blamed for warping young people’s (especially young girls) images of themselves. On the other, news reports on “the obesity epidemic” vilify and dehumanize fat people. Is there another way to talk about fatness and body image in the media? What would a complicated conversation about body image, power, and gender look like?  How could it reach a broad audience?

In the summer of 2010, ABC Family aired Huge, a short-lived teen drama set at a weight loss camp. Though only one season was made, the show tackles the emotional experience of being fat in a world that tells you to love your body the way it is and at the same time to be as skinny or as muscular as possible. Its ensemble cast shows how body image issues affect people across lines of gender, race, class, and sexuality. Characters negotiate demands to lose weight in different ways; some want to lose weight while other reject the need to change.

This presentation starts with an introduction to fat acceptance as a way to talk about body image in the media.  It then moves on to look at clips of Huge, interviews with producers, and fan-made material. This presentation will look at the nuanced ways fat people can be presented in commercial media and some of challenges to changing the script about obesity on television.