Thinking About Bodies

Since finishing Click, I’ve been reading The Body Project, which is an historical analysis of the development of body issues as pertain to girls in America from the late 18th century until its publication. Published in 1998, it wouldn’t be part of my typical collection of materials for review, but it fits nicely with another piece of media and pop culture that I’d like to review.
During the time I was reading The Body Project, I stumbled across this post at The Pursuit of Harpyness about ABC Family’s new (ish) show, Huge. Directed by My So-Called Life’s Winnie Holzman (also involved in the musical adaptation of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked) and her daughter, Savannah Dooley, Huge follows the story of several teenagers as they spend their summer at Camp Victory, a weight loss camp.
Anyone who has lived as a female (I include those who identify as female or feminine in addition to those born with the “parts”) or who has struggled with weight issues is well aware of the societal policing of bodies in our culture. From eating disorders to body positivity, anyone whose body doesn’t fit into standards society deems acceptable is at best subjected to constant criticism in the name of concern, and at worst, shame and attacks. Huge gives a voice to living that life, and does so in a way that is approachable to others without silencing those largely marginalized voices.
Without ignoring the potential health risks of being inactive and leading an unhealthy lifestyle, Huge gives a wonderful portrayal of accepting yourself in the body you have as long as you are being healthy. While weight loss is shown to be a goal, there is a much heavier focus on getting adequate exercise and eating appropriate amounts and kinds of food. Most people involved in the social justice issues surrounding weight and body shame (sometimes called the Fat Acceptance Movement*) were nervous about the release of Huge, as ABC Family’s track record with social awareness has been spotty at best and the general views on the issue are complex and frequently insensitive. Luckily, most of those people, myself included, have been relatively pleased with Huge.
The show focuses on aspects of the campers lives completely independent of their weight. Just like Real Life Fat People, the teens in the show experience relationships, and, in ways appropriate for ABC Family, explore sexuality. There is a genderqueer camper, and a counselor who openly identifies as asexual and is open with her coworkers about what that means for her life, in addition to several budding and active heterosexual relationships that develop or stall just like they would for any other person. The campers deal with family issues, friendships, and identity formation as they navigate their summer trying to find balance between being physically healthy and accepting their bodies as part of themselves.
Extra features on the show’s website include the usual round of character journals, actor interviews, and video clips, but also a section on “Living Huge,” or finding a balance between physical, mental, and emotional health–which is a message I think we can all get behind.
*There are a few basic tenets of the movement, some of which are as follows:
  1. There is more to health than weight. This means an otherwise healthy person who is certainly aware of their weight should not be treated as if their weight is inherently unhealthy. Neither should someone assume that an overweight person leads an unhealthy lifestyle. Losing weight is difficult even under perfect circumstances, and circumstances are rarely perfect.
  2. BMI has been proven to be an inaccurate indicator of health, as it fails to account for fat to muscle ratios, body types, and any number of other characteristics of a body, not to mention whether a person’s behaviors are healthy.
  3. There are societal reasons in addition to health and other personal reasons for people being overweight, and it should never be seen as a character flaw.
  4. Regardless of physical and mental health, appearance, or any other factor, people live and will continue to live in fat bodies. These people generally live full lives. It is, always, inappropriate to shame people for their bodies, for any reason, including being fat. Shame is not a valid means of encouraging someone to be healthy. Further, someone who is not a doctor has no business telling another person whether or not they are healthy.
  5. The word “fat” is no more of a shameful word than “thin,” and calling oneself fat does not have to be an insult, because bodies are not shameful.
The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls. Joan Jacobs Brumbers. Vintage, 1 September 1998. U.S. $14.95

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