Photo Credit: M. Tran/FilmMagic
For many women of my Gen X generation, Ricki Lake was our first introduction to a plus-sized women being portrayed in a positive light, when she rocked the movie Hairspray. For today’s teenager, that role was filled by Nikki Blonsky, who played Tracy Turnblad in the 2007 remake opposite Zac Efron.
On June 28, Blonsky will star in ABC Family’s new TV show, HUGE. The one-hour drama, being promoted as s being promoted as Glee meets Ugly Betty, is based on the book of the same name and developed by the people behind My So-Called Life. HUGE will follow seven teens attending a weight-loss camp as they deal with angsty (for teenagers of any size) issues such as self-esteem, friendship, rivalry, romance and body image. Blonsky stars as Willamina, aka Will, described on ABC family’s website as "an opinionated, sardonic non-conformist who is not happy that her parents sent her to Camp Victory, a weight loss camp run by Dr. Rand, played by Gina Torres." (Gossip Girl fans will recognize her as Vanessa’s mom.) HUGE will also feature Haley Hasselhoff, (daughter of The Hoff,) a real-life plus-size model who on the show is known as the hottest girl at fat camp.
Even before airing, HUGE has caught some flack: Some people are saying that while it’s great HUGE is providing roles for plus-sized women, it’s unfortunate that those roles have to be of women attending a weight-loss camp (and, one would imagine, are miserable about their size.) As NewsBunny wrote on Jezebel, "How about more plus sized actresses getting work where their size is not central to the plot? I don't know if others know this, but plus-sized women can be: Journalists (I'm one!), lawyers, bus drivers, veterinarians, florists, librarians, politician, serial killers (I could be one! You don't know!) The list goes on and on. Think of how many sitcoms feature overweight men as a lead. Then, right next to that list, write down all the plus- sized woman who do the same. It's a very small list."
I caught up with Nikki on the set of HUGE to ask her about it.
You played Tracy Turnblad in the Hairspray remake. Tracy was, for many of us, the first bigger girl we’d seen portrayed in a positive light in a mainstream movie. How did that role shape you as an actress and a woman?
Tracy gave me as much as she gave the audience, if not more. Tracy was this amazing force of self-confidence. She just knew who she was and I appreciate that so much. Playing such a confident character is so much fun because sometimes we don’t always have the confidence we wish we had. She taught me confidence and how to portray myself and how I should feel about myself. I will forever be grateful to her for that.
Tell me a little about your character, Will.
She’s totally different from Tracy. Willamina, she prefers to go by Will, is so tired of people telling her what to do. Her parents are fitness gurus, constantly telling her to lose weight. They send her to fitness camp and she says, "If you send me to fitness camp, I’m going to do it my way and I’m gonna gain weight." She has blue hair and goes totally against the grain. She wears boys’ clothes and doesn’t care what people say. Will’s motto is "If you don’t like what you see, turn around." She’s fun to play, always doing something big and crazy.
Will women of all sizes be able to relate to HUGE?
Absolutely. This show has a character for everybody. We deal with every issue from sexual orientation to body image and eating disorders. No single person out there can claim to be perfect: We’ve all had some body issue growing up.
Who are some of your female role models when it comes to the size acceptance movement?
My mom is my world. She has always told me ever since I was a little kid that I was her beautiful little girl and that’s never changed. Nobody can tell me anything different. I look to people like Camryn Manheim who have had [wonderful] careers. I watch her on Ghost Whisperer. She’s been extremely inspirational and is somebody I do look up to.
What do you think of the Health At Any Size movement?
[I haven’t heard of it but] I do workout occasionally to keep myself healthy. I watch what I eat, just for my own health, not to be on a diet or lose weight. At the end of the day, all the exterior is going to fade away and the only thing that will remain the same is your personality. I believe, as long as you keep a healthy attitude, you do not need to be a size 2 or 6 to be healthy. You can be a size 14 or 16 and be healthy, too.
What do you think of the name of the show, HUGE?
I love the name of the show – it sums it up perfectly. It deals with huge issues, huge characters, huge everything; there’s nothing small about the show. It’s groundbreaking. There’s never been a full plus-sized cast before, which is a huge breakthrough for the entertainment world.
Why do you think some people think HUGE has a negative connotation?
If people take it there, that’s their prerogative, but we only think of the positive.
The show has received some criticism that while it’s great it’s providing roles for plus-sized women, why do those roles have to be of women attending a weight loss camp? For example, a show like Grey’s Anatomy pretty much only casts thin actors -– we’d never see a hospital show with all plus-sized characters, unless it was known as “the plus-sized hospital show.” What do you think?
Unfortunately, that’s the way Hollywood has presented their actors and actresses. If they were a little more open-minded, they’d get a heck of a lot more talented people. Size doesn’t make you talented. Your talent makes you an asset to a cast or film or project. I think Hollywood is closing its mind to what could be really great actress and actors for roles, and they’re sticking in skinny people who maybe aren’t doing the best jobs. It’s kind of biting its own butt.
HUGE premiers on ABC Family on June 28 at 9pm EST
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