Nikki Blonsky: An Outsized Talent in Hollywood

08/27/2010 06:19 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Tamar Abrams Communications strategist, Writer, Single Mom

Sunday night, stars will strut on the red carpet showing off their sleek size 2 bodies. Although Nikki Blonsky, star of Hairspray and ABC Family's Huge won't be among them, she bridles at the spectacle that such shows can become. "It's ridiculous --- they announce what you're wearing before they even say why you're nominated," says Blonsky. "The value of what we're doing should be based on the size of our talent and not the size of our hips."

Nikki Blonsky took Hollywood by storm in 2007 with her starring role as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray. She was plucked from obscurity - actually pulverizing ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery - to play the energetic, plus-sized teen from Baltimore. She attributes the self-confidence she displayed while acting alongside such luminaries as John Travolta and Zac Efron to her family. "I had an extremely supportive upbringing," she says. "Self-acceptance, self-love and self-esteem were instilled in me every day."

The irony is not lost on her that she - of the zaftig body - has moved to the one place on earth where looks, particularly thin bodies - are most valued. "I know I moved to a career where everybody hates their bodies and many change their looks. But I've always stuck things through," says Blonsky. "I did have a moment of wondering if I could make it in L.A. but it has worked out." If ever there were a place that could erode self-esteem, it would be Hollywood. But Blonsky has found not only steady work, but also a sense of purpose.

"I'm not trying to change how other actresses look," she comments. "I am doing this for the teens of the world. I have heard from girls that because of me, they went to the beach and weren't ashamed of how they looked. If I get one good response a day from a fan, I know I've done my job." She recently trekked to Camp Shane, a "summer weight loss camp" - or "fat camp" as it was called when I spent a summer there in the 1970s - to visit the campers. She recalls agreeing to accompany some of them on a rock climbing expedition and tackling the climb herself while the kids cheered her on. "I really liked it," she says with a laugh.

Although the visit to Camp Shane was her first time at camp in real life, on ABC Family she stars in the weekly series, Huge, which takes place at a fat camp. In Blonsky's first few moments on screen in the premiere episode, she does a burlesque strip-tease where she strips down to her swimsuit in front of other campers. It is a moment of such raw emotion and courage that it surely left anyone who has ever had weight issues uncertain whether to cry or to applaud. For Nikki herself, it was a catharsis. "After I shot the bathing suit scene, I stopped fearing bathing suits," she says. She also appeared on billboards around the country in that blue swimsuit.

She is justly proud of Huge, and the messages it sends to kids and teens with body image issues: "Don't try to be anybody else, "she says. "Have a good time, have fun. Don't be afraid of life just because the media and others have put you in a plus-sized bubble."

Nikki Blonsky has popped any bubbles that others have attempted to force on her. She doesn't define herself by her body and refuses to let others do so: "My weight is the obvious external thing that separates me from other actresses, but so does my acting style. I have played a lot of different roles. I'm not a one-trick pony."

She appears in Waiting for Forever, a film starring Rachel Bilson, Blythe Danner and Richard Jenkins that will be released in the fall. And she hopes one day to co-star in a film with Adam Sandler, who she says, "made me laugh during some of my darkest hours."

At 22, Nikki Blonsky has her career ahead of her and a respectable resume behind her. And she seems satisfied with her place in Hollywood, emphasizing that, "Life is what you make of it."