On television these days, big is beautiful.
First there was Roseanne Barr, who's ABC sitcom "Roseanne" is the biggest new show hit of the season.Now along comes Ricki Lake, another rotund economy-size woman, who stars in "Babycakes," a charming little romantic comedy to air on CBS Tonight (8 p.m., Ch. 5.)
The story sets out to prove that there is love after size 14. Lake's character - a cosmetician in a funeral parlor - falls madly in love with a subway motorman who she first sees as he whizzes around the ice at an outdoor skating rink.
She pursues him relentlessly, and eventually he sees through the layers of adipose tissue to her heart of gold.
He has a hunky body and a "cute" face. Lake has a cute face and a chunky body - both she and the character she plays in "Babycakes" are the kind of woman about whom people say condescendingly, "But you'd be so pretty if you'd only lose weight."
"I've heard that all my life," Lake said in an interview. "I've always been curious what I'd look like as a skinny person, although I was never majorly fat in high school. I was always the sports queen in track and volleyball and on the swim team. I was never really an outcast as the fat kid. But now look at me - I showed them."
Well, look at her - she is short and wide, with black hair, fair skin, flashing black eyes, small, neat features, a quick grin and contagious laugh.
"My weight's been an asset so far," said the actress who made her major league movie debut in "Hairspray," in which the late and legendary Divine player her mother. She has two more theatrical films coming out soon, and a contract with CBS for a possible future series. Not bad for a 20-year-old.
"If I had not been this way, I would never have gotten `Hairspray'," she said. "I don't know what would happen if I had lost weight."
She doesn't even try.
"I love myself the way I am," Lake said. "There's more of me to love. I'm all woman. Other actresses get silicone implants. Not me."
She has wanted to be a performer since she was about 5 years old, she said, and recalled standing on the raised hearth of the fireplace in her family home, holding a candlestick as a make-believe microphone.
"I'd be Olivia Newton-John in `Grease' or whatever," she said. "The speakers of the stereo behind me would be my band and I would sing to the living room furniture. I was the star in my living room and the couch applauded nonstop, a standing ovation.
"I also put on shows for my parents. I always wanted to be in front of a crowd, the center of attention."
Her parents - her father owns a pharmacy and her mother is a housewife - were opposed to her career plans.
"My parents didn't want me to try for a performing career because I'm not a typical looking actress, I'm not the way actresses are supposed to look, and they didn't want me to have to suffer that rejection and stuff.
"But it's worked in my favor. I'm original."
Lake at first had doubts about doing "Babycakes."
"I didn't want to do it because I didn't want to play a poor, pathetic fat girl. But `Babycakes' is based on a German film, `Sugar Baby,' and after I saw the original film I realized it was the perfect vehicle for me."
Does she like the results?
"No," she said, then laughed at the reporter's surprise. "No, because I don't like watching myself. As a movie it works beautifully. Even in `Hairspray' I didn't like watching myself. I watched `Babycakes' once to make sure I didn't embarrass myself and that's enough."
She is resigned but not particularly happy about the inevitable comparisons with television's other big hit, Roseanne Barr.