Really, Netflix?: 'Insatiable' Promotes Body Shaming over Body Positivity
I could say I’m surprised at Netflix, but then I’d be lying.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, then you’ve most likely heard of the new Netflix show Insatiable and the controversy it's causing. Slated to premiere on August 10, it is already upsetting so many people that a petition has been created to cancel the show.
Created by Lauren Gussis, the premise of the show is this: Patty Bladell (played by Debby Ryan) is a fat and unpopular girl in high school. She’s bullied mercilessly for her weight, until a parking debacle resulted in her being punched in the face, breaking her jaw. This results in her jaw being wired shut for the duration of the summer, and boom: Patty returns to school skinny and hot.
Netflix describes the show as a “Coming of rage story,” chronicling Patty being insatiable, if you will, for revenge against those that wronged her and the life she seemingly couldn’t live before because she was fat. At face value the premise seems troubling, and it gets even worse upon further examination. The creator of the petition to cancel the show, nineteen-year-old Florence Given, is quoted in an article from Buzzfeed saying:
“I started the petition almost immediately after one of my friends shared it on her Facebook. This show openly perpetuates not only the toxicity of diet culture, but the objectification of women's bodies, and that we must be thin to be desirable, receive validation and acceptance, etc. It makes fatness look like something a woman must ‘overcome’ and this is an incredibly toxic message to be drilling into the minds of young, impressionable women.”
Not a great start to the PR for this show, obviously. Let’s break down why exactly this show is, at best, problematic.
1. Patty’s “After” is the only Patty that Matters
Anyone who has struggled with their body image (otherwise known as everyone) has experienced the thought process that amounts to “when I’m skinny, then my real life will start.” We all have friends that have these feelings, if not feeling them ourselves. If I get skinny I can wear cute clothes. If I get skinny I can ask out cute guys/girls. If get skinny I can start taking cute pictures with my friends. The list goes on and on, and Insatiable does nothing but encourage this way of thinking.
Patty is only able to take revenge on her fellow classmates AFTER she loses the weight and becomes conventionally attractive. The message is clear: you have to lose weight to win. Now that Patty is skinny and “hot,” she starts having sex, wearing stylish clothes, and becomes instantly popular on her first day back at school. In the trailer we hear her say “Now I could be the former fatty who turned into a brain, or an athlete, or a princess.”
Do I have to say it? Why couldn’t Patty be any of those things when she was fat? The show shows Patty’s life when she was fat as just a perpetual “before.” It’s as if her entire life prior to being skinny was caught up in being fat. The show doesn’t allow her a real personality or interests, everything is revolved around her weight. The audience is supposed to believe that she’s unlikable and uninteresting simply because she’s fat.
Guess what! You can be fat AND happy. You can be fat AND pretty. You can be fat AND popular, and social, and wear crop tops. Your life doesn’t start at skinny.
2. Patty is the Only One that Changes
From the trailer we can gather that Patty’s life changes for the better when she’s no longer fat, right? She’s finally able to get revenge. Essentially, Patty’s life improves because Patty changed. This implies that fat people are the ones who have to change in order to improve their lives and “make things better.” Patty gets skinny and enacts revenge. All of the action rests on Patty’s shoulders. It is not a person’s responsibility to change in the face of being bullied.
3. How Patty Got Skinny
Honestly, how did this get the greenlight? Patty lost weight because of an accident that caused her jaw to be wired shut.
Patty lost weight because she didn’t eat.
I don’t care if her injury was an accident, the point is clear: starve yourself and you’ll be skinny. I shouldn’t have to explain why broadcasting this to millions of teenage girls is a bad idea. This pushes disordered eating in a pretty obvious and disturbing way. Not only is Patty’s post-fat life full of accomplishments and possibilities she didn’t have while fat, Insatiable will show you how to get there yourself! Don’t eat. Harmless, right?
Not to mention that the use of a fat suit early on in the show is extremely problematic. It’s 2018, and fat bodies are not costumes. Not to mention that the use of fat suits (and therefore, fat people) in media are usually only for a punchline: see the flashbacks to a fat Monica in Friends.
4. Why is Weight Loss the Only Story Told About Fat People?
Again, this is something that I shouldn’t even have to mention. By consistently making fat characters lose weight to tell a story, Insatiable is taking away body positive storylines about the stories of fat people. How about a show where a fat girl accepts and loves herself? The show could have still stuck to its premise of a dark comedy. Patty could have become “insatiable” for revenge while being fat. Or, better yet, we could just have a fat main character whose story isn’t about their weight at all.
5. Violence Isn’t the Only Form of Revenge
After Patty becomes hot (media code for skinny), we not only see her enacting revenge on those who wronged her, but she’s inflicting physical violence on these people. There is even a scene in the trailer of Patty pouring some kind of accelerant on girl who is passed out and lighting a match, seemingly about to murder her by setting her on fire. Yikes.
There are also numerous scenes in which Patty slaps or punches people who made fun of her when she was fat. Is the only type of revenge Insatiable is willing to show abuse and violence? I know it’s a dark comedy, but jeez.
The idea that bullying is an acceptable reason for violence and murder isn’t a great message to show the teenagers that the show is geared toward. Teenagers are impressionable. Bullying is a real issue today: don’t you think a teenager who is hurt and suffering from being bullied would take inspiration from Patty being shown to “win” after committing these acts of violence?
Along with the many, many issues with the show, the responses to public outrage have been lacking. Both creator Lauren Gussis and Alyssa Milano, who also appears in the show, have leapt to Insatiable’s defense. Problem is, their defense is weak and doesn’t concretely address any specific issues that have been brought up. On Twitter, Alyssa Milano claimed that they weren’t fat shaming Patty, they’re addressing the damage caused by fat shaming. You sure about that, sis? A Teen Vogue article also attempted to defend the show, saying:
“From the get-go, Debby and Lauren aimed to use satire to address the painful issues within Patty’s story. Their goal for Insatiable is to “push the bar forward.” During the audition, Debby and Lauren ended up crying talking about how protective they were of Patty’s story and representing the character’s story fairly, and through the lens of dark comedy.”
See, I don’t make the connection between devaluing fat people, advocating disordered eating, and the use of a fat suit and “pushing the bar forward,” but hey, that could just be me.
It isn’t, though. That petition I mentioned earlier? As of today it’s reached over 210,000 signatures. A quick Google search will reveal countless articles outlining the numerous issues taken with the thirty-second trailer.
This isn’t the first time Netflix has faced some backlash: after renewing 13 Reasons Why, another extremely problematic show that has arguably influenced some people to commit suicide, and canceling shows that provided much needed representation like Sense8 and The Get Down, I’m not necessarily surprised that Netflix has decided to greenlight this show.
Let’s make one thing clear: Patty didn’t get hot, she got skinny. Let’s hope they can do better in the future.