Debby Ryan in Insatiable (Photo by Netflix)
Debby Ryan in Insatiable (Photo by Netflix)

TV

Insatiable’s fat-shaming feels unfunny – and potentially dangerous

The trailer for the new Netflix show has caused controversy, highlighting why we need to change the narrative around weight

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By Lily Peschardt on

I’m always semi-suspicious of people who say they enjoyed high school. How anyone could enjoy themselves in that cesspit of hormones and self-doubt and BO is nothing short of amazing to me. High school is hard for pretty much everyone. Ostensibly, that’s what Netflix’s new show, Insatiable, aims to highlight. But when the trailer dropped last week, it swiftly attracted a wave of outrage and criticism online.

The series stars Debby Ryan as Patty, a high-school girl who is bullied because of her weight. And, yes, they do call her “Fatty Patty”. In the trailer, Patty appears to get punched in the face, which leads to her having her jaw wired shut for summer. “Having my jaw wired shut lost me more than just my summer vacation,” the voiceover says, as we see Patty walking through the corridors of her school while a posse of boys leer at her as she looks up at them demurely. One girl, who we saw earlier in the trailer bully Patty, stands up in an assembly and exclaims, “Look, Patty’s hot!” From there, the trailer gets somewhat confusing but it seems Patty is determined to use her newfound look for revenge.

I first became aware of the show when body-positivity warrior Jameela Jamil shared her concerns about the show’s premise on Twitter, criticising the inherent fat-shaming.

Watching the trailer, I didn’t feel outraged so much as exhausted. “How many more times,” I wondered, “are we going to have to deal with this crap?”

Alyssa Milano, one of the actors in the show, took to Twitter to defend the series, saying, “We are not shaming Patty. We are addressing (through comedy) the damage that occurs from fat-shaming.”

And that may be true. This series may be a razor-sharp take on the perils of fat-shaming. But at what cost? Of course, there are important and serious conversations to be had about fat-shaming, but this show has, at first glance, completely undercut them with this trailer that glorifies being thin above all else. A lot of people won’t watch this show. But they will have watched this trailer. This trailer that enforces all the messages they’ve been told their entire lives: that their life would be better if only they were thin.

This isn’t an interesting take. This isn’t something groundbreaking or new. We’ve seen it with “Fat Monica” in Friends. Or “Fat Schmidt” in New Girl. It’s a tired and boring trope and the only reason we still see it play out on television screens is because we have been conditioned to believe that this is true. Monica loses the weight after hearing Chandler call her fat and one day goes on to marry him. Schmidt loses the weight and becomes a successful businessman and marries a former model. We are made to believe that these things wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t lost the weight, that being thin was what let them finally live the lives they were always supposed to.

Of course, there are important and serious conversations to be had about fat-shaming, but this show has, at first glance, completely undercut them with this trailer that glorifies being thin above all else

Talking to the BBC, Stephanie Yeboah, a plus-size style blogger, explained, "Portraying a fat person as the 'joke' character before they lose weight, against their will, who eventually becomes respected and popular is damaging and irresponsible.” She continued, “Fat women can be desirable. We can be sexy. We can be popular in school. We can have amazing careers and families. We deserve to have this narrative told.”

That fat women deserve to have their stories told shouldn’t feel like a revolutionary statement and yet it does. But it’s not just the narrative around fat women that needs to be expanded – it’s the narrative around weight in general. This idea that fat is bad, and thin is good, serves no one. Thinness is packaged up and marketed to women as something fixed and unmoving; that when you reach a certain weight, you will enter Nirvana. Talk to the 1.25 million people in the UK suffering from an eating disorder and I think they’ll tell you a different story. They’ll tell you that there is no amount of weight you can lose that will stop you from hating who you are. And yet the narratives around weight would have us believe otherwise.

Insatiable is aimed at young girls. One in four of these girls will be diagnosed as clinically depressed by the time they’re 14. Their symptoms will include feeling miserable, tired, lonely and hating themselves. Do you know what this young girl probably doesn’t need in her life? A show that tells her that there may be side benefits to being punched so hard in the face a doctor has to wire your jaw shut. A show that tells her that being thin is what they should aspire to be, above all else.

We need to give young girls bigger dreams that being thin. We need to give them characters that make them aspire to be kind, to be smart, to eat the cake, to tell the jokes, to let themselves have some goddamn fun every once in a while. We need more stories, we need different stories and, for the love of God, we need to stop putting thin people in fatsuits and calling groundbreaking.

UPDATE: An online petition calling on Netflix to pull Insatiable before its scheduled release on 10 August has garnered over 100,000 signatures. Debby Ryan, who plays the protagonist, Patty, took to social media to try and defend the show, calling it "satire" and urging people to "wait and watch the show before passing judgement".

@LilyPesch 

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Debby Ryan in Insatiable (Photo by Netflix)
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