The upcoming dark comedy series, at first look, enforces bad and boring stereotypes about fat people that are all around us
Marketing its latest original series as a classic high school revenge story, Netflix released the trailer for Insatiable last week, to a market desperate for realistic, nuanced fat representation. Instead, we got ‘Fatty Patty’ – a thin, attractive actress (Debby Ryan) in a fat suit, bullied relentlessly until she loses weight and enacts her vengeance. The promise being that those who attacked her for her fatness will be her victims. In becoming ‘hot’ the not-fat Patty will take down her previous oppressors in a tale old as television.
The basic message of this teen show is that bullying is bad. Even when you’re bullying fat people. The problem of Insatiable is that it is instead acting as a direct attack on the fat community in itself. But in reality, fat people cannot take their fat suit off at the end of the day, as Ryan does, nor are their jaws wired shut to go through some bizarre transformation, as ‘Fatty Patty’ experiences. Becoming thin isn't the end goal for every fat person, and nor should it be. Being taken seriously shouldn't come at the cost of losing weight, and being happy doesn’t automatically appear when you lose 100 pounds.
All of these trite tropes about what fat people want, need, and should be in order to exist in the same space as our thin peers are not only tired, but irresponsible. By showing losing weight as the answer to all your problems in a TV series – Patty becomes confident and all-American ‘hot’ – with a teen target market, Netflix stokes the fires of self hate, fuelling the age-old societal view that to be thin is to be happy.
We have more fat characters than ever on television, but more and more shows are failing the fat people they're trying to represent. The ‘woke’, body positive–marketed Heathers reboot last year failed in making any positive representation for their fat character, and was ridiculed for its hollow attempt at inclusivity on-screen. Chrissy Metz from This Is Us has weight loss literally written into her contract as part of her character’s journey. Still, these shows are heralded as ‘radical’ in mainstream media.
There's little left of being radical in current body positivity – from diet brands marketing girl power and before and after weight loss Instagram posts touted as the ultimate #selflove – the fat acceptance movement that spawned the phrase now refuse to use it. When everything is described as body positive, nothing is.
“Even if Insatiable was working on making fat people seem attractive and, even more radically, human, it would still barely be brushing the surface on what fat people really need”
Almost 100,000 people have signed a Change.org petition to stop Insatiable’s release at the time of writing, less than a week since its trailer release. Since then, more details of the plot have been released: Patty loses weight so rapidly because her mouth is wired shut after being punched in the face, for example, proves this program has a lot more underlying fatphobia than the trailer even showed us.
In response to the outcry from actual fat people, Ryan shared a highlighted portion of the Teen Vogue coverage of the show. An interview that, it's notable to point out, was conducted and written by a slim bodied man.
“Problematic? You bet. After all, if someone’s treatment of you is rooted in how your body looks, that says a lot about them, not you,” Teen Vogue explained and Ryan reinforced. The issue with marketing problematic media as satire, intended to eradicate judging people by their appearances, is that satire in its nature needs to be on the side of the oppressed and not the oppressor.
Essentially, if Insatiable wanted to represent and inspire fat people, they shouldn't have centred their story around weight loss, bullying fat people, and the concept of a ‘revenge body'. These ideas already exist in society, these values are forced on fat people daily in the media, in society, and from their peers. Fatphobia isn't just about how fuckable we are, but affects fat people’s chances of employability, decent medical care, and so much more than just finding nice trousers in a size 26.
Even if Insatiable was working on making fat people seem attractive and, even more radically, human, it would still barely be brushing the surface on what fat people really need. Instead, the show perpetuates the notion that getting thin is the only way fat people can succeed within 45 seconds of their trailer – “Now I could be the former fatty that turned into a brain, or an athlete, or a princess,” Patty’s voice over comments, implying that her previous body made it impossible for her to be anything other that a surface-level trope. She can’t be seen as a friend, a love interest, or a human being until she abides by the show’s beauty standards.
In reality, and not in these faux inspirational shows, fat people are changing the world. Tess Holliday covered the fitness issue of Self magazine, while Gabi Fresh has made a career on making fatkinis and plus size clothing. This year, Princeton university held its first fat positive dinner. These stories, of small victories for a long shit-on community, are the ones we need to publicise and reflect in creative media. Sierra Burgess is a Loser, another upcoming Netflix series, offers a more promising look at the life of marginalised teenagers made to feel abnormal by their peers. We need storylines with fat characters that have nothing to do with being fat, storylines about overcoming obstacles from being fat, while remaining fat. And that is precisely what Insatiable has failed to do.