Deputy Culture Editor - Film & TV
Film & TV Editor Manon Haag tells us about ten things wrong with the first ten minutes of Insatiable
Netflix original series Insatiable was released on the platform August 10, after a trainwreck of a promotional campaign. Early reviews and reactions to the trailer expressed outrage at the display of fat-shaming rhetorics and over 220,000 people signed a petition calling on the streaming service to cancel its release. A quick google search reflects the abysmal critical reception fuelled with indignation at the offensive nature of the plot of Insatiable, the story of "Fatty Patty’s" 70 pounds weight loss and revenge on life as a beauty queen.
Show creator Laura Gussis defended herself: the show is here to start a conversation, she told the Hollywood Reporter; it was motivated by her own struggle with eating disorders. I am not here to question Gussis’ experience. Yet when she declares that reactions to her show are forms of censorship, I can’t contain myself because it makes it clear she doesn’t realise that what she has created is incredibly offensive to anyone who’s ever been overweight. Let me tell you about ten things just plain wrong with the first ten minutes of Insatiable:
#1 Overweight girls are spiteful unhappy people
"I heard stories of girls who grew up happy and well-adjusted with a healthy relationship to food and their bodies - screw these bitches!" are the opening lines of the show. Not only is the assumption that being overweight would generate spiteful attitudes towards others highly problematic, we are also encouraged to take Patty’s side, because it is funny to call other girls bitches? For some reason, a writer thought this totally gratuitous insult would be funny because by being fat, Patty stands the moral high ground. That writer failed to see that this remark only renders Patty super antipathetic from the first ten seconds of the show.
#2 The fatsuit
Fatsuits are a symbol of the transient nature of being fat on screen. You couldn’t possibly hire a fat actress because she couldn’t shed that weight in a flash and turn into the only kind of female who can lead in a successful show: the young and skinny one! Besides, fat people are funny, and what is funnier than a grotesque panto-like mass of padding and heavy prosthetics? They are offensive and reduce the struggles of weight loss to a gimmick.
# 3 Fat people have no social or sexual lives
The nonexistent sexual life of fat people is a worn-out cultural trope. As if that weren’t enough, the writers decided that Patty was also incapable of forming lasting friendships (but one). This is perfect garbage. And the reason I am mad is I had long believed it to be true. Friendships have never been an issue when I was overweight. Sex, however, was another matter. Everything in pop culture was telling me that "people like me" were not meant to have sex. I was embarrassed and pushed back the few people interested - not that there were that many to start with. Then, I lost my weight and guess what? Sexuality is just one of those things that feels like a big deal to everyone; it can be challenging, scary and intimidating whether you are a size 6 or a size 22.
#4 Being fat makes you who you are
You can be proud of your body shape, or you can despise it - either way, being fat is not a personality trait. Of course it can impact who you are but who you are does not revolve around your weight. I have gained and lost weight several times over. Were I to regain the weight I have lost in the past few years - which is a constant worry, by the way - would I revert to my 18-year-old self? In that case, pass me that jar of nutella right now because I was a great deal more fun back then!
#5 Thin girls are stupid
It does no one any good to portray fat girls as smart while the others can’t even spell their own names. In the series, "Fatty Patty" is insatiable for revenge and she views every single person in her surroundings as inferior to her. However, she displays no particular sign of intelligence herself. The only reason we assume she is more intelligent than beauty pageant rival Dixie St Clair is because she claims so… and because she used to be fat. What kind of empowering role model is that?
#6 Fat people are out of control
Interestingly, fat people are put down for being out of control in a society which constantly promotes getting out of control! We all see the junk food memes and we have all been part of those "I got so wasted last night… and the seven nights before" conversations that people wear as badges of honour. Because let’s face it, being out of control is fun - until you gain too much weight to shop in Urban Outfitters and H&M. When I regained control over my eating and drinking two years ago, I did not fall back into the "norm", I became the odd one out. "Don’t be picky, what’s wrong with a cheeky chippy?" or "Are you seriously drinking tea on a Saturday night?" were all I heard for the first couple of months because everyone is different; the efforts I had to make to stabilise my weight might not be the same as you would have to.
#7 Diets, cleanses and fitness
Apparently, all it takes to get thin is to eat kale and get your fat butt to the gym. Personally, I loved swimming at 185 lbs and I love it at 147 lbs; I didn’t go on carb-free, protein-only, half-pak choi and two-third carrot and papaya juice diets to lose weight. I experimented on ways to manage my stress otherwise than by eating. I played around with portions per food groups, discovered new recipes to cook healthy treats to replace chocolate. Understanding and modulating a relationship with one’s body is a personal process and it should be a peaceful and enjoyable one. It is not a set of drastic measures imposed for a month, it is the crafted lifestyle you choose for yourself.
#8 The three-months miracle effect
Let’s gloss over the fact that three-months is a ridiculously short period of time to lose 75 lbs and over the utopia of short diet resulting in miraculous weight control, after which Patty can revert back to constantly munching on crisps and drinking vodka. Being fat is not just about psychological scars. Ever heard of stretch marks and sagging belly skin, Insatiable writers? If you are trying to lose weight for aesthetic reasons and aim at looking like a Victoria Secret model, you better get yourself another candy bar.
#9 Fat girls have dysfunctional relationship with their mothers
In Insatiable, Patty’s mum is sympathetic to her daughter’s hardship. It must be hard looking the way she does… with a hot mum like her. Insatiable would have you believe a mother-daughter discussion on weight can only be an abusive power struggle. To me this might be one of the most offensive and damaging clichés constantly fuelled by media representations. My mother expressed concerns over my weight in high school. Her remarks became more frequent, more obvious, and more cutting. Childishly, I long resisted understanding what she was telling me. She wasn’t telling me I looked ugly and she wasn’t telling me she was ashamed of my weight. She was telling me I wasn’t healthy, and that she was scared about the damage inflicted on my liver and my stomach. It took an eye-opening blood test revealing the damage of my diet on my internal organs for me to realise none of this was about my mother’s vanity. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t about my mother at all! It was about me, my present and my future health.
I have listed nine reasons why Insatiable is offensive to me. I have not talked about people whose weight is connected to genetic predispositions or illnesses. I have not talked about overweight people who are fit, happy and beautiful. I have not talked about people who struggle with weight in a much more dramatic way. My experience is fairly benign and still, I am offended by the recklessness of the creators of Insatiable who pushed through, despite warnings from within their industry and from the public.
#10 The show’s take on queer, ethnic and gender identities
They are just simply careless and appalling - perhaps even more so than the show's take on body politics, which is supposedly its subject matter.
The writer of this piece is a 25-year-old woman who has experienced obesity and weight loss - at her heaviest, she was 185 lbs and 5’4’’ tall. She was medically considered obese (and is still considered mildly overweight). The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not propound to constitute a universal claim. Body politics is a wide and inclusive debate which does and should continue to foster a diversity of experiences and testimonies.
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