American high schools and teenagers’ experiences have been a hot topic in entertainment for decades. From 80’s movies like The Breakfast Club (a classic), to modern day television shows such as 90210 or Gossip Girl. Netflix’s latest show, Insatiable, offers a fresh look at high school in 2018 and all that goes with it.
Insatiable, in Netflix’s words, tells the story of “a bullied teenager [who] turns to beauty pageants as a way to exact her revenge”. But the trailer, which debuted last week and has already garnered a large amount of criticism, reveals a darker side to the latest Netflix creation. Debby Ryan, a former Disney star, is the centre of the show starring as Patty, or more commonly known throughout her school, “Fatty Patty”. This is problem number one.
Ryan, donning an unconvincing fat suit, is subjected to taunts and abuse from her schoolmates before returning, after having her jaw-wired shut, as unrecognisable, thin and typically beautiful. This is problem number two. Patty acknowledges, in the trailer, that with the social status she enjoys as a result of being thin (problem number three) she can be anything she wants at high school. However, she chooses to get revenge on those who bullied her. People love a story of reinvention – just think of Grease – but the trailer ends with Patty saying “this story is full of some crazy shit, that’s what makes it so fun“, a hint that something much more dark runs through this show.
The trailer screams of fat-shaming: not only is Patty taunted because of her size but it inexplicably relates the strength, resilience and other positive attributes of the character to being skinny. As Jameela Jamil, the founder of the ‘I Weigh’ body value movement and an actor, pointed out on Twitter, this show is “still telling kids to lose weight to ‘win’.” It reiterates the common and damaging message that being thin equals having value. That the protagonist thought that being thin allowed them to be and do anything they wish is loaded with the notion that fat people do not have those options or abilities.
Calls are already being made to stop the release of Insatiable. A Change.org petition has received 120,000 signatures. Florence Given, who started the campaign, spoke to The Guardian commenting “this is not an isolated case, but part of a much larger problem that I can promise you every single woman has faced in her life”. I have to say, I agree. This show is not only damaging to the feelings of fat women who face this sort of degradation in their daily lives, as well as being surrounded by fat-shaming in the media, but also perpetuates the patriarchal notion that women’s bodies are up for comment, and that impacts on everyone.
The actors and creators of the show have come out in its defence. Debby Ryan posted a lengthy reply to criticism on her Twitter account commenting that Insatiable is satire and satire should be used as a healing mechanism. She goes on to say that, in spite of her change of appearance the character, Patty, remains the same in her brain, humour, style, soul and heart. Actor Alyssa Milano, who also stars in the show, stated that Insatiable addresses the damage fat-shaming does through comedy. While the shows writer Lauren Gussis explained that Insatiable resulted from her own personal experiences of bullying and is a cautionary tale.
I think these are valid responses, given that no one has yet watched the show only the trailer. I also believe that criticism should be directed at Netflix, as this is not the first time they have created and promoted a questionable and potentially damaging show. Insatiable is just one of a long list. In early 2017 Netflix debuted To the Bone starring Lily Collins, which tells the tale of Ellen, a young girl with an eating disorder who is in an inpatient clinic. The show was criticised for premiering a triggering trailer as well as being responsible for Lily Collins, an anorexia survivor herself, losing weight for the role. New Statesman commented that the images seen throughout the show are typical of pro-ana imagery found all over the internet. At a time where eating disorders are rife, like To the Bone, Insatiable glamourises potentially life threatening illnesses by shrouding it with popularity and beauty pageants. Another example of Netflix’s ignorance to the messages their shows send is their adaptation of 13 Reasons Why. 13 Reasons Why caused outrage for perpetuating suicide myths, opting for shock factor as opposed to creating a preventative show.
I’ve shown the trailer to a few people and have received reactions along the lines of “I can’t wait to watch that”, which clearly shows Netflix’s style of shock factor trailers is working. However, Given’s comments in The Guardian are important, even if this show has been created as comedy and satire because that is how its creator coped, other fat people “still face fat-phobia everyday” and will not see the funny side of Insatiable.
I don’t know if I will watch Insatiable. Part of me wishes to see whether there is more to this show, as the creators and actors have argued. Another part does not want to support a show that perpetuates fat-shaming, fat-phobia, diet culture and all that comes with it. The most hopeful part of me, however, hopes that this outrage and these conversations are the start of including strong, resilient, multifaceted and beautiful fat characters at the centre of story-telling.
Photo: This Is Insider.