We can’t look at Patty and feel empowered by her character when she is a walking testament to everything we are told is wrong with us.
Netflix loves revenge stories, especially super problematic revenge stories that push harmful stereotypes and reinforce dangerous narratives. 13 Reasons Why has had a controversial run on the platform, and now they want us to make way for Insatiable—an obviously fatphobic upcoming series whose creators are promising that it’s not as terrible as it seems, and it seems pretty terrible.
The story follows Patty, a fat teenager played by Debby Ryan, a thin actress. In order to play both fat and thin Patty, Ryan wears a bodysuit that honestly it looks someone just strapped a maternity belly on her and said, “That’s good enough.” Despite the fact they put a thin person in a fat suit and did a terrible job of it, I have to say that, for me, this is preferable to having to watch a fat actor take this role and serve as a real-life “before picture” for Ryan.
After a fateful meeting with someone’s fist, she spends the entire summer with her jaw wired shut and shows up on the first day of the new school year with a smoking hot bod, as rated by conventional beauty standards. She decides she will get revenge on the people who made her life he’ll when she was fat. Her vengeance is where the story is supposed to be “empowering,” but we’ve already boarded the fat-shame train before we even get to that point.
This series is marketed as a dark comedy, in the vein of Heathers or Jawbreaker. In reality, it is nothing more than a revenge body narrative that begins from the idea that fatness is undesirable and fat bodies must become thin in order for those who inhabit them to be truly happy.
Patty does not come back from her summer still fat and decide to let her tormentors have it. She only seeks this revenge after she returns as a thin person who suddenly has access to a world of options that were blocked to her before. Regardless of what she decides to do with that social capital, this entire story still rests on that fact.
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That, in and of itself, is a major issue. Furthermore, it also tacitly supports the idea of dramatically manipulating our bodies in order to achieve thinness. What happens to Patty in the show is an accident, as far as the trailer shows. She didn’t request to have her jaw broken, but we live in a reality where people do drastic things to their bodies to lose weight. It’s not so far removed.
Not only is weight loss surgery (WLS) is a booming industry, but there is also the practice of people who intentionally wire their jaw shut to lose weight, and some even have abrasive pads on their tongue so that eating hurt. These methods end up being incredibly harmful because people are basically starving themselves. It is highly unlikely that Insatiable will delve into the complex dietary needs for someone to be able to properly heal from a major injury like broken jaw and not starve to death while being forced to limit food intake.
The title of this show and this premise of Patty being unable to eat normally for a summer both allude to the idea that Patty is fat due to overeating. One of the teaser trailers depicts her smashing up snacks in a convenience store after she has become thin. This is yet another harmful stereotype about fat people.
The truth is, some bodies are just fat, regardless of how we eat and exercise. We all come in different shapes and sizes and not all fat people “overeat” or “need to hit the gym.” Some people just have a body type that carries more weight than others and that’s okay. The idea that all fat people are fat from lack of self-control leads to a host of biases in society. Fat bodies are seen as lazy by employers, for example, because of this idea that our weight is entirely under our control and indicative of our character. We are just failing to do the work to make our bodies thin, and if we can’t even do that, then what else are we going to skip out on?
The creators of this show claim that they really want Insatiable to be something that highlights fatphobia and body-shaming in a fun and slightly twisted way. But you can’t do that if you open with . . . fatphobia. We can’t look at Patty and feel empowered by her character when she is a walking testament to everything we are told is wrong with us. If that is the very first message they have for us, I’m not interested in whatever else they have to say.
If you want to support the removal of this show, sign the petition to keep it from airing. And if you are hungry for decent media about a fat teen getting her whole life, check out the webcomic Big Jo instead.
This article was made possible thanks to our patron David Porter, whose support on Patreon helps ensure that we can pay one writer every month!
Featured image: Debby Ryan in a scene from Insatiable. Tina Rowden / Netflix
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