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~ Content Warning of “Insatiable – Do Better”: Fatphobia; Eating Disorders; Suicide ~
So, I heard some news today in the fat positive community about a new show Netflix is releasing in the beginning of August. It’s called Insatiable and a loose explanation of the show is that its about a fat girl and her struggle in high school. Hm. Okay, there’s a lot of potential there.
Unsurprisingly though, Netflix completely botched their opportunity to shed light on toxic diet culture and teenage bullying. They could have created media that tackles body image and promotes positive messages of self love to teenagers. Instead, they created another highly fatphobic and incredibly problematic series to sit alongside all the other “fat girl gets thin and is hot now” tropes.
More Info on Insatiable
When diving just slightly deeper into the summary of the show, you’ll find first that the actress and lead role, Debby Ryan, is a thin actress, wearing a fat suit for the character. The protagonist is bullied and shamed for her body, resulting in disordered eating behaviors. She undergoes a surgery that wires her jaw shut, in hopes of losing weight (I’m not kidding, thats really the length to which people think we should go in order to lose weight). And she does lose weight. Suddenly, Ryan’s character returns to school after summer vacation as the new thin and happy version of herself. Everyone adores her. She then uses her newfound confidence to seek revenge on all of those evil high schoolers who did her wrong.
The Title…I Mean, Really?
First, can we just talk about the title of this show?
Insatiable: Having an appetite that is impossible to satisfy.
Think of that definition. Now, take a look at this image of the actress in a fat suit, holding a candy bar (of course, what else would a fat person eat?).
What message are you taking away from this when you think of the title, Insatiable? What does it make you feel about that character?
Chances are, you’re probably blaming that character for not having control over her caloric intake. You’re probably making judgements about what kind of life she lives (perhaps lazy) and what kinds of foods she eats (exclusively junk food that we have deemed “bad”). You might even make a character judgement that she doesn’t have quite enough discipline.
We Need To Do Better
I can’t believe this is the kind of content we’re putting out into the universe in 2018. 20-fucking-18. The correlation between internalized fatphobia and eating disorders is astoundingly clear. And yet, we’re still doing this. Why are we still doing this?
If you continue to tell enough young people that fat is disgusting, unattractive, lazy, and a moral failure or loveless even, what do we expect the outcome to be? We show them thin people succeeding at, well, basically anything in life…and fat people continuing to be the butt of every joke. What kind of message do you think teenagers are going to take away from that?
First, they’re going to normalize bullying. They’re going to think it is 100% okay and justified to not only bully other fat kids (and adults lets be real), but to also discriminate against people with fat bodies once they are adults themselves.
They’re also going to take those judgements that they have learned from media about fat bodies, and internalize them. What they think about others, they now hold as rules for themselves about what not to be.
Don’t be fat because you won’t find love. Everyone will think you’re lazy. No one will think you’re beautiful as you are.
They’re going to start watching what they eat and counting calories. As teenagers. They’ll pick at their bodies every night when they get home from school. They’ll skip meals. They’ll feel at war within themselves. They’ll dread being fat.
Are we even shocked that 30 million people in the US have eating disorders?!
Intention Doesn’t Negate Impact
Teenagers are in a critical time in their brain development as well as developing their own sense of self worth and personal identity. They’re figuring out who they are and are so susceptible to interpretation. They’re taking in all kinds of messages from shows, movies, and music that perpetuate moral connotations we associate with beauty and thinness. Kids are going to see this and equate fat with bad and thin with good.
The fact of the matter here is, the content is harmful. I don’t care what one good message within the story might be. Specifically, Debby Ryan said she felt it was a good series because it shows the struggles of binge eating disorder. And, as someone who struggles with this disordered eating myself, I’m totally open to seeing more representation of the various types of eating disorders and diverse groups of people who suffer from them.
However, any show (or professional for that matter) that tells you the best way to deal with one eating disorder is to develop another – by starving oneself – is fucking wrong. Do not believe that shit. It’s so harmful. That is an unreliable source. That source is coming from a place of fatphobia. They’re not looking out for the your personal, physical, and emotional wellbeing. They are upholding an agenda they have learned from a flawed medical system. They believe its better to be anorexic, bulimic, malnourished, and thin, than to be fat and happy.
So, sure. Perhaps the show has some good intentions hidden somewhere in there. The problem is that intention does not negate the impact that these messages will have on the audience.
I think that’s the part that people refuse to admit. We can be fat and happy. In fact we are! There’s a lot of us fat folks out there living completely normal, exciting, fulfilling lives. It’s entirely possible to love yourself just the way you are and reject toxic diet culture. Yes, its so hard and takes a lot of work. But its possible. And worth it. Society has the problem with my fat body. Not me. When left to just be and live my life with kindness, love, and people that love me back, I love me too.
And how could I not? I’m fucking adorable and one hell of a human.
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Change the Trajectory
What if we taught a new message to teenagers? What if we were to show teens that you could have a fat body and be bold, confident, and successful? I for one, firmly believe that this would have a much more promising impact on the rate at which young people are developing mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Each day in the U.S. nearly 3500 of our youth are attempting suicide. Imagine how we could combat that terrifying statistic with positive messages in media instead of ones that further a fatphobic narrative.
For example, lets say Insatiable was actually portrayed by a fat actor instead of a thin one in a fat suit. What if the show was about a high school girl learning about body positivity, attending therapy for her disordered eating, and how she kicked ass at life and taught the high school douchebags what a confident fat babe can really do?
Bottom line is, Insatiable is a show perpetuating toxic diet culture, fatphobia, and is incredibly harmful – especially for teenagers and youth who are their presumed audience. And at best, it’s just lazy writing. That’s a hard pass for me.
My ask of those developing media…
– Cast fat people to play fat characters. Get rid of those disgusting fat suits.
– Create content with good intentions as well as positive impact. Do some research.
If you want to write about the experiences of fat people, why don’t you just, I dunno, ask us?