A fat suit, really? Netflix's new show Insatiable is not what we need right now

A fat suit, really? Netflix's new show Insatiable is not what we need right now
Images via Netflix

One of the last bastions of seemingly "safe" comedy within otherwise politically correct spaces are fat jokes. Despite the body positive movement hitting mainstream on some levels, I still hear fat jokes from liberal comedians and their daily/weekly shows on the regular. It's tiresome. Then last week, I was introduced to a new Netflix series “Insatiable," which presents a fat teen bullied by her high school classmates who gets clocked in the face and loses a bunch of weight due to her jaw being wired shut over the summer. She comes back after losing a lot of weight, now perceived as "hot," and exacts revenge on her bullying classmates.

The premise alone is shudder-inducing, but the kicker? The teen is played by Debby Ryan in a FAT SUIT. I honestly thought we had moved past that Shallow Hal fat suit BS. But the suit is alive and well apparently and is still being used to reduce characters to a body type and the stereotypes with which we associate it.

I doubt I need to tell you this, but teen Patty (yep, "fatty Patty") is shy, meek, and begrudgingly accepting of her apparent status in this body size caste system of high school. One of the most eye-rolling lines in the trailer is when Patty determines that because she is now a "former fatty," she could be "a brain," or "an athlete," or "a princess," as if someone who is fat couldn't be any of those things. They can only be fat and the negative traits that go along with it, according to this premise.

Here's the trailer so you can see for yourself…

 

Sure, I haven't seen this series and there could be some surprise revelation in it that Patty was worthwhile all along, but the premise that fat = ugly and unlovable and thin = hot and the world is your oyster is just stale and absolutely not realistic. It's enough that, on the whole, fat characters almost invariably fill the roles of sassy sidekick, lonely best friend, loner in the lunchroom, Jolly-helpsalot-whojustwantsfriends, or sometimes, sitcom husband to a thin wife. That last one pets my peeves especially but for other reasons.

Apparently the ire for the trailer alone has inspired a Change.org petition to keep it from being aired. The rationale there is sound: this show absolutely could inspire unhealthy and disordered eating in young people who decide that they too want revenge that can only be embarked upon once they fit the "it's okay to be you now that you're skinny" model of worthiness.

You can absolutely address the harm that fat shaming does while also not placing the fat person within a context that confirms fat shaming is totally normal.

The show's stars, including Alyssa Milano, have responded to the criticism saying things like, "We are not shaming Patty,” Milano said. “We are addressing (through comedy) the damage that occurs from fat shaming. I hope that clears it up."

You can absolutely address the harm that fat shaming does while also not placing the fat person within a context that confirms fat shaming is totally normal. It's pervasive, but so very surmountable and varied in its forms. And there's no way we can rise above it without normalizing fat bodies being, well, normal, and strong and talented and nuanced, just like everyone else.

Regardless of how the shows deals with fat shaming, what we could really use right now is more empowering stories of fat people being awesome and not stereotypes. One excellent example of normalizing fat bodies is a Valiant comic book series called Faith which features a fat teen with psionic superpowers heading into college. Her fatness is presented as neither a deficit nor really anything to comment on all that much. She's fat, she's superpowered, she's awesome. She is not a token fat superhero, she is a superhero who happens to be fat. Because you know what? Most people in America and similar countries are fat and we all do amazing things every day… while being fat.

Most Americans are doing amazing things every day… while being fat.

What we could use are a few more Fat Amy's from Pitch Perfect who spend their time perfecting their "mermaid dances" and standing up to "twig bitches like you." Or Muriel from Muriel's Wedding who, while making some truly suspect choices in her life, makes a point to do anything she can to get what she wants. Or Gloria in Waiting to Exhale who finds herself a man who loves a larger woman and doesn't want her to change at all. Or my very favorite, Rae Earl from "My Mad Fat Diary," who struggles with her weight and her self image in SUCH realistic and relatable ways and triumphs without losing an ounce. We need SO MANY MORE Rae Earls in our media.

I hope that there is more backlash to obvious faux pas like fat suits, but also to those more minor offenses of fat shaming for the sake of comedy that surprise me every time I hear them.

If you do end up watching this show, especially with someone young and/or impressionable, make sure you're talking it out and balancing it with something better.

Or, even better, that it proves me wrong in the end.

What do YOU think about the trailer for Insatiable? Will you be tuning in?

  1. Sorry but I just don't agree based on what I'm seeing in the trailer! It's not about promoting fat-shaming but what can happen to someone that is subjected to it for so long 🙁 Cleaning up the plot to make her fat and successful at the same time wouldn't quite hit the mark for showing the psychological damage done to this poor young girl and how terrible society can be that they are swayed so easily by some extra pounds. The fact that it is over the top (in my opinion) is to show these things more clearly to the audience <3 I know I will probably be a minority opinion but I really truly do not believe this is promoting fat shaming

    11 agree
    • As someone who was "fat shamed" growing up, I'm looking forward to this show.
      Is it because I was hurt by someone's words? Yes. Are kids going to feel catharsis from this show? Probably? Am I? Yes.
      The hurt that someone feels at being ostracized is real and it feels like this show is trying to convey that to a wider audience and show consequences of bullying.

      6 agree
    • Yeah, I hear what Catherine is saying here, but I was wondering if this was supposed to be more dark comedy. I am not interested in the show either way, but the line about how she could be anyone now felt more darkly comic to me than anything.

      3 agree
        • You all may be right that it could be funny as a dark comedy or cathartic as a revenge plot or recognizable as a way you or someone else was bullied. But something being funny, cathartic, or relatable doesn't mean it won't also be damaging.

          There's no way around this being a story where the lead can't do whatever she needs until she is skinny. And while we all may be having those fantasies anyway (and I know we do), it is still a narrative that we tell ourselves that HURTS us. It may feel good to see ourselves in the shoes of someone who finally gets to be skinny, but that isn't the story that both the overweight teens and their bullies need to hear right now.

          Teens already know that being fat sucks. Polls show that most teen girls would literally rather die than gain weight. Bullies know that their words hurt. It's why they do it. But if we show the overweight teens that they don't have to lose weight to get what they want, slowly they may actually start to believe it. If we show the bullies that fat people are living their lives and succeeding despite the bullying, they may not see the bullying's effectiveness as much. But a bully seeing a skinny girl getting her comeuppance? That just reinforces the notion that either their bullying worked or that skinny = win.

          You're right that this one might surprise me. The revenge may feel good when I watch it and I'll see myself in the lead. And that's fine, but it doesn't help the bullied or the bullies see themselves in any other way than the status quo and shows no alternative path other than "nothing will get better until you are skinny." If we don't start showing something else, anything else other than that narrative, especially combined with a bunch of inaccurate stereotypes, then we'll just keep feeding the beast that created it.

          Normalizing fat as acceptable and worthy, even if you're bullied for it, feels to me like the only way forward.

          12 agree
    • To expand further: nowhere in this trailer did I interpret it as glorifying "fat shaming" or bullying because of apperance.
      It has bullying, but it seems to touch on the internalizing Patty does and the self hatred which is maybe caused by and impacted further by bullying.
      It's showing what it feels like to be bullied. What someone's awful words *do* to someone else.
      I'm hoping that this show – in a way – puts a mirror up to bullies to show that their words do just as much damage as a physical scar, if not more.
      Not glorifying. Not size shaming. Not encouraging an eating disorder to get skinny and get even. Saying "those words you said *hurt*"

      4 agree
    • I'm still thinking about this.
      The trailer (and I'm focusing on the trailer only because the discussion on this show right now is based on less than 2 minutes of trailer – that's all that is released) shows more than "fat shaming" it's BULLYING and it's bad! Pig pictures, locker spray painting, more than comments about eating pizza.

      Going from that, I'm reminded of "A Girl Like Her" which is a hidden camera/talking head faux documentary on cyber and physical bullying which drives a girl to a suicide attempt. The end of the movie she is in a coma because of prescription medication overdose.

      Yes, that feels irrelavant until you read the statement from the show's creator: "When I was 13, I was suicidal, my best friends dumped me, I was bullied and I wanted revenge. I thought if I looked pretty on the outside, I’d feel like I was enough. Instead, I developed an eating disorder … and the kind of rage that makes you want to do dark things. I’m still not comfortable in my skin, but I’m trying to share my insides – to share my pain and vulnerability through humor. That’s just my way. The show is a cautionary tale about how damaging it can be to believe that outsides are more important – to judge without going deeper. Please give the show a chance.”
      This show was created by someone who lived it. It's still art and creative output.

      Now. Not wanting to watch or support this I see. It is potentially problematic. Netflix does not shy away from that (13 Reasons Why, based on a work of fiction by a male author (experience with subject matter unknown)).
      However, does calling for the cancellation/censorship of this work based on someone's very real experiences and feelings make it better? Would there be outrage if it had been a drama?
      Are we literally calling to *actually cancel* any show that depicts unpleasant realities? Are we making a snap judgement based on apperance alone?

      1 agrees
  2. Hm. Interesting. It does look like it might be trying to be a satire of those typical teen movies. Not sure how well it will pull it off, since the “revenge” appears to be just violence. Doesn’t seem like a particularly clever take on it to me. I agree that the fat suit is in disturbingly poor taste. I hope fat suits go the way of black face.

    2 agree
  3. Here's my issue, black comedy or not:

    I am so frickin' sick of narratives about weight and body issues fixating on cheese doodles and twinkies.

    I was never extremely overweight as a child or teen, but I was a little plump. My mother was flat out obese. My father was thin as a rail and type 1 diabetic. We had a range of nutritional needs and body types in the house.

    We never kept sweets or processed snacks in the house. EVER. Twinkies were mutually acknowledged as disgusting. Sure, we did eat a lot of carbs, but we're talking pasta with vegetables and chicken – REAL FOOD. Nothing like the contents of the grocery aisle you can see the main character attacking with a sledgehammer in the trailer.

    Weight, nutrition, and metabolism are super complex, so I won't claim to know exactly what was going on with my family's diet situation in my youth, but based on the changes I've made to my lifestyle as an adult and the difference in my body now, neither I nor my mother got anywhere NEAR enough physical activity, and every single person in my mother's family, going back generations, was shaped like her.

    So every time I see a piece of media about weight and fatness and related issues and there's an image or montage involving an overweight character scarfing down junk food, or even just eating a normal meal as if that's the cause of their "inappropriate" extra weight, I just rage quit.

    1) Fat people need to eat. You don't magically achieve a healthy weight by starving yourself. You COULD damage your heart and other organs and shut down your metabolism as you waste away, though. You'll get thin, but you won't get healthy.

    2) Many people who eat relatively healthy diets are some kind of fat. Good nutrition and portion size are important for maintaining weight, but THERE ARE OTHER FACTORS.

    3) Not all exercise is created equal. Telling someone who needs to lose weight to get on a treadmill is moronic. I have spinal injuries and hypermobility – gym teachers kept trying to make me run as a child, and it hurt SO BADLY that I started avoiding all physical activity. My toes would go numb when I went up stairs. I got dizzy running for the bus. In college I finally got access to an elliptical, martial arts classes, free weights, and yoga, and they changed my life.

    4) Some people are going to have certain physical characteristics that people associate with fatness when they are a perfectly healthy weight. I now have a BMI of 23, but my stomach is not flat. It protrudes a little bit, making it look like I have a gut. That is how my abdominal muscles are shaped and how my ribs sit on my frame due to scoliosis. Nothing is going to give me washboard abs short of surgery. I will always, from a certain angle, look like I have a little tummy pudge, whether that's what it actually is or not. I also have that little bit of fat that sits at the front of a lot of women's armpits. As I lost body fat, that area did not change much – it's just how I'm shaped there.

    Sorry 'bout the rant. Insatiable may be a black comedy or it may be fat shame-y, I don't know, but I'm just DESPERATE for media that deals with this issue in a more nuanced way, whether it's a serious drama or a clever lambast. Because even if Insatiable turns out to be well-done black comedy, I just don't find the ham-fisted (hyuk-hyuk) archetypes of 'fat behavior' funny anymore, well done or not.

    9 agree
    • So totally agree. There may end being redeeming qualities to this show, we just don't know. But man, like you, I'm also just.plain.tired of the tropes and stereotypes. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

      3 agree
  4. I agree with what some other posters (Allison, LizzieOphelia) have said. Without having watched more than the trailer I'm in no position to judge the whole thing, but it doesn't look like fat shaming. I'm not saying it's particularly good, or nuanced, and it seems to feature very obvious stereotypes, but that comes across as deliberate to make a point.

    I'm in two minds about the fat suit: on the one hand, it immediately strikes me as clumsy/borderline offensive. On the other hand, what's the alternative? Two different actresses with completely different body types playing the same character? Or a fat actress squeezed into a "thin suit"? Or an actress forced to gain and lose large amounts of weight within a short amount of time? None of those are feasible! About the only thing they could do is use CGI to alter how fat or thin the character is, which is probably beyond their budget and does the same thing as a fat suit anyway.

    5 agree
    • The alternative to a fat suit is plot lines that don’t rely on a fat to thin redemption arc. Casting fat actors to play awesome fat characters. It’s not about the quality of the fat suit, it’s the plot that makes us need a rags to riches-style fat to thin story. CGI, two characters, none of that is the point. It’s about giving people, young people especially, stories that give them socialized permission to be who they are, fat or thin.

      8 agree
      • Oh yes, I'm not disputing that! Of course it would be better for the fat character to have worth without weight loss even being mentioned. Who knows how the story ends though? Maybe they show how she's still the same person thin as she was fat, and that she has just as much worth regardless of her weight. Maybe all the bullies learn a valuable lesson about not judging people's appearance, and maybe the main character gains the weight back with the difference that now she knows she's hot even if she's not thin.

        As I say, I can't judge just from the trailer even though it did look ridiculously clichéd (like the tired stereotype of the "shy, mousy girl who takes off her glasses, puts on some make-up, and suddenly has confidence and a fun life, which she apparently couldn't have before!").

        My musing on the alternative to a fat suit was based on the fact of the story-line shown in the trailer, where the whole plot hinges on the main character losing a lot of weight. A fat suit might seem like it's poking fun, but maybe the story-line is actually sensitive and nuanced, in which case a fat suit is simply a tool used to tell a story rather than something icky and insulting. Hard to tell without knowing the whole story 🙂

        3 agree
        • "…a fat suit is simply a tool used to tell a story rather than something icky and insulting." Absolutely. It potentially could redeem itself and be used as a tool for good, though it so rarely has been in the past. We'll see soon enough. But I do also hope it goes the way of blackface in terms of its use, and there will be overall less of a need to have anyone lose weight in media for societal reasons and only relevant in say, someone who has a medical condition or goes on a journey in the desert, that kind of thing.

          Thanks for your thoughts, I think we're all just muddling through trying to make sense of it all. 🙂

          3 agree
  5. I agree with you, the idea of this trope of revenge via body image is so overdone and damaging. There are so many other movies with this terrible trope already, and using a fat suit to depict someone going from "fat to 'ideal'" is trash.

    I'd love to see your take on Netflix's Sierra Burgess Is A Loser. I'm personally hoping that it handles the topics of body image and self-worth from a healthier angle so that teenagers have a better example to look to in media.

    1 agrees
  6. So, I heard about the petition, and watched the trailer. Honestly, while I see that she is now "hot" since she lost the weight, she also goes from being an awkward weirdo to a Mean Girl, like full-on Regina George. Being skinny, while making her life easier and giving her power, does NOT make her a better person or genuinely happier.
    I also see it trying to be a satire that pokes fun of makeover movies, but don't feel confident with the execution. It doesn't seem to have the full on darkness of Jawbreaker.

    3 agree
  7. My main beef about these "drab-to-fab" movies: IRL changing your outsides doesn't completely overhaul your insides, but in a movie you morph into something indistinguishable from your adversaries. (Huh?)

    So the takeaway is what…you can't be pretty without being shitty? How incredibly looks-ist!

    (Stan Lee got it right all those years ago when he said that giving super-powers to a schmuck would leave you with a super-powered schmuck.)

    8 agree
  8. I don't have an issue with the fat suit mostly because I think it would be more wrong to hire a fat actress and demand she lose weight for the role. The fat suit is as benign as the pregnancy suit. Its's so obviously fake, but it's fast and easy.

    Netflix has a history of airing questionable and controversial content that absolutely can enforce negative behavior (OITNB, 13 Reasons Why) and they are a great platform for that because of what they are: on demand. You can choose not to watch these controversial shows and even lock them away from your kids, unlike daytime TV.

    1 agrees
    • I'm going to repeat a reply I wrote to another commenter making the same point that they thought I was mad at the fat suit itself instead of what it represented:

      The alternative to a fat suit is plot lines that don’t rely on a fat to thin redemption arc. Casting fat actors to play awesome fat characters. It’s not about the quality of the fat suit, it’s the plot that makes us need a rags to riches-style fat to thin story. CGI, two characters, none of that is the point. It’s about giving people, young people especially, stories that give them socialized permission to be who they are, fat or thin.

      And yes, I totally can just choose not to watch this particular show and not be exposed to it at all. But as someone interested in what young people are being exposed to since it shapes all of our futures, I do keep an eye on what could become popular or influential in their lives.

      1 agrees
  9. The whole show seems more like a comedy to me. Seems like it would be fun to watch her beat up her bullies. The part about how she couldn't be a brain or a princess or an athlete when she was fat is probably true. Not that she isn't capable, but that the "cool and thin" crowd wouldn't let her. They would either boycott her joining by just saying "no, you can't join"(if I remember my movies, cheerleaders often choose the squad members, not the teachers/school), or, if the decision was made by teachers, they would make her time there so miserable that she would want to quit (been there), or, as with the "brain" group, that's a clique, not a school-run program, so if they don't want to let you join, you won't be in it. Period. She could be smart, fat or thin, but she won't be able to use the "label" that comes with being part of the "brain" clique. And these rules don't just apply to the "fat" people. You're either part of the cliques, or considered someone who they might want to have in their group, or you aren't, and there's very little you can do about it. I mean, would you even want to try to be friends with people who either treated you badly or are just not good people, or both? Yeah, probably not.

    Unfortunately, even if she had the confidence to try to be what she considered "a princess" or whatever else, she'd probably get made fun of more for doing whatever that was because people already make fun of her, so she's a noted "punching bag". I mean, look at the "Princess Diaries". Even after she "de-uglied" the popular people still bullied her because she's still the same person. Being hot doesn't automatically make you popular, even to shallow high-schoolers. If guys all of a sudden want to go out with her because she's hot, the girls will bully her more out of jealously. Is it fair? No. Is it realistic? You bet. Humans, especially kids/teenagers, are, in general, assholes. Welcome to high school. That's just how things are. Many teen movie high schools social situations are exaggerated (or perhaps they just reflect American schools more than Canadian ones), but people are still assholes. Yes, it sucks, and it's terrible to not only feel bad about yourself because of what people say and do, but to hate yourself for wanting their approval. Because it's not just about wanting them to stop bullying you, it's also about wanting to be popular. There's tons of movies about teenagers, in high school, who are completely ignored, not even bullied. And they want to be popular. That's just being a teenager. It's like we're hard-wired for it.

    2 agree
  10. I saw this pop up on Netflix so watched a few episodes as the discussion here made me curious. While there will be things about it people might take issue with (because that's true of every film, TV series etc) it's not as bad as it could have seemed from the trailer. I haven't yet watched the whole thing so don't know how it ends, but it is definitely more nuanced and less "losing weight equals instant fix to everything".

    It's not about a formerly fat girl beating up her bullies or swanning round the school showing off and being popular. It's more about psychology: relationships between people (including between parents and their children), finding out what matters, making mistakes and trying to fix them. It shows that skinny doesn't equal better and that beauty isn't an instant fix. It touches on LGBTQ* issues, and a few episodes in there is a kind, confident plus-size model who is happy with her body – which also emphasises the point that beauty and thinness are not synonymous.

    I suppose different people might see different morals in this series, and it's a pretty light-hearted watch rather than being ultra serious and intense. I'm willing to keep watching, and, while others might disagree with me, I'm glad I gave it the benefit of the doubt.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.