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?