Growing up as a chubby girl obviously had its disadvantages. Finding clothes that fit was increasingly difficult as I grew older, and my friends often reduced me to the role of sidekick—the “fat friend.” But what most frequently reminded me of my size were the girls on TV and in movies who looked like me—or the lack thereof.
Any time there was a slightly larger girl (or boy, for that matter) on TV or in film, they were portrayed as the comedic foils. They were caricatures: Dumb lackeys obsessed with food who provided laughs or funny conflicts in the plots. They weren’t fully fleshed out characters, and if they actually managed to have any kind of “complex” story line, it always seemed to revolve around losing weight.
Being fat meant they were imperfect, so the only way they could metaphorically grow was to physically shrink.
I remember this being the only flaw I could find in my favorite movie as a kid, Now and Then. Chrissy, the only slightly heavy girl in her group of friends, was obsessed with dieting. And when she wasn’t on a diet, she was eating or providing comedic relief. I loved the movie, but I wondered why the fat girl couldn’t be portrayed more like the tough Roberta, the romantic Teeny, or the complex Samantha.
When I heard that Netflix would be releasing a show starring a fat protagonist who suddenly loses weight, I felt like I’d already seen it before. But the show’s premise beyond that plot point was…quite a surprise.
In case you’ve missed the controversy, Insatiable, the Netflix original starring Debby Ryan, is about a fat high schooler who suddenly loses lots of weight after an accident requires doctors to wire her jaw shut. Now a thin girl, she doesn’t use her instant popularity and good looks to join the “it crowd” at school; instead, she decides to get revenge on the people who tormented her when she was fat.
Pretty instantly, people were outraged by the show’s use of a fat suit, the fatphobic message of the series, and the dangerous way the protagonist loses weight. Various op-eds and petitions called for the show to never premiere. Showrunners asked the public to keep an open mind and to view the entire series before deciding whether it warranted anger. They promised that Patty—the misunderstood protagonist portrayed by Ryan—would experience a journey that viewers could relate to.
Show creator Lauren Gussis argued that the outrage surrounding Insatiable was tantamount to creative suppression. She went on to tell The Hollywood Reporter that the disapproval was “very close to the dangers of censorship.”
Then Insatiable premiered, and it was just as bad as body positive activists assumed it would be.
But the damage had been done. Controversy had fed the viewership and many people likely tuned in just to see what the fuss was: Why are fat people so upset? Are we overreacting? At the end of the day, Netflix is a business that profits from viewership. So last week, Insatiable was renewed for Season 2, despite the criticism and feedback from many Netflix viewers.
My initial reaction to the news of a second season consisted of even more anger. I was livid that, after all the commentary from a concerned audience, our voices still didn’t matter.
Just like any other marginalized group, the identities of fat people are often manipulated by outside groups—in this case, by straight sized individuals who don’t understand the pain of erasure and misrepresentation.
Insatiable‘s creators, its cast, Netflix, TV critics, and non-fat people can claim that the show is inoffensive all they want—but they don’t get to decide what hurts. They can’t see a person in a fat suit and understand the pain of knowing that’s not how you look, but that’s how thin people think you look. They were never that little girl watching a movie and wondering what it would be like to have a story about more than eating, dieting, and playing the fool.
A second season of Insatiable does raise the question: Can the show be redeemed? The problematic characters, the harmful dialogue, the insult humor parading as “dark comedy”—can any of these problems be reversed?
I thought about it. And honestly, IDGAF.
I’m tired of having to settle. I don’t want to see media that capitalizes on hurting others; whether it impacts me personally or not. So if Insatiable does turn over a new leaf, good for them, but I won’t be watching either way. Whether it would be out of curiosity or out of contempt, I won’t let a view from my Netflix account contribute to a Season 3.
My fat protagonist is out there, waiting for a genuine dramatic storyline. She is going to have an adventure, she is going to grow, and her size won’t have anything to do with it. If I’ve been able to achieve all those things as a fat woman myself, then there is no reason why my favorite TV character can’t do that, too.