While the show may have started out with good intentions, it's full of fat girl stereotypes and has insensitive humour.

Insatiable review This Netflix show takes fat shaming to a whole other level
Flix Netflix Friday, August 24, 2018 - 17:20
Written by  Saraswati Datar

It seems like an interesting premise at a distance. A formerly fat girl, loses weight after a freak accident and takes revenge on those who bullied her. However, things started going wrong for Insatiable, Netflix’s brand new show, with the release of its first trailer. The show’s barely disguised shaming of its protagonist has led to a major backlash from youngsters, parents, and those treating people with eating and body dysmorphia issues.

There is also a change.org petition that has gathered over 2 lakh signatures so far, asking for the show to be cancelled immediately. Watching the show proves that it wasn’t just a badly cut trailer. Patty Bladell (Debby Ryans) is an overweight high school student who is bullied cruelly because of her size. After being turned down by a boy she has crush on, Patty is drowning her sorrows in a candy bar, when a homeless man calls her ‘Fatty’ and shames her for her size. When she punches him in rage for being bullied, he breaks her jaw, forcing it to be wired shut. She stays off solid food for three months, loses 70 pounds and is suddenly the hot new girl on the block. Violence, ladies and gentlemen is the gateway to quick weight loss.

Every fat girl stereotype is played out in the first 15 minutes of the first episode. Patty, or Fatty Patty wears a shamefully bad fat suit and spends her days stuffing ‘her other hole’ with food. It also seems like Patty is the only plus sized girl in the entire school, which is a highly unlikely scenario given the easily available statistics on obesity in America. Either that, or she is remarkably self-absorbed and cannot see students with other challenges going through a tough time or being bullied.

13 Reasons Why handled this part much better by showing audiences a wide spectrum of issues that teenagers deal with, and how bullying takes on many cruel faces. When faced with jail for assault, Patty meets Bob Armstrong ( Dallas Roberts), lawyer and beauty pageant coach, who needs to redeem himself after being falsely accused of molesting a minor. Evidently, sexual assault is a crime that should be undermined by humour according to the show’s writers. Patty is his skinny swan laying pageant crowns, and Bob is her knight in a bad hairpiece.

As an eternally chubby girl, I can tell you that losing a whole lot of weight can feel liberating. You want to shop for all the clothes you couldn’t wear earlier, you want to keep looking at yourself in the mirror and there is perhaps an extra shot of confidence that was much needed. But in Patty’s case, she turns into a mean self-absorbed person who wants to break up her mentor’s marriage because she believes they are soul mates, kill a man because he bullied her, and have sex as soon as possible. So she is skinny but now mentally disturbed and hence unlovable for completely different reasons. Her absurd, inexplicable behaviour is justified because, clearly being fat is one of the greatest tragedies to ever befall humanity.

In a particularly cringeworthy sequence, Patty is sulking after a fight with Bob and decides to find her safe place. Unsurprisingly it’s an all you can eat contest, because let’s face it, once a fatty, always a fatty. Just when you thought it could get no worse, it is revealed that Patty swallowed a possible twin in-utero. “So you were always a compulsive eater,” quips Bob, because not a single opportunity must be lost to drive home the shame.

Another huge flaw in the show is the control men exert over women and their state of mind. Whether its Bob Armstrong, his nemesis and namesake Bob Barnanrd, a priest, or the boys from high school, men are continuously shaping the narrative of the women on the show. Patty starts off desperately in love with Bob because “he was the first man who ever appreciated me”. She is also disbelieving and grateful when the high school hunks start giving her attention. “My life has just begun,” she says, batting her fake eyelashes and displaying an appalling lack of self-worth.

Patty’s mother also has Daddy issues, and blames all the men in her life for her alcohol addiction, while Magnolia, Patty’s rival, is struggling with drug addiction because her pushy father won’t let her quit pageants. The same man then uses a sex tape of Patty to blackmail her and her coach. In a society that is still reeling from the after effects of the Weinstein scandal and subsequent allegations of assault and harassment levelled against other powerful men like Bill Cosby and Kevin Spacey, it is shocking to watch men in so much control in a show about a young girl and her issues.

Men in powerful positions, using their authority to make and break the careers of women is exactly what caused so many women to suffer abuse silently for decades. To see the same problematic situation crop up again in a teen drama, even under the garb of humour is disturbing.

“Being skinny don’t mean shit if you’re ugly on the inside,” says Dee, the token black plus sized character on the show. While that’s the thought we have been chanting for years, it’s just lip service in a show where the protagonist feels her life has just begun after losing 70 pounds. Like the world, she too looks at her body and its appearance as either an obstacle or a pathway to happiness and success. “Skinny is magic,” she declares, while never letting go of the self-loathing that has corroded her mind and confidence for years.

While Insatiable probably started out with its heart in the right place, it's plagued by stereotypes and damaging characterisation that only take the whole body positive movement back by several decades. It’s quite possible that Netflix won’t find any insatiable appetites waiting to consume a second season.

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