We all know that the internet as a whole is a messy bitch that loves drama. It thrives on controversy, for an issue to be torn apart, for battle lines to be drawn. You could even say it is insatiable for it.
The internet might thrive on conflict, but that doesn’t mean it’s not always warranted. In the last few weeks the internet’s lens has turned on the Netflix show Insatiable – when a trailer for the show was released, the backlash was immediate and widespread. The series is about Patty, an overweight teenage girl (played by thin actress Debby Ryan in a fat suit) who gets punched in the face and has her jaw wired shut for long enough that she loses weight and becomes hot (aka thin actress loses the fat suit). She then takes revenge on the people who had previously bullied her.
The series caused a huge stir online, with many people accusing it of fat shaming, of making a caricature of fat women, and of sending a dangerous message to young women. A Change.org petition calling for its cancellation had over 200,000 signatures before the series even began. The show’s creators and others have responded, asking people to give Insatiable a chance, to watch the full series before judging it.
One of the things you learn early when you are a fat girl or woman is that first impressions are absolutely everything.
One of the things you learn early when you are a fat girl or woman, though, is that first impressions are absolutely everything. Not in the traditional sense, where you try to make a good first impression when you meet someone. For me and others like me it means you’re not even given that chance. You learn to recognise it in people’s eyes, the way that some of them look you up and down before instantly dismissing you as worthy of consideration as a human. Sometimes it’s worse than dismissal – it’s disgust, or it can be hatred. It’s people being friendly until they turn to you, and feeling them go cold as they see you. It’s the people whispering to each other about you because they think you are stupid as well as fat. It’s men calling you a ‘fat bitch’ as you walk by. Because the real world, it loves drama as well.
So it’s not surprising that fat women are reluctant to give Insatiable a chance, when the first impression we are given of your show is so hurtful, and damaging. It’s unreasonable to ask us to wait and judge the entire series and to be won over by the overall message, when you are trying to sell your show to viewers by once again capitalising on the world’s hatred for us. It turned out once the show premiered that, just as we suspected, the anger was warranted all along. I don’t necessarily think the show should be cancelled, but I also don’t blame fat women for not waiting around to express their anger.
Pop-culture representation of fat people, women in particular, has always been atrocious. Historically, the two options have been for fat women to be shown as either the butt of the joke, or for fat women to simply not exist at all in the fictional world. Nowadays, there is a third option – Melissa McCarthy is in there – but these are exceptions.
It’s not surprising that fat women are reluctant to give Insatiable a chance, when the first impression is so hurtful, and damaging.
We are used to this treatment. Think about the number of wonderful fat women who you know in real life, then think about how many positive, well-rounded (sorry) depictions of fat women on screen you can name. The disparity tells you what the entertainment industry thinks of us.
So what is it about this show in particular that has caused such outrage, and garnered such a response? The social and online climate this past year has seen a lot of people reach breaking point. There is a crackling feeling in the air, a sense that there are just some things that people won’t lie down and silently take anymore. After years of minority groups having no power, no recourse, no avenues to achieve retribution, we are starting to see pushback against a lifetime of injustice. Fat women have had enough. Or more accurately, we haven’t had enough, of a lot of things.
In a world where we are so severely underrepresented, watching the Insatiable trailer was like a pointed tease. Tuning in to see a mainstream show that is about a fat, beautiful, confident, smart girl getting revenge on her bullies? Sounds amazing. Coming to the realisation that of course a show like that can’t exist, that we aren’t allowed to be portrayed like that? It’s so incredibly demoralising – because we absolutely do exist off screen.
In a world where we are so severely underrepresented, watching the Insatiable trailer was like a pointed tease.
In Insatiable, pre-weight-loss Patty has dirty hair, doesn’t wear make-up, is constantly eating, doesn’t exercise, and doesn’t have sex. She has no confidence, she is self-critical, and she doesn’t love herself. All that changes when she loses weight. The clear message is that fat people can’t and don’t care about themselves, that they aren’t worthy. They don’t bother living their lives because they are fat, so what’s the use? They don’t try to look attractive, because nobody will ever be attracted to them. They hate themselves, and the world hates them. If some of that is true to life, it is helped along the way by this trailer. The idea that fat women are not human beings worthy of respect, lust, and love, is perpetuated by the way we have been treated in entertainment.
The reality, and the message that we need to start sending especially to young girls, is that so many fat women are happy. They feel attractive, they are attractive, they are strong, and they are desirable. They are human, and they enjoy life. Yes, parts of the world will devalue and hate you, but you can ignore them and live your life for you. You are allowed to love yourself, and you are allowed to love your body. You can have standards for how people treat you. People will find you hot, people will want to date you and have sex with you. You can be fat and have all the things that you don’t think are reserved for you. It is not luck if you have romantic relationships where people desire you, and treat you with respect. It is what you deserve. We deserve that from creators of entertainment as well. And we are starting to demand it. We’re insatiable.