I Watched It So You Don't Have To: Insatiable (Netflix)

Welcome to the newest Resonating series! I Watched It So You Don’t Have To is going to be a new series in which I potentially torture myself by watching a controversial show/movie/etc. so I can let you know what my thoughts are. Is the thing as horrible as assumed? Stay tuned. Our first venture: Insatiable.




Insatiable is a Netflix-original show that released on August 10th, 2018, starring Debby Ryan as the role of Patty. The trailer sparked a lot of initial outrage, which you can watch above.


Understandably, there’s some conclusions to jump to from watching this trailer. One glaring issue to me was who the star is. For one, Debby Ryan is a championer of body positivity - she’s written about her struggles with body image, which are not easy when you grow up in the Disney sphere. She’s even worked with Aerie, a company famous for featuring models of all shapes, sizes, and ability, on donating to the National Eating Disorders Association. While Hollywood hypocrisy is not unusual, it did strike me as a little odd to think of this woman being the face of probably the only thin-actress-in-a-fat-suit production of 2018.


“Thin actress in a fat suit?” Yes. “What is this, the early 2000’s hit dark comedy, Shallow Hal?” It is not. We’ll get there, one trailer accusation at a time, with my plot summary and full commentary at the end of this post. 



Before we go into the commentary - a word on how the show was created. I think one of the things that made me angriest about the criticism of the show is the sheer amount of sheltered takes on it. Insatiable’s creator and former Dexter writer, Lauren Gussis, issued this statement on what inspired the show:


When I was 13, I was suicidal. My best friend 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.
This show is a cautionary tale about how damaging it can be to believe the outsides are more important — to judge without going deeper. Please give the show a chance.”
The initial view I came in with before watching the show is this: it is incredibly naive to assume how someone’s upbringing affected them. Critics, this woman is on your side, and is trying to uplift the issues you care about. Whether you think she did that well or not is up to you.
Onto the accusations!


Accusation #1: The show promotes unrealistic weight loss.


Above: The attack.


This much is true. Patty loses weight when a homeless man punches her in the face (for reasons unclear in the trailer) and she has  to have her jaw wired shut to heal. While the way the writers chose to have her lose weight could be trivializing to people who have lost massive amounts of weight,  this is a comedy. This isn’t a show about how to lose weight. The plot had to be moved along in a fitting way.


Trailer Accusation #2: Thin actress in a fat suit.



I can see how this could be offensive - in fact, I was hesitant when I realized they chose a very conventionally attractive star to represent an “undesirable” woman. The concept of The Fat Suit can potentially make overweight people into a caricature.


In the logistics of film, however, it would’ve been pretty hard to get an actress who was fat, film her for one episode, tell her to lose weight, then film her after that. Additionally - the scenes with fat shaming in them would be so much more offensive if they featured an actual fat actress.


This is not taking a role from a fat person, as many have said, because I can imagine that many fat actresses wouldn’t want a role they had to modify themselves so drastically for, all while getting insulted.


Trailer Accusation #3: Choosing to have her be bullied for her weight instead of something else is offensive/cliché.




This is a complaint stemming from a privileged high school experience.


First of all - there’s no fully politically correct way to represent bullying. If she was being bullied because she was a different race, sexuality, or whatever else, it would have simply shifted the offense to that group.


While the “fat isn’t the worst thing you can be” narrative behind this complaint is true, kids suck. So much. Add that to the fact that “fat” is the easiest insult someone can come up with, and you’ve got a lot of kids who are still being bullied for their weight.


To say that she should’ve been bullied for something else trivializes the struggles of kids who get bullied for being fat to this day by telling them “it just doesn’t happen,” because the people saying it aren’t in high school and don’t see it anymore.


Situations do not simply disappear when they stop happening to you.


Trailer Accusation #4: The revenge fantasies are unrealistic.


Above: Patty setting a man on fire.


Patty is insatiable, and not just for food. For revenge. See that double entendre? Clever.


It’s not whatsoever out of the ordinary for people to want to get revenge on the people who have wronged them. As a person that was bullied from elementary to high school, let me tell you: there are people that were not that kind to me. I’m an adult and I can get past most of it. However, as a full-grown human being, I definitely still hold some petty grudges (and remember names and faces) regarding the people who body-shamed me as a kid.


Body-shaming sticks with you through your entire life, manifesting into eating disorders, mental illness, and everything else that makes existing very, very hard. It would be natural to want to, say, light someone who caused that on fire, or at least punch them in the face. In fact, this is what Patty does to Dixie, her primary bully - and I don’t blame her.


Trailer Accusation #5: It’s damaging to produce something where a character is only considered desirable after she loses weight.




This is, sadly, the most realistic part of the show. The truth of the matter is: people, women especially, are indoctrinated with the belief that thin = beautiful from birth. Is it true? Not necessarily - there are plenty of beautiful people at every size.


However, this is the way the world works. Beauty standards exist, and by not acknowledging them, we lose the ability to fight them. This is a societal issue with PC culture - many people don’t appreciate the use of satire to take the edge off, and instead prefer to forget problems exists. This is clearly a dark comedy show, and maybe, just maybe, someone who is a current or former bully can see this and look inside themselves and go, “Well, that was a shitty behavior,” and learn from the show.


In relation to the last point -  the show has received criticism since people believe that it is damaging to promote the idea that being skinny and conventionally attractive makes someone’s life easier. Well, as much as this isn’t entirely true, in some aspects, it is. It is much easier to do things like compete in beauty pageants, find lots of conventionally attractive people that find you attractive, get the bias of law enforcement on your side, and other things that Patty was interested in within the show.


However, Patty’s problems don’t immediately go away because she’s thin. An episode titled “Skinny is Magic,” Patty speaks the truth: Skinny isn't magic. It doesn't take away all of the years that I got treated like shit.


The point of Insatiable, other than entertainment, is to show that everything is not perfect just because she’s thin.  Patty still suffers from relationship problems, body dysmorphia, and general life problems throughout the show, as all people who have lost weight still do. The show does not end with Patty getting the guy, winning all the pageants, and living carefree.
My commentary


SPOILERS FOLLOW. LOTS OF THEM.


First off, let’s start with the plot. Insatiable starts out with two diverging stories - Patty’s high school life as an overweight teen, and Bob Armstrong, pageant coach and lawyer, going through a devastating blow to his pageant career - his client Dixie Sinclair’s mother, Regina, has just falsely accused him of molesting Dixie to justify her pageant loss.


Patty, on the other hand, is in hell at school. People are spray-painting her locker with abuse, and cliquey pageant girls Magnolia Barnard (daughter of Bob’s mortal enemy) and Dixie are bullying her on a constant basis. One day, when she runs in gym class, she faints because she hasn’t eaten that day. When popular boy and Patty’s crush Brick Armstrong (Bob’s son) helps her up, Patty’s best friend, Nonnie, encourages to ask him on a date.


They find him at the gas station and, when Patty asks, she’s faced with the crushing, “God, you thought that just 'cause I was nice to you, that... Wow.”


She drowns her sorrows with a chocolate bar, and when she refuses to give it up to a homeless man, he punches her in the face, causing her to need her jaw wired shut, which causes her to lose a large amount of weight. He sues. She meets Bob when he takes on her case, but Bob sees something more valuable than a law client - a beautiful pageant girl waiting to be made. (Patty sees a DILF.)


Patty’s initial revenge fantasy includes 1) seducing the homeless man when she later sees him at her mother’s AA meeting, where she later gets accused of trying to murder him (he lights himself on fire accidentally) and/or 2) stealing Brick from Magnolia.


What happens after these normal teen plot points is a whirlwind. My general feelings - I loved this show, and also, WHAT THE FUCK. This show could not be less about someone’s weight. She finds out she has a benign teratoma (absorbed sibling) that she is convinced is an evil twin, meets a later-abusive bad boy named Christian that leads her towards the occult to meet said twin, Bob’s rivals try to kidnap her to prevent her from competing, and she may or may not kill a few people at the end.


However, Insatiable has a lot of positive messages interwoven into it (that may have made me cry several times). One particularly moving scene is at Patty’s Bikini Dog Wash fundraiser. When the event is foiled by Magnolia, Brick invites the people he volunteers with at the LGBT center - drag queens, trans women, lesbians, and more.



Above: Patty (left) and Julie (right).

Patty meets with Julie, played by transgender actress Michelle Hendley. This moment is important because not only did they give the role to an actual trans person, but the message is important. Patty and Julie have a conversation about how Patty doesn’t think she’ll feel skinny enough until she loses a little more weight, and Julie confesses she still doesn’t feel female enough, even after getting SRS (sex reassignment surgery).


Julie powerfully laments, “Sometimes I wonder if I'm gonna spend the rest of my life waiting for it to start.” They both power through wearing a bikini during the event, though admittedly still self-conscious.


Above: Dee (left) and Nonnie (right).

Other important representation in Insatiable includes positive representations of LGBTQIA+ people, polyamory, interracial families, a fat woman that competes in pageants in the name of body positivity (above), and an abusive relationship that is not made to be the entire story of the character’s life.


Above: Patty and Bob Armstrong.


All in all, in spite of its flaws, I think Insatiable is worth your watch. This show gave a lot of roles to very underrepresented demographics in Hollywood, and brought light to a lot of issues and groups. This is an honest look into the mind of an eating disorder survivor using the vehicle of humor, not a heinous crime against overweight people.


If you feel personally victimized by Insatiable’s trailer - I promise your mind will change within two episodes.


If I motivated you to watch the show, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, good or bad!


-Angie

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