Robyn Vinter 9th August 2018
It’s quite hard to imagine TV these days without Netflix. Within the space of a decade we’ve transformed the way we watch television — from being forced to wait for a new episode every week to having the ability to binge a whole series in one weekend.
Another trend in recent years, especially in TV drama, is realism. Never before have writers tried so hard to immerse the viewer in the story with characters who feel like they exist in real life, who have real voices and stories.
That’s perhaps why, arguably, we’re seeing slightly more representation of a larger range of people, with more LGBT characters, more protagonists who aren’t white and even the occasional disabled character — though these are still extremely rare.
One area where we’re still lacking in representation is people of all different shapes and sizes. Given that two-thirds of people in the UK and nearly three-quarters of Americans are overweight or obese, it’s crazy that virtually everyone on television is slim.
It’s hardly surprising that people want to turn on their TV and see extremely fuckable people
Of course, being slim — or even underweight for women — is aspirational. Low body fat equals attractiveness among large swathes of western society, so it’s hardly surprising that after a long day surrounded by average overweight folks people want to turn on their TV and see extremely fuckable people, irrespective of whether it’s realistic or necessary.
We’re at the point where casting a young overweight actor in a leading role is almost taboo.
It’s sort of funny to think that those who make television go above and beyond to spend millions of dollars on “realistic” visual effects, historically-accurate costumes and have actors spend weeks working with accent coaches to get a dialect exactly right — and yet the entire cast looks nothing like a real cross-section of society.
We know now that obesity isn’t about being gluttonous or lazy. It’s disordered eating, a disease. The truth is that for the overwhelming majority of people, once you’re overweight you’ll be battling it your entire life — biologically speaking, our bodies are programmed to do everything they can not to lose stored fat and, while you can lose weight in the short term, you’ll find it near-impossible to keep it off. Despite what some people still think, being fat just isn’t something that most people can help.
So you can understand why it might be frustrating for people to see a fat lead character in a Netflix show dramatically lose weight at the start of the first episode.
In Insatiable, which comes out tomorrow, Debby Ryan plays Patty — a chubby high-schooler who is picked on for her obesity but who, after having her jaw wired shut for a whole summer, becomes “hot”. Instead of embracing her new found popularity, Patty goes apeshit on the whole system, taking revenge on those who wronged her. One of the quotes from the trailer is: “I could be the former fatty who turned into a brain, or an athlete, or a princess. No – I’d rather get revenge.”
I stopped exercise altogether and instead spent after school eating instant noodles while watching cartoons
Patty doesn’t get revenge by getting thin. She gets thin and then gets revenge.
Nearly a quarter of a million people have signed a petition demanding Netflix cancel Insatiable before it airs. The petition states: “[This is] part of a much larger problem that I can promise you every single woman has faced in her life, sitting somewhere on the scale of valuing their worth on their bodies, to be desirable objects for the male gaze. That is exactly what this series does.”
It’s pretty hard to tell from a trailer whether this is true.
Like a lot of people who signed the petition, this story resonates a lot with me, and yet I can’t wait to watch it.
I’ve been Patty.
I was an active child who was quite muscular but as I became generally self conscious, like most pre-teen girls, I stopped sport and exercise altogether and instead spent after school eating instant noodles while watching cartoons. As a result, I gained a layer of padding. I certainly wasn’t a unit, more like a seal pup.
But by the time I was 16, I was thin.
Again, like many girls, I developed a mild eating disorder. I say “mild” because I was never in danger of doing myself any real harm and it wouldn’t be fair to compare myself to those who are but let’s just say I got used to the feeling of hunger and, over a couple of years, the pounds dropped off.
It seems like wanting to enact vengeance on classmates is a common theme among the teenage chubby, and is something the show’s writer Lauren Gussis says she experienced. I never felt like this — perhaps because as a teenage girl it’s pretty impossible to feel good. There’s always something wrong with you.
I now no longer have a thigh gap but I’m healthier and I can genuinely say, hand on heart, that being conventionally attractive didn’t change anything significant. What did change things was being less shallow.
Reading interviews with the cast and creators, it seems like that’s exactly what Insatiable will be all about — how losing weight doesn’t make you happy or turn you into a different person.
I am going to binge that shit like I binge deep-fried carbohydrates
But even if it’s not, vengeance is always satisfying to watch, and for many people, seeing someone destroy the people who ruined their self-esteem is cathartic, even when we know it’s a work of fiction.
Whether Insatiable ends up about being less shallow or satisfying vengeance, to be perfectly honest, I am going to binge that shit like I binge deep-fried carbohydrates.
We do desperately need more fat characters on TV but that’s not the fault or the responsibility of Insatiable. There’s no need to pick on Patty because she got thin.
Robyn Vinter 9th August 2018