Photo: Netflix / Change.org
The past few years have seen some major strides in the body positivity movement—but that doesn't mean that fat-phobia and weight stigmas aren't still very much a thing. Netflix's forthcoming show Insatiable proves there's still a lot about the way body image is portrayed in the media that we need to talk about. (Related: Jessamyn Stanley's Uncensored Take On "Fat Yoga" and the Body Positive Movement)
ICMYI, Insatiable isn't even out yet and is already causing major controversy. Here's a quick synopsis: In the opening seconds of the trailer, the main character "Fatty Patty" (played by actress Debby Ryan in a fat suit) gets bullied by her "hot" high school classmates because of her size. After getting punched in the face, Patty has to get her jaw wired shut over the summer and—plot twist!—comes back to school the next year "hot," aka thin. And she proceeds to exact revenge on all the classmates who bullied her when she was fat.
Yeah, there are a few problems here. One major one? The way the character loses weight. "I cringe because there are going to be young women out there who look into not eating as an option [for losing weight]—hello eating disorders," says Erin Risius, a counselor at Hilton Head Health who specializes in weight stigma and body image. "I think there could have been a much more responsible way of looking at this issue of bullying because of weight bias." (Related: Why Body-Shaming Is Such a Big Problem—and What You Can Do to Stop It)
Unsurprisingly, body-image activists have been quick to criticize the show. "Ahhh yes, a fat girl could never stand up for herself while fat and of course she has to be assaulted and have her mouth wired shut before she becomes her best self, her skinny self. Good to know!" feminist writer Roxane Gay wrote on Twitter.
Risius agrees that the way the show portrays the connection between happiness and weight is problematic. "Losing weight doesn't mean that everything will suddenly be good in your world or bring happiness—that is so not the case." (More on that here: Why Losing Weight Doesn't Always Lead to Body Confidence)
What we need to see more of instead in the media are shows like This Is Us, with multidimensional characters like Kate played by Chrissy Metz. Her storyline is sometimes about weight loss, but it's also about her goals and her feelings and her dreams, says Risius. It should be noted that Ryan spoke out via Instagram about the backlash, saying in part that despite having experienced her own body images issues (who hasn't?!) she was "draw to the show's willingness to go to real places" and that the show is not "in the business of fat-shaming".
Still, The Good Place actress Jameela Jamil (who started the "I Weigh" Movement on social media to combat size stigmas and who has a long history of speaking out against body-shaming messages in the media) also criticized the show. "Not very into the premise of Fatty Patty...a teenager stops eating and loses weight and then when 'conventionally attractive' takes revenge on her schoolmates? This is still telling kids to lose weight to 'win.' The fat shaming is inherent and pretty upsetting," she wrote on Twitter.
Celebrity activists aren't the only ones who are outraged by the backward premise. In fact, a Change.org petition to stop Netflix from premiering the show on August 10 currently has over 170,000 signatures. The petition states that the trailer has already triggered people with eating disorders and has the potential to cause even more damage if the show is released. (FYI this isn't the only Netflix show mental health professionals have a problem with: Experts Speak Out Against "13 Reasons Why" In the Name of Suicide Prevention)
Bottom line? Making people feel like they aren't good enough and thus need to "fix" themselves, as this show does, will only ever encourage unhealthy behaviors, says Risius. In contrast, "If we feel better about ourselves from the inside out, we will most likely make better choices around self-care," says Risius. (Related: This Woman Wants You to Know That Losing Weight Won't Magically Make You Happy)
There is one silver lining in Insatiable's controversial message, she says. "If this show does air, at the very least it will open the conversation around this very issue of weight stigma—something that definitely and desperately needs more positive attention."