When the “Insatiable” trailer premiered in August, it sparked a large social media backlash toward the show’s display of a fat-shaming narrative. Within weeks, an online petition to cancel the show for that reason gathered over 200,000 signatures before the show even premiered. In spite of its negative reception, the controversial Original has been renewed for a second season.
“Insatiable” tells the story of a bullied girl named Patty, played by Debby Ryan. After she loses weight one summer, her classmates begin to treat her differently. Disgusted by their superficial behavior, Patty decides to take revenge.
However, the media’s need to show fat-shaming, transformative storylines can negatively affect young viewers is not new. According to a Paediatrics Child Health report, girls as young as 9 years old already deal with body image issues with one of the contributing major factors being movies, television shows and magazines.
Gareth White, who co-facilitates “Big Bodies. Radical Love” at the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said that she hopes for media to stop creating such harmful stories. Besides “Insatiable,” several types of media put out unhealthy notions about weight, which White says isn’t helpful for those struggling to maintain a positive body image.
“There is this narrative that you’ll be happy once you’re skinny and everything will be fine once you’re skinny, but actually when interviewing real people — it doesn’t actually change how they feel about themselves very much,” White said. “It’s not a cure-all, so these things that perpetuate that myth can be really harmful.”
Krystal Cruz, a radio-television-film and journalism senior, said that growing up watching these types of movies and television shows affected the way she saw herself for a long time.
“I didn’t think that my personal worth, like my skills (or) emotions meant anything until I lost weight,” Cruz said. “That (view) has completely changed now that I’m older, and I’ve seen how messed up that sort of media is.”
“Insatiable” star Alyssa Milano and Netflix vice president of Original Series Cindy Holland said the show is simply an over-the-top satire looking at issues such as body image and validation.
“Ultimately, the message of the show is that what is most important is that you feel comfortable in your own self,” Holland said in a statement at the 2018 Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour. “Fat-shaming itself, that criticism, is embedded in the DNA of the show.”
Social media users, such as radio-television-film junior Emma Rappold, said the show is just another piece of media playing on the damaging trope of simplifying weight loss.
Rappold pointed out how the industry holds the potential to showcase powerful narratives yet tends to produce more self-denigrating narratives. For example, Rappold said that Netflix has the ability to pull from various creators to produce stories with a positive conversation on body image but instead creates and renews shows like “Insatiable.”
“Weight is such a sensitive issue, especially for young girls,” Rappold said. “It’s hard to deal with, and we don’t really need any more media telling us to be super skinny. I feel like it’s something of the past, and we’re over it.”
It may take more than social media outcry to get the media to stop showing these fat transformative narratives, so White encourages others to practice self-care. One of White’s proposals is to try abstaining from this type of media.
“My hope for people is that they could change the media that they’re consuming,” White said. “We should choose to watch things that are body-positive and fat-positive, and we can choose shows that portray fatness in a loving and caring way as opposed to a terrible way.”