***As I’m writing this, I’ve had countless debates with many people over social media, a few people have unfriended me and I’ve watched fatphobia clinch its hateful grip on a subconsciously-biased culture over a show that no one has watched yet but has sparked a lot of controversy in just 1 minute and 51 seconds. Scratch that – in just the first 30 seconds – see for yourself***
Since its release, the Insatiable trailer has triggered enough people to create a petition that has been circulating online with hundreds of thousands of people saying not only were they outraged over the trailer, but that they wanted the show canceled. The numbers continue to grow even though the show is going to go on. Netflix said instead of pre-judging the show by the trailer to instead give Insatiable a chance and watch it.
By the time you’re reading this blog, Insatiable will have already aired and the verdict will be out if the audience ends up loving it or hating it. However this ends, it will still never justify the tone deaf misuse of a thin actress in a fat suit that was used for the first six minutes of the premiere. It will not be forgotten that a fat person’s body was used for a thin person’s narrative.
When does satire become fatire?
The first image of the Insatiable trailer is of a thin actress in a fat suit staring miserably into a mirror clearly unhappy with her (fat and unfashionable) appearance.
Some people have argued that the reason why it is perfectly acceptable that a thin actress (Debby Ryan playing the lead role of “Fatty Patty”) is wearing a fat suit (in 2018) is because Insatiable has been promoted as a satire. Historically, satire has been used to remind society of our hypocrisy and improper behavior, which would then mean to impact others in a sneaky and clever way by stimulating structural improvement within communities.
The point is: satire has to have a point. According to Cindy Holland, VP of original content at Netflix, “Lauren Gussis, who is the creator, felt very strongly about exploring these issues based on her own experiences, but in a satirical, over-the-top way… Ultimately the message of the show is that what is most important is that you feel comfortable in your own self. Fat-shaming itself, that criticism, is embedded in the DNA of the show.”
But Cindy: to stay true to the DNA, Insatiable didn’t bother to use a fat person’s DNA to portray the role of someone who is supposed to know what it’s like to be fat-shamed and to know what it’s like to be comfortable with themselves.
And Netflix: when fat people said they wanted more representation in film/tv/media, they didn’t mean a thin person representing a fat person IN A FAT SUIT.
First rule of not fat-shaming in your story is: do not ever (ever!) have a thin actor or thin actress wear a fat suit, trolling in the played out narrative that says a thin actor in a fat suit is fair game for humiliation. Have we not learned anything from the 90’s (Friends Fat Monica) and early 2000’s (Shallow Hal)? It’s 2018 and you can’t have a thin actor portrayed as a loser in a fat suit and then in the same breath say you aren’t fat shaming – without expecting to get clapped back on.
Fat suits carry a lot of cultural baggage and stereotyping in their folds, including (but not limited to): fat people are lazy, sad, always eating, sloppy, lonely, isolated, have no self-worth, don’t work out, have bad fashion sense and can’t seem to take up for themselves, etc., etc.
In reality, this stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth.
So Where Are All The Fat People At?
Minus Ryan wearing the fat suit, so far there have been no actual fat people being shown in the trailer or any of Insatiable’s promotional materials. It’s as if “fat people” don’t exist in this high school setting.
***This reminds me of The Handmaids Tale… Has anyone else noticed that there are no actual FAT handmaids in Gilead? – which is a HUGE mistake because lots of fat women are pretty freakin’ fertile***
From the trailer, we’re supposed to believe that the one and only fat person in this high school is the fake fat person. It’s one thing to talk about what makes high school so hurtful, it’s another when it’s using toxic tropes that hurt marginalized people.Yes, high school is a nightmare – and guess what? It’s a nightmare for all shapes, sizes, genders, ethnicities and diversities. FOR EVERYONE.
If indeed creator Lauren Gussis is sharing her truth (and she has every right to do so), her truth is being overshadowed, imo, by a lie in the form of a fat suit. Fat suits are lies. Look, I’m all about revenge stories. But revenge-body-stories often end up being cheap ploys that perpetuate the destructive narrative that fat bodies must become thin in order to be interesting or worthy.
The reality is: fat people don’t need thin people to tell them how to reach self-acceptance. Fat people, and people of all shapes and sizes, are smart, ambitious, desirable and self-evolved. Fat people need to have more narratives out there that focus on fat bodies, stories where an open, fluid spectrum of body types and experiences are already validated and accepted (and shown). And then showcasing these multiple fat characters experiencing a wide-range of conflicted, multi-layered and interesting journeys (just like any lead character, or character, would).
Fat Suit Is Like Black Face
Producer Extraordinaire and founder of The JTC List, Cheryl Bedford says, “Think of it this way, fat suits are the ‘new’ blackface. People keep trying to do it satirically but the visceral reaction is too strong. Artists think they can do it and it backfires every time. Just don’t do it. If you have to do it, something is intrinsically wrong with your story. It never ever works. Just say no.”
Labeling Insatiable a “satire” gives coverage for most any storyline or stunt… but not for everything. And in our growing-more-socially-aware #MeToo Movement era, it no longer covers (if it ever did?) the use of a fat suit. It’s past time to acknowledge that fat people are one of the last groups of marginalized people where society still thinks it’s okay to use their bodies as the degraded butt of the joke.
To every person not yet “seeing” the fatphobia that is hardwired into our culture: maybe you aren’t seeing it because you don’t exist in a fat body yourself, therefore you might not be as cognizant of the reality of what it’s like to not be able to take the fat suit off. Fat people can’t walk around in their fat bodies all day, then go home and peel their fat suits off.
Since this is a blog (and not a novella!), I won’t even get into the plot point of the young fat woman holding a candy bar while being punched in the face by a man. And I could write volumes about the lead having her mouth wired shut to imply the only way for a fat person to control their eating is to restrict it.
But, this fat suit is enough to start with.
And in 2018 it’s beyond time to end it.