Insatiable is a new series on Netflix, and I watched it as soon as it was released. While at first I enjoyed it, towards the end I have to say I did not like the combination of murder and humour.
The series follows the life of Patty (Debby Ryan) and her solicitor (and also manager, godfather, crying shoulder, you name it) Bob (Dallas Roberts). Patty is a formerly overweight girl called ‘fatty’ by her mean peers. After a homeless man tried to steal her candy, she hit him and when he hit her back she ended up sick and lost weight. The weight loss turned her into an appealing girl, and ever her former enemies invited her to sit and eat with them during lunch at the first day of the new school year. This portrayal can be seen as problematic due to fat shaming, without offering any meaningful guidance on how to healthily loose weight for the sake of health and not for the sake of society. In addition, the view that everyone can be slim and healthy is a result of moral panic of the media portraying fatness as epidemic. This behaviour of the mass media is also sometimes called healthism, or as eloquently elaborated by academics,
“The idea that almost anyone can be healthy given the proper combination of diet, exercise and life-style, has been translated into an ethic that everyone should be. The belief that health is both an individual responsibility and a moral obligation has become a justification for meddling into the lives of those persons who seem either ignorant or that ‘fact’or unable or unwilling to act on it” (Edgley & Brissett, 1990, p. 259).
However, the series does correctly portray how the society works and sadly girls perceived to be ‘fat’ are not perceived as pretty and face bullying in schools. Due to the series’ style, I see why the series portrayed the society in this way and I see some satire in the series, where success is portrayed as beauty pageants, with which many girls considered to be pretty are obsessed with. However, what the series fails to do is tackle beauty pageants but instead shows them as a success. Indeed, the series shows that it is often obsessive parents who push their children towards pageants, but it does not tackle enough why these pageants are wrong and why girls should not be pushed to participate in them. In addition, the series does not tackle enough the problem of stigma for girls who do win pageants, because in reality these girls are not always seen as successful but as sluts who had to sleep their way to the victory. The latter is also an issue that has not been tackled. Nevertheless, it seems that series has caused lots of anger because there is even a petition to cancel the series due to body shaming (see here).
Patty and Bob embark on a pageant journey and this journey reveals all sort of things, i.e. rivalry in a small town in Georgia, hidden homosexuality, forced outing, selfishness, etc. As is often the case, the idyllic little town in Georgia is all but idyllic. In a nutshell, the humour in the series is good, albeit occasionally seems like overacting. However, all of the above is just a critical feedback that can be used in season two and not really a criticism. What I do want to criticise is a humorous way of portraying murder, almost as if it is OK to do so if you can push the damn car deep into the water and nobody will ever know. This definitely gives a wrong message and this view should not be promoted. Not even in satire.
In summary, I enjoyed the series because it opened some important questions and it made me think. The way media portray health is part of my research and I immediately linked this series with what I’ve been saying and writing for a while now. While I entirely understand why some viewers are angry and want the series cancel, I think more nuanced second season promoting a view that anyone can and should be seen as beautiful regardless of their BMI, accompanied with criticising beauty pageants, could do lots of good too.
Thank you for reading.
Edgley, C., & Brissett, D. (1990). Health Nazis and the Cult of the Perfect Body: Some Polemic Observations. Symbolic Interaction 13(2), 257-279.