The Problem with Body Image in Netflix’s ‘Insatiable’
Before the Netflix series was available to stream on the platform, I first saw a trailer of the show while scrolling through my Twitter feed. About twenty seconds into the trailer, I could not stop cringing from the secondhand embarrassment I felt for this show. For some context, the show follows the story of Patty Bladell (Debby Ryan), a teenage girl and “former fatty” (this is a direct quote from the show) who suffers an accident that leads her to get her jaw wired shut and ends up losing weight and becoming thin. Patty revels in the fact that she is no longer fat and her thinness (enhanced by tight-fit, revealing clothing and lots of makeup) gives her the upper hand in getting what she wants. Patty then decides to join a beauty pageant as a way of seeking revenge on everyone who’s wronged her. Patty then falls for her much much older and married pageant coach, Bob Armstrong (Dallas Roberts) and spends most of her time trying to be the object of his desire.
There is so much to unpack about this show and the many qualms I have about it. I will, however focus on talking specifically about the issue of body image and how it is portrayed in the show. Although, there were some vaguely funny moments here and there, every episode overall, left a foul taste in my mouth. Granted, I only watched the first four episodes, it was already enough torture sitting through the first episode. Immediately into the show, it conveys this idea that being “fat” means being ugly and being thin means being beautiful and desirable. In one scene, Patty sits on the couch with her best friend while eating ice cream and watching Drew Barrymore films, she says on the voice over, “While my classmates were losing their virginity, I was at home stuffing another hole.” The idea depicted here is that Patty is fat and fat is unattractive, therefore she isn’t desirable. Fast forward to: Patty’s big reveal as being skinny and “attractive,” and appearing desirable to everyone around her. Not exactly a good example for young women who are already struggling with body image.
In the age of social media and social movements such as #BodyPositivity, the show misses the mark on connecting with its young, woke audience. For some time now, companies have also shifted its focus off of traditional ideals of beauty being linked to thinness. The show does a lackluster job at playing up female empowerment when it focuses on the physical aspects of women and the idea of thinness equaling beauty, power, and confidence. Also, the fact that Patty is still in high school, the show’s portrayal of body image can leave a negative effect on what younger adults view as socially acceptable.
The show does try to be funny in the way that Santa Clarita Diet and Arrested Development are funny, but instead it falls flat as its eagerness to be different and edgy gets the best of them. In the name of research, I endured four episodes of the series, but believe me when I say I do not plan on finishing the rest of it.