'Dietland' Actress Jen Ponton Nails Exactly How Netflix's 'Insatiable' Fails Fat People

Jen Ponton in Dietland
2017 AMC Film Holdings LLC/IMDB

I am probably doing something I should not be doing.

After all, I am in a show -- in my opinion, a revolutionary, monumentally radical show that forces conversations to advance -- that is constantly judged for predicted condemnation or elements that people find problematic.

So when it comes to making a judgment call on a show right out of the gate -- a show written by a woman and starring a woman with a strong presence in the Resistance -- the fairest part of me says: Hey, wait just a minute.

But then.

Oh, then.

The only thing that can trump (sorry) my empathy for being in a show that is judged too harshly too soon is being a vocal representative for a show that is severely limiting my tolerance for sizeist, misogynistic bullshit.  

There is simply no more time or space in this hellscape for thoughtlessly further oppressing marginalized groups. Sometimes this shows up in Hollywood as whitewashing or casting cis actors in trans roles or simply eliminating representation. Recently it showed up as a thin, Disney teen princess … in a fat suit.

So I’m going to do the thing I shouldn’t do: I’m gonna lay it down about Netflix’s upcoming dark comedy series, Insatiable.

  • Here’s the plot: Fatty Patty (Debby Ryan) is bullied mercilessly by her high school peers. 

    insaitiable
    Netflix/IMDB

    When she’s punched in the face by a guy (WHAT?), her jaw needs to be wired shut for the summer. When school starts again --ta da -- Fatty Patty is no more.

    Patty realizes how much everyone is fawning over her now that she’s hot (you know because she definitely wasn't before she lost weight) -- and decides she doesn’t like that very much. In a very Heathers fashion, Debby begins to exact her revenge on her tormentors. We can deduce from the trailer that she uses her newfound hottie charms to exact revenge with a beauty pageant coach coming into play to groom her for pageant success (and probably cunning shenanigans). It all gets quite violent and revengey.  

    …Murdery, you ask?

    I mean, probably.

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  • Twitter completely and totally lost its collective sh*t. 

    As soon as the backlash began, series regular Alyssa Milano and series writer Lauren Gussis were quick to defend the show. They emphasized that the show was a satire on bullying and took a keen eye to how cruel beauty standards really are. Although those are not untrue things, they completely avoid the actual critical problems with the show.

  • This story is about a fat girl, but it completely erases her presence and steals her story.

    Insaitiable
    Netflix/IMDB

    We can’t know how long Patty is in that unfortunate fat suit, but ostensibly she is only in there long enough to establish the plot. Not only is her fake fat body seen for just a moment, but it’s inhabited by a straight-size starlet. The entire hook of this show is that it’s a fat girl’s revenge, but the fat girl in question … is nowhere to be seen. She doesn’t even exist. This appropriation of a fat character’s story -- to serve a typically thin character’s pathos -- steals from a group so marginalized that they only make up 2 percent of images in media. If you’re not going to tell fat stories, then don’t tell fat stories (Note: TELL FAT STORIES). But if you’re going to tell them, you need to involve actual fat people.*

    *People who were fat once upon a time and now see those days as cursed memories in a cursed body do not count.

  • This story is tired and irresponsible.


    insatiable
    Netflix/IMDB

    Our teens already have to grow up in the hellscape we’ve created for them; at the very least we should stop giving them sloppy, ill-considered entertainment. The mental health and self-image of teenage girls is the most vulnerable demographic to target. They are so fully bombarded with messaging that everything about their bodies is wrong -- and this manifests as EDs, disordered eating, dysmorphia, and a whole slew of mental health challenges.

    This is not a singular example, either: CW’s Riverdale and Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why notoriously sexualized and glorified suicide and self-harm, leading to higher rates of both in teens. Insatiable also sexualizes and glorifies violent revenge toward teens in high school -- a place where kids already worry they’ll never return from should this be their unlucky day for a mass shooting. Entertainment can no longer afford to be simply entertainment: We have a responsibility to uplift and help vulnerable groups.

  • One step forward, two steps back.


    dietland
    2017 AMC Film Holdings LLC/IMDB

    As a part of AMC’s Dietland, it’s hard to not pinch myself daily. I’ve been a fat activist for 10 years, and now being able to affect so many lives in a way I’d only dreamed about for most of my adult life -- that’s the dream, for me. Just a few weeks ago, we showed the beautiful, soft, naked, 293-pounds body of our leading lady Plum (Joy Nash) on-screen. She outlines her body in spray paint, becomes addicted to it; she can’t help but recreate her shape and curves with ‘LOVED’ penned across her belly. And it’s not just us doing this work, either. Heathers starred the fab, thick Melanie Field as dead-sexy queen bee Heather Chandler. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend shows best friend Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) as successful, brilliant, complicated, and desirable.

    Loosely Exactly Nicole (one of my favorite examples) shows both the fab fat Nicole (Nicole Byer) and fat kween Devin (Jacob Wysocki) as scrappy, fun, joyful people living in their bodies with no commentary, enjoying sex and desire and wantedness. They are steeped in their enoughness. The fat, joyous bodies of OITNB. Breakout rockstar Britney Young of GLOW. Even throwing it back to Chandra Wilson as Miranda Bailey in Grey’s Anatomy. Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ is being made! We are at the brink of an era where fat bodies are no longer banned from telling stories; in fact, they are being encouraged to tell stories that aren’t just about being fat!

  •  By pushing through a damaging, erasing narrative like Insatiable, we are lowering the bar yet again. 

    In an attempt at damage control from a place of limited power -- which I understand all too well as an actor -- Alyssa Milano did a Periscope and fielded questions from Twitter. Ultimately, she voiced her frustration with Netflix for putting out a trailer that, she felt, did not represent the show. But if this is the trailer Netflix made, it begs the question: Isn’t this how they see the show? To them, isn’t this the show they wanted to back, produce, and put into the world?

    It’s important that we continue to show studios and networks that perpetuating these tropes and stereotypes is not okay. We cannot give up the ground that we have fought for so diligently. One step forward, two steps back just doesn’t cut it anymore -- and if this show is released, I have a feeling there’ll be hell to pay.

body positivity body body image