Revenge won’t fix Fatphobia
Insatiable has been plagued by controversy long before its release on Friday. Created by Lauren Gussis, Insatiable is a coming of age movie which dances on satire, fat shaming, black comedy and something vaguely pornographic. Insatiable depicts the journey of “Fatty Patty” (Debby Ryan) as she is bullied, loses 70 pounds, becomes a beauty pageant contestant and seeks revenge on everyone who hurt her.
Based on the inflammatory trailer, a petition to ban the release of Insatiable had 100,000 signatures. Florence Given, the instigator of the petition, says the series will cause “devastation” to young girls. The petition is currently sitting at 230,000.
Actress Debby Ryan asked viewers to “wait and watch the show before passing judgement”, so now that we’ve watched it, let’s break down the messages Insatiable champions.
The virtue of being skinny
A large component of the drama throughout Insatiable is the suggestion that being skinny is the same as being righteous.
When Patty goes to court for an assault charge, her lawyer decides to reject the plea deal, relying on her beauty to win the case. Which it does. Patty uses her new body to seduce the key witness, leaving her free to walk into her new life. Insatiable continues to link virtue with health as Patty adjusts to the temptation to indulge in chocolate bars.
The flashbacks to Debby Ryan wearing a fat suit, slow and clumsy, characterises her fatness as repulsive. The fat suit reinforces the idea that Patty is of less value when overweight, deserving no positive attention, but only bullying and abuse. By failing to explore more of Patty’s character before her transformation, Insatiable suggests that it is only the skinny who have any value or virtue.
One thing Insatiable does get right is its representation of humanity. Rather than depicting character tropes, Insatiable is full of realistically conflicted individuals. The question of “Am I a good person” is asked throughout the series as characters understand their own brokenness and failings. Particularly Patty spends the series asking herself if she is a good or bad person.
Exorcising the “fatty” demon
Insatiable goes further than suggesting that clean eating is a moral choice, by characterising Patty’s fatness as a demon. When Patty murders two people, considers lighting a man on fire and destroys a marriage for her own selfish intent, it isn’t really her. It’s the demon of Fatty Patty.
There’s even an exorcism scene, which results in Patty throwing up. The idea that you can cleanse yourself through a behavior typically associated with a major eating disorder further suggests that the only way to righteousness is through control over your body. This theme is at odds with the message we see in the Bible.
Patty’s wake-up moment in the season finale tries to undo this damaging message: “It was time to write my own story. I wasn’t a loser when I was fat, and I wasn’t a loser now.” Patty's realisation is one at the heart of Christianity, that the series could explore much more helpfully. God doesn't care if you are fat or thin. God values people because they are made in His image.
You are not what you eat
“Are you so dull?” asks Jesus. “Don’t you realise that nothing going into a man from the outside can defile him? For it doesn't go into his heart, but into the stomach and is eliminated.” Jesus spoke against moralising around food 2000 years ago. In his own context, religious hypocrites were using laws around food and cleanliness to say people were unacceptable to God, and Jesus corrected them, reminding them that it’s not about what you eat, but what comes from your heart.
“What comes out of a person - that defiles him. For from within, out of people's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person”.
It isn’t what you eat, or whether you have control over your inner “fatness” demon that defines your morality. Jesus showed us 2000 years ago that it’s what comes from your heart. Are we really still failing to learn this lesson?