If you haven’t already heard, there’s been a lot of outcry from mental health professionals, doctors, parents, people who’ve suffered from eating disorders, and the size-acceptance community about the trailer for the new Netflix series, Insatiable. The series chronicles the journey of Patty, a fat*, miserable high school girl who’s uncomfortable in her body, bullied at school, and bingeing at home. But everything changes when Patty is punched in the face and must have her mouth wired shut for an entire summer. After she loses weight and becomes attractive in the eyes of her classmates, she plans revenge on those who shamed her.
Here are three alarming myths the series perpetuates, and the lessons we can learn from them. Being aware of this can help jump-start conversations with your clients around body-image issues.
* The term fat has been reclaimed by many in the size acceptance community.
Myth 1. People who are fat must be unhappy and out of control.
Insatiable plays on the stereotype that higher-weight people are always miserable and always overeating or bingeing. It implies that it’s impossible to feel good in your body if you’re not thin, and reinforces the shame so many adolescents already feel about their bodies.
Reinforcing this depiction makes higher-weight kids and teens vulnerable to more teasing and fat shaming, which is the most common form of bullying at school. Insatiable gives a nod to bullies that fat shaming is normative behavior.
Binge eating disorder is a real diagnosis that affects people of all sizes. It’s important to remember that there are higher-weight teens who don’t binge and average-weight teens who do—you can’t make assumptions about eating behaviors based on body size. There are ways to help people of all sizes make peace with food, regardless of whether their weight changes.
Popular media needs to show fat people who feel good in their bodies and who have a healthy relationship with food.
Myth 2. Losing weight is the ultimate goal, no matter the cost.
Patty loses weight because she’s unable to eat once her jaw is wired shut. In a culture that prizes thinness over just about anything else, the message here seems to be Do whatever it takes. We know that teens engage in all sorts of unhealthy practices to lose weight, and that adolescents who diet are at a much greater risk of developing an eating disorder.
Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. When people diet for weight loss, upwards of 95 percent will gain back the weight. One- to two-thirds will end up weighing more than before. Yo-yo dieting can lead to higher set points over time as the body gets better at storing fat. The weight loss in Insatiable gives an unrealistic picture of what’s possible and healthy. Implicitly encouraging young people about the value of intentional weight loss is irresponsible at best and life threatening at worst.
Popular media needs to show fat people engaged in activities other than pursuing weight loss, including dating, hanging out with family and friends, pursuing a career, and finding their passion.
Myth 3. Thinness is the only way to become empowered.
Only when Patty meets society’s standards for an acceptable body size does she become empowered to fight against fat shaming.
Yes, it’s good to call fat shaming unacceptable, but using the stereotypes that feed the problem isn’t the way to go about it. While many fat people have internalized the weight stigma rampant in our culture, many others are using their voices to challenge this bias.
Popular media needs to show fat people empowered—without losing weight.
As of now, Netflix says Insatiable will premiere as planned on August 10, arguing that the public should see the series in its entirety before casting judgment. Without context, we’re misinterpreting the message, representatives say.
But no matter their intent, the way the show appears in the trailer does damage in itself. I’ll wait and see if my view changes. But I’m not holding my breath.
Photo © Monkey Business Images/Dreamstime.com
Judith Matz, LCSW, is co-author of the Body Positivity Card Deck and two books on the topics of eating and weight struggles, Beyond a Shadow of a Diet: The Comprehensive Guide to Treating Binge Eating Disorder, Compulsive Eating and Emotional Overeating, has been called “the new bible” on this topic for professionals. The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care was a #1 bestseller on Amazon and a favorite resource for therapists to use with clients. She is also the author of Amanda’s Big Dream, a children’s book that helps kids to pursue their dreams – at any size! Judith has a private practice in Skokie, IL, where she focuses her work with clients who want to get off the diet/binge rollercoaster and learn to feel at home in their bodies.