I made my way through Netflix’s Insatiable at a respectable pace last week. I loved it. It was over the top ridiculous and at times, painfully based in ugly truth. The series caught flak ahead of its debut for “fat shaming.” My personal opinion? That backlash was somewhat misguided. I found myself relating to Patty, the main character, as she navigated her new “skinny” life.
Patty was once the fat girl. She was called “Fatty Patty” and bullied by her classmates. Then, sitting on the curb outside of a convenience store stuffing her face with chocolate after the boy she likes turns down her invitation to coffee, she’s approached by a homeless man who tries to take her chocolate. She hits him. He hits her back and breaks her jaw. She spends the next three months with her jaw wired shut and thanks to a liquid diet, loses 70 pounds. She’s suddenly thin and swept into a world of beauty pageants and the hot guy she likes giving her the time of day.
Most of the time, Insatiable is entirely satirical. It manages to hit on just about every socioeconomic stereotype there is and even names an Asian character “Dixie” and gives her the most Southern of accents. But there are underlying messages in all the punchline humor:
- Don’t be afraid to be who you are.
- Embrace your past, but don’t let it define your future.
- Words and actions have consequences – use both wisely.
There is one particular scene that resonated deeply with me. Patty goes shopping for a new bikini for a charity car wash. When she doesn’t come out of the fitting room, her friend Nonnie (who later realizes she’s bisexual) goes in search of her. Patty is curled up on the bench, sobbing because she believes herself to be fat and ugly. Despite Nonnie telling her the truth – that she looks incredible – she can’t believe it. She can’t see what everyone else sees when she gazes at her own reflection.
I’ve shared a bit about my own struggles with body dysmorphia. When you’ve lived your whole life overweight, it’s hard to shake that identity. I still reach for the larger size of jeans to take to the dressing room. Just this weekend, I grabbed a bigger size of leggings at Athleta, only to have to ask the dressing room attendant to bring me a smaller size. I’m shipping back nearly an entire J.Crew order because everything is too big. It’s not a humble brag – it’s a genuine struggle of acceptance that my body has changed significantly over the last few years. It’s hard to let go of what I’ve known for so long.
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You see, there’s a certain comfort in seeing myself as “overweight Sarah.” That Sarah – like “Fatty Patty” – could blend into the background. She dressed in frumpy clothes to hide the parts of her she hated, and didn’t put effort into her appearance otherwise. She told herself a lot of lies and in hindsight, wasn’t very kind to herself.
Women, in particular, are prone to “when I lose weight, I’ll…” thoughts. Some of mine:
- I’ll join a gym after I’ve lost some weight.
- I’ll wear jeans when I’m a few sizes smaller.
- I’ll start wearing my hair different when my face is thinner.
- I’ll go to more social events when I’ve lost a little weight.
- I’ll have more dates when I’m thinner.
We think when we’re a few pounds lighter, the skies will open, angels will sing, houses will be made of cupcakes, streets will be paved with glitter, and unicorns will offer us a ride.
That’s not the case, though. I’d love to live in a cupcake house and walk down streets of glitter, but realistically, I’d probably sample the house and glitter is a bitch to clean up. Besides, the frosting would slide right off the roof the first time it rained.
The truth is, losing weight isn’t the cure-all we think it will be. We can find comfort in the “when I lose weight” mentality because that time is sometime in the future, but not now. We don’t have to put ourselves on the line now if we’re waiting for some magic number on the scale to show up down the road. We don’t have to step out and step up if we’re waiting for someday.
One of my favorite parts in Disney’s live-action Cinderella is when Ella comes down the stairs to face Prince Charming and try on the shoe that changes her life. As she descends the stairs, the narrator says “Perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take is to be seen as we really are.” That’s the struggle I saw in Patty’s character, and one I relate to – seeing ourselves as we really are.
We tell ourselves a lot of lies. Our hips are too big, our arms too flabby, our face too puffy. And those are just what we say when we look in the mirror. That doesn’t touch the lies we create about why we’re not good enough for that guy or smart enough for that promotion or deserving enough of that new outfit. I wish I had some profound insight to share about how we can stop telling ourselves those stories, but I don’t. I can only tell you that it’s a battle I understand all too well.
When I look in the mirror, sometimes I see a fit girl who has a lot of confidence in herself and her knowledge of strength and conditioning. She’s good at her job, she’s got a handle on her business, and she’s got a solid group of friends and family. Other times – a lot of times – I see those too big hips, poofy hair, those aforementioned flabby arms… Never mind the fact that for the first time ever, I have (just barely) visible quads, my hair is long, healthy, and as thick as it’s ever been (hence the poof – this southern humidity, y’all), and my arms are toned and strong.
Like Patty learned, losing weight doesn’t fix your relationship with yourself. Your risk factors for certain diseases may decrease and you may be able to walk across a parking lot without getting out of breath, but dropping a few pounds doesn’t fix our heads. It doesn’t give us the freedom from the lies we’ve told ourselves.
Insatiable does a good job of portraying the struggle with body image. While Patty’s story takes one crazy and often unrealistic turn after another, the root of her story – her personal struggles – is all too real.
Have you watched Insatiable? What did you think?