Yesterday, Netflix dropped the first season of its new, controversial series “Insatiable.” Twelve episodes I was encouraged to watch by the shows creators, to give it a fair shot instead of going by what I saw in the troubling trailers, which suggested it was a fat-shaming, fatphobic, sexist mess.
It’s got Alyssa Milano, FFS. Alyssa Milano. How bad could it be??
I reckoned that was fair. I decided to watch the whole show, even though I was 98% sure it was going to hurt me. I made this same mistake when Shallow Hal came out, and I – like any good sport – went to see the movie in the theater. I sat down from two teen girls who found all the fat jokes hiLARious, who not only laughed, they also made it a point to make sure I saw them laugh.
I warned my husband ahead of time to intervene if he saw any binging behavior as a result. I don’t normally give that kind of control away to anyone, but I felt it necessary. I was in a sour mood all day yesterday, knowing what I was going to put myself through. I even drank a very rare cup of coffee, since I already know this works as an appetite suppressant, and quite frankly… I just didn’t trust myself to get through the program without some safeguards in place.
If you understood how much I hate coffee, you’d understand why this is a big deal.
It’s no secret I have problems with disordered eating. One of my worst foes is BED, or Binge Eating Disorder, described below:
Binge eating disorder (BED) is a severe, life-threatening, and treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States.
Some behavioral warning signs of BED:
- Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or lots of empty wrappers and containers indicating consumption of large amounts of food.
- Appears uncomfortable eating around others
- Any new practice with food or fad diets, including cutting out entire food groups (no sugar, no carbs, no dairy, vegetarianism/veganism)
- Fear of eating in public or with others
- Steals or hoards food in strange places
- Creates lifestyle schedules or rituals to make time for binge sessions
- Withdraws from usual friends and activities
- Frequently diets
- Shows extreme concern with body weight and shape
- Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance
- Has secret recurring episodes of binge eating (eating in a discrete period of time an amount of food that is much larger than most individuals would eat under similar circumstances); feels lack of control over ability to stop eating
- Disruption in normal eating behaviors, including eating throughout the day with no planned mealtimes; skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals; engaging in sporadic fasting or repetitive dieting
- Developing food rituals (e.g., eating only a particular food or food group [e.g., condiments], excessive chewing, and not allowing foods to touch).
- Eating alone out of embarrassment at the quantity of food being eaten
- Feelings of disgust, depression, or guilt after overeating
- Fluctuations in weight
- Feelings of low self-esteem
I wrote about these things in GLITTER ON THE WEB, simply because I needed to dig around and deal with it. It’s something I know a little too much about, since I’ve been binge-eating since I was a kid. The first binge I remember was after my dad died when I was eleven. My mom decided to make tacos, which I love even to this day. Over the course of two or three days, I ate 52 tacos. I know… I counted.
It amazes me looking back how my life could have radically changed for the better if this behavior was treated like a sickness, rather than bad behavior. If someone would have been able to help me get to the root of my problems, rather than punish me for how I coped with them.
Kind of like the whole depression/anxiety thing.
We gotta be gentler on our kids, y’all. Otherwise they’ll grow to adults who binge to the point of discomfort and still feel empty inside.
After the cancer diagnosis earlier this year, I went on a food cleanse in a lot of ways. My nurse told me that cancer feeds off of sugar, which makes it grow, so no sugar. Having a physical addiction to sugar, it was difficult for me to cut it out of my life, even when I knew what a threat it posed to me personally. (This is how I know sugar is my biggest addiction.) Still, I managed to cut it down as I developed my diet around cancer-fighting superfoods.
I lost so much weight, I freaked out, thinking it was the cancer. This was back when Steven was in the hospital. I lost about eight pounds in a week and a half and I. Tripped. Balls. I was still spotting, thanks to all the fibroids still squatting on my lady organs, and I had no idea if the cancer, which was reputed to be aggressive, was compounding by the day as I awaited surgery. Back then, even with a sudden low-carb diet, extreme weight loss was scary as hell. Cancer puts everything in the cross hairs, even after you get a clean bill of health.
To this day, if I step on that scale and it’s not radically lower, I actually feel safer, even if I’m hella discouraged that I’m not anywhere near my goal.
Back in March, after I was given the all-clear from chemo, which SHOULD have been the point of victory, I kind of fell apart. This is why I’ve been stalled in the 260s for months. From March to May, I was binge-eating to manage all the stress AFTER the event, as I’m wont to do. As a result, I was dancing around with that devil sugar far too close for comfort. I was playing Russian Roulette with my food. Once the immediate danger had passed, I reverted to my old coping tools, which we all know are unhealthy.
Basically I didn’t feel like I deserved to get so lucky, so I was self-destructing. The other part of me, the one that is so, so grateful for this second chance, couldn’t seem to stop the runaway train if though she really, really wanted to. I didn’t just go back to sugar, I was INHALING it.
Experiments in animals and humans show that, for some people, the same reward and pleasure centers of the brain that are triggered by addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin are also activated by food, especially highly palatable foods. Highly palatable foods are foods rich in: Sugar. – WebMD
After being terrified for so long, in the immediate aftermath of “whew,” I binged like it was my job, simply because of the physical “reward” of it.
I couldn’t face my Superior coaches because I was too embarrassed. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had made them a promise and let them down. My relationship with food is a battle most days, and it’s been that way for 44 years. Still, I truly thought with their oversight I would be able to stay on the straight and narrow, simply because I couldn’t bear the thought of failing in front of them.
Turns out, I didn’t fall off of the wagon. I did a fucking swan dive.
I’ve been better the last few months. Better, not great. I’m focusing my eating on things that build my body, which as I explained in the LAST Insatiable-inspired blog, is a challenge on most days. To keep it healthy, to keep it ordered, I *myself* have to be a constant guardian of how I think about food. I remind myself there is no good or bad behavior around food, simply choices.
Steven and I were discussing this yesterday, when he decided by gum he wanted some Mrs. Fields cookies.
We have made it a point to go for walks on his days off. This helps replace some of the activity I used to get from work. Since it’s been hot in SoCal, we usually go to a mall instead. Big mall. Lots of walking. 4000 steps, easy. Regularly we pass things like Cinnabon and Mrs. Fields, where the smell of their decadent goodies slaps us in the fucking face, but most of the time we resist. I’m even pretty good at the Food Court. They can get Johnny Rockets or Philly cheesestake or Chipotle burritos, but I lean more towards Asian foods. Brown rice. Veggies. Protein. I went to Pink’s once. Got the veggie dog.
I make allowances. I’ve learned this.
Steven has likewise been super good for weeks and decided he was going to have himself a freaking cookie. So, he got some teriyaki chicken with no rice, so he could save his carbs for a mini cookie or two.
I was proud of him for this. He made a conscious choice about the food he wanted to eat and compromised accordingly. I commented to him then if we had been taught this as kids, how different our lives might have looked. Instead we were taught foods were good or bad, and we were good or bad to eat them, and good things were binge-worthy when you wanted to be happy, and boring food was ideal when you wanted to “be good” – i.e., suffer.
I celebrated my cancer victory by indulging the very food that might have put me on its course, because that’s what celebration looks like.
I, too, had a small victory yesterday in that Brit and Steven both wanted Red Robin, but I put my foot down. I could have found something at Red Robin to be healthy, but I wasn’t in the mood to be healthy. I wanted a big, fat, greasy burger and bottomless fries. I’d have gained at least two pounds before I left the mall, walk included.
With Insatiable ahead of me, I couldn’t take that risk. I had to remain vigilant.
Normally I cave to the masses, but this time, for my own protection, I set a boundary.
Still, I held off watching Insatiable until fairly late. My son Jer was surprised when he saw me with a very rare cup of coffee, particularly at the hour I had chosen to pour it. But I knew I needed the extra assistance.
It was fully my plan to watch all twelve episodes of this show, which I knew had the potential to hurt me. Not just hurt me, but derail me. Not just derail me, but invalidate me.
These were my biases going into it. I knew that wasn’t fair, either, so I enlisted the help of my model-thin future daughter-in-law and my reformed-skinny and now normal-weight gay bestie to watch with, so that I wouldn’t fly off the handle about the little things, taking things too personally.
Instead it was my goal that, if I saw the kind of show I was dreading, I would add a creative “fix” within the blog. Y’know, from the fat perspective.
I made it 15 minutes of the first 42-minute episode before I realized there’s no fixing this trainwreck.
Here are some tweets I wrote along the way.
(Seriously, did they re-purpose a pregnancy suit??)
At this point, I thought THIS would be the ironic tipping point. Just cut that shit off at that moment, just to prove the fucking point. Still, I soldiered on. Then… I got this… because the filmmakers had decided they had one last cannonball for their biggest, most hateful cannon:
I very nearly had a Mushu breakdown, right there on Twitter.
Sigh. Okay. So. Consensus from the bestie: There is absolutely no one watchable on the show. He didn’t care what happened to anyone, it was sort of The Worst of the Worst, with no one to root for, even accidentally. The kids zoned out, this trainwreck couldn’t even keep their attention.
Meanwhile, someone who HAS lived a fat life, especially as a sexual abuse survivor, felt crushed under the oppressive heal of what someone ELSE thought was funny. I have nearly committed suicide three times in my life, but someone thought the serious, abusive things that drove me to it was fodder for “comedy.”
I didn’t laugh once. That was their failure.
I didn’t eat once. That was my victory.
Insatiable is so hateful – and so tone-deaf about its own hatefulness – that I felt battered under the weight of it, as a fat woman (who used to be a fat teenager,) as a woman in general AND as a rape survivor. There is nothing there to fix. A creator wanted to work through her own body issues and DGAF who she might have hurt in the process.
Seriously. How can you turn the #metoo movement into such a fucking joke? Having a character LIE about sexual assault – particularly to be self-serving and vindictive – is just what the anti-metoo assholes want to see/hear, to justify NOT BELIEVING THE VICTIMS. This has been a battle my WHOLE FUCKING LIFE, for myself and other survivors like me, and you made it a PLOT DEVICE? It’s so fucking irresponsible just on its face that I barely got past that first scene…. BEFORE ALL THE FAT STUFF EVEN CAME INTO PLAY.
That this piece of shit is marketed to young girls breaks my heart. Way to perpetuate everything you claimed you were satirizing. You not only confirm the message, you’ve stamped it with a golden seal of approval.
I don’t have to “see the rest” to see how you might have fixed things. I have no faith you can. Not when you’ve taken my personal trials and tribulations and turned them into your “joke.” Fuck you.
I’ve been in tons of abusive relationships in my life, hanging in there so *I* wouldn’t be criticized for giving up too easily. It was never MY job to fix/justify this abuse, and it was just as abusive to me to stay in those hurtful, painful situations. But I did it, *to be fair to people who in no way fair to me.* I don’t do that anymore. If you think I should… fuck you.
The whole reason I HAVE an ED is because of sexual abuse. I was four years old, coerced from my front yard by a full-grown man, raped blocks away from my home in the back yard of a stranger. I never told anyone because I felt deep, abiding shame for what happened to me. I thought it was my fault. I thought I was “bad,” so God punished me. I had no adults to help me heal, instead I just fed that hurting little girl all the food she wanted so it would heal the hurt.
No amount of food has ever been enough to fill the hole ripped into me. It just made me feel good in the moment, and in my life – which has included death of loved ones, homelessness, and abuse – I cling to the things that make me feel good.
I overindulged, to make up for the rest.
By the time I hit my teen years, I was at least fifty pounds overweight.
(Note: this is what an actual fat body looks like.)
I didn’t care what the kids at school thought because I could seduce full-grown men thanks to the fact I could wear a 42-C bra. This gave me a sense of control in an area where I had been rendered powerless, so needless to say I was empowered by that in all the wrong ways, and got crushed by the consequences because of it, like so many sexual abuse survivors.
Here are some more fun stats about children survivors of sexual assault:
- Withdrawal and mistrust of adults
- Difficulty relating to others except in sexual or seductive ways
- Unusual interest in or avoidance of all things sexual or physical
- Sleep problems, nightmares, fears of going to bed
- Frequent accidents or self-injurious behaviors
- Refusal to go to school, or to the doctor, or home
- Secretiveness or unusual aggressiveness
- Sexual components to drawings and games
- Neurotic reactions (obsessions, compulsiveness, phobias)
- Habit disorders (biting, rocking)
- Unusual sexual knowledge or behavior
- Forcing sexual acts on other children
- Extreme fear of being touched
- Unwillingness to submit to physical examination.
There were three different events in my young life that should have tipped off the adults around me that something was wrong. Most involved sex, which I was taught from the crib was a big fat sin and I shouldn’t want to have anything to do with it.
When I got caught with a cousin playing, “I’ll Show You Mine if You Show Me Yours,” I got punished and banned from their house. When my mom caught me and the neighbor boy getting naked for each other through our bedroom windows, I got a full beating with a belt for being so naughty and so dirty. (I was eight.)
She also had plenty to say when she found an erotic story I wrote (which, at the age of 12, was filled with a lot of misinformation that should have clued her in that I needed education, not more punishment.)
I was punished and shamed for all of this… which made the ED that much worse. Food, especially unhealthy food, makes bad things feel better, remember.
In fact, being shamed for the weight gain at all, when it was symptomatic of that initial trauma, makes it that much worse. It makes me feel vulnerable and unsafe, which is where that BED was born.
“Many survivors of sexual abuse often work to become very fat or very thin in an attempt to render themselves unattractive. In this way, they try to de-sexualize themselves. Other survivors obsessively diet, starve, or purge to make their bodies “perfect.” A perfect body is their attempt to feel more powerful, invulnerable, and in control, so as not to re-experience the powerlessness they felt as children. Indeed, some large men and women, who are survivors of sexual abuse, are afraid to lose weight because it will render them feeling smaller and childlike. This, in turn, may bring back painful memories that are difficult to cope with.” – Sexual Abuse and Eating Disorders
So, maybe you can understand why taking body image and trying to make it “funny” didn’t work for me. Maybe you can see why I heard danger bells all over this fucking series trailer, and thought maybe – just maybe – I knew I shouldn’t tune in.
Funny how I was “shamed” for that, too.
Maybe once you hear my story, you can understand why making light of such topics, which have made the last 44 of my life a freaking battlefield, would not be “fun.”
If not, let me tell you: It wasn’t.
And fuck you.
But even if I take my personal feelings out of it, there was still a lot to criticize. Like Jeff, I didn’t find one damned character worth watching. This is how Fear the Walking Dead lost me, too, and I’ve NEVER gone back after Season 1. I gotta relate to SOMEBODY in order to get invested. Dietland’s Plum made stupid mistakes all the time, but she was vulnerable enough that I could empathize and even somewhat forgive her – or at the very least understand.
Instead, Insatiable was a glossy tongue-in-cheek middle finger to serious topics, none of which were treated with any respect. They were treated like a joke, because comedy.
In truth, though, this overview, even if it HAD been funny, will not do anyone any favors. For that teen girl who might be watching, who is bullied for the way she looks, who is driven by fantasies how life might be different IF ONLY she were thin, might actually try a fad diet to lose all that weight quick so she can look like a beautiful Disney star who just happened to take off her fat suit.
Note: If you lose 70 pounds in 3 months, you don’t show up runway perfect. You’re deflated, not perfected.
But this comedy in particular doesn’t seem to bother itself with facts, which is where it fails most spectacularly. Comedy, even when it hurts, even when it shoots you point-blank between the eyes, HAS TO BE TRUE.
See Nanette and get back to me.
Honestly the whole travesty made me lose respect for anyone involved, including Alyssa Milano, who normally is a fierce advocate for the hurting and the vulnerable. How she couldn’t see this as the painful, toxic mess that it was is a mystery – especially when folks tried to tell her how it made them feel.
I realize a job is a job sometimes but Jesus. There’s gotta be SOME measure of responsibility. Especially if you’re a mom. How do you NOT look at everything through the filter of what might be good for the world in which your kids live?
I was once given a book to doctor. It was supposed to be YA, but it was basically a rape fantasy book. The bad guy was a rapist, who raped as many girls as he could. This is literally what drove the plot – assault to assault. I had to work this into something that, when it hit the market – IF it hit the market, could tell the tale this author was trying to tell without causing more damage. A rape scene just for the sake of it being brutal and rapey is exploitation. I want nothing to do with a story like that.
So, I gave it a purpose. I added a lot in regarding the rapist’s motivation, the culture where this behavior thrived, and the fallout for the victims. I was really proud of what it turned into, considering it nearly killed me to have to write it. Normally I can crank out the first draft of a novel in a month or less. This one took, what? Six or eight? I had only been tasked to doctor, but I ended up having to rewrite it entirely so that I could proudly stamp my name on it.
It hurt me to write it, so I wanted to make it worth the pain.
Ultimately it was all for naught because YA didn’t want anything to do with it. (Big surprise.) I knew it was a long shot going into it. But, seeing as how one of my goals is to write a bannable book, I decided to give it a go. I put everything I had into it, which was good stuff, though wretchedly painful. (AND IN NO WAY FUNNY.)
I was told I could take all the stuff I added to this story, the details that put meat on the bone, and make my own story out of it. One day, when I am feeling stronger, I will. And I’ll market it like a drama, because that’s what it always was.
Stories bear great responsibility, particularly if they’re your own personal demons driving them.
Which is all you need to know about Insatiable, really. Creator Lauren Gussis went on record that as a 12-year-old, she had an eating disorder.
“I always had issues with my body and weight. I was always in the 90th percentile for weight. I always felt bad about it. I was bullied when I was a teenager. My friends dumped me. I felt alone without the protection of friends or being one of the popular girls. I got attacked a lot. I think that made me isolate, and I think food became a solution to that for sure.” – Lauren Gussis
According to the Vanity Fair article, Gussis has gone on to get help. She assures she has compassion for all of us who have suffered, and wanted to give us a show where a person can become the mental picture they see of themselves and realize that they still suck. At least, I think that was her point. I couldn’t make it past the :15 mark to figure it out. Also according to that VF article, she “understands” this.
“I have so much compassion for everyone who has feelings about this issue,” Gussis continued. “I want this to be a starting point for a conversation. I had a lot of mentors who encouraged me to tell my stories. I encourage other people to tell their story.”
Never fear, Ms. Gussis. I have been telling my story for a while now. And one day you’ll see that story for yourself on a big or small screen. Of course, that’s going to be a lot harder now, because you and thin-privileged folk like you kind of need me to shed my “fat suit” first, and this series kind of validates that shit-for-brains mentality.
Worse, that you now say the criticism you face is akin to censorship, because the very people you claimed to want to help ARE TELLING YOU THAT YOU HURT THEM, is every bit as dismissive as shunning the fat person in the story in the time it takes to take off a fat suit.
You’re not willing to listen to the fat folk, you certainly don’t want to BE fat folk, you don’t want to CAST fat folk or write kindly about fat folk… and yet… I’m supposed to believe that your steaming POS ISN’T fatphobic.
Sure, kay. Fine, fine.
“But what about Friends, Ginger?? You LOVED that show and Monica wore a fat suit.”
Yeah. I didn’t like that either. Any more than I like all the weight jabs on Big Bang Theory or Modern Family.
The difference is none of those shows set themselves up to ADD TO THE CONVERSATION OF BODY IMAGE. In the case of Jay from Modern Family, the fact that he’s so fatphobic is part of the joke, in a very Archie Bunker sort of way. He voices the stereotypes so that he can be put in his place. If you’re trying to make THAT the joke, then that’s fine.
Howard making fun of his mother, or the ease of bedding chubby chicks, not so much. They go for the low-hanging fruit on the tree for an easy joke, and it always, always, always misses the mark for me. But it’s like .05% of the entire series as a whole – NOT THE POINT OF THE WHOLE DAMNED SHOW.
In the case of Lauren:
“I wanted to poke at all those issues through comedy. But every single one of the issues that these characters struggle with — from eating disorders to body dysmorphia, to sexuality to needing outside power and validation, to wanting to be perfect, to mental illness — I have struggled with every single one of those things.”
You don’t get to target serious issues to make a serious impact, and then shrug off, “Well, it’s supposed to be funny. Don’t take it so seriously.”
“But Ginger… Lauren used to be fat herself. And fat people LIKE the show. How bad can it be?”
What can I tell you? There are Gay Republicans, too. Self-loathing is an epidemic. Anyone who enjoyed that mess clearly agreed with the mentality that fat is a funny plot device, and I’m just not one of those people.
It’s salt in my wound, basically, which in no way invalidates me or my opinion just because someone who hates themselves for being fat thought it was okay.
My verdict? Insatiable leaves me hungry for a story that actually cares about its target audience, but sadly fills the media with one more story that makes it that much harder to get a more compassionate story written. For all the young people out there who have had their worst thoughts about themselves reinforced by this show, I wish you strength to turn off the TV. These are her issues. They don’t have to be yours. There are lots of stories out there, compassionate, empowering stories to help you get to the other side of whatever you are going through, whether it’s an ED, teen bullying or, God forbid, emotional trauma from some form of abuse.
I know, I have already published 30 of them.
In fact, I’m going to take Lauren’s advice and keep writing more and more of them. I’m gonna do that fat. Eventually I may do it thin. And if I ever, EVER, do anything to hurt you guys once that happens, please feel free to check me.
Because shit like this? It’s out of order.
They stand in contempt, of me and everyone who looks like me. I owe them no further viewings to be proven wrong. I owe you no audience for that contempt, especially if it makes me feel bad. There is no excuse to give that abusive behavior a free pass. And if you think I need to put myself through that to hear what you have to say, which you have proven you cannot do without hurting me, your opinion of me is moot.
You are dismissed.