Sunday Reflections: Let’s Talk About INSATIABLE, Fat Shaming and Eating Disorders
TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST TALKS ABOUT SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND EATING DISORDERS
I am a 45 year-old anorexic inhabiting a fat body. Even though I am fat and I eat daily, I must admit that I am still an anorexic because I suffer from body image issues, disordered eating and the anorexic mindset. My therapist once explained to me that eating disorders are much like addiction, you don’t really recover so much as we learn to manage our issues. Mostly. There is no cure for an eating disorder, but there is learning to live well with one.
My anorexia began for me in middle school. Middle school, high school and the college years are pretty ripe for developing an eating disorder. My eating disorder, like many, is tied in to many factors, including the fact that I was also sexually abused in my middle school years. There is a high incidence of eating disorders among sexual assault survivors. I also had some family members who were anorexic and not only modeled the behaviors, but practiced the fine art of body shaming. All of these factors came together in the perfect melting pot that produced Karen, anorexic extraordinaire. I would never wish any of this on anyone, which is why I have such a strong, negative opinion about Insatiable.
I spent all of my teenage years and a great deal of my twenties not eating. I was ravenous with hunger, but eating was my personal enemy. As I said, I have some very disordered eating patterns and the ways in which I think about food and my body are truly twisted and toxic. Living in a culture that both sexualizes and scrutinizes the female body does not help. We harm women every day in the ways we talk about the female body.
I am also the mother of two amazing daughters. I love them. A lot. I have 3 main parenting goals:
1) Raise happy, well adjusted daughters that contribute positively to society
2) Keep them safe from sexual abuse
3) Help them learn to love their bodies in ways that I never could
As you can imagine, these are not easy goals and it is frustrating to learn not only how much of it is out of my control, but how much of the world actively works against me to achieve these goals. Our culture is toxic when it comes to how we view, talk about, look at, and incorporate the female body. This is especially true when you consider media.
If you or someone you know is struggle with an eating disorder, please contact
Which brings me to Insatiable, a new movie debuting soon on Netflix starring Disney star Debbie Ryan, a girl that my girls grew up watching. As it has not yet debuted, I can’t speak about the movie itself. I can, however, talk about the trailer for the movie, which goes like this:
The MC is a fat girl who is bullied in school by her peers. She suffers a broken jaw, has her jaw wired shut and comes back from summer break newly thin, confident, and seeking revenge.
It takes a pretty standard approach to how women are portrayed in the media:
1. Initially fat, the MC is ugly, rejected – a loser. And in order for Debbie Ryan to portray this character, she has to wear a fat suit. Because fat suits are funny, get it.
2. She goes away for the summer and can’t eat (because she was injured and has to have her jaw wired shut, also funny and definitely has never been done before), so she has the magical makeover. This magical makeover, which includes her losing a ton of weight, changes everything for her. Losing weight magically changes everything. Tada!
3. Now everyone loves her, she’s confident. She struts through those same hallways that she used to wish she could disappear from.
It does add the revenge fantasy twist, and who doesn’t love a good revenge fantasy? I would, except for what it takes for our main character to get to the revenge part. I’m so sick of the way we present and talk about fat bodies. I mean, I would love to get some revenge on some of the people who were awful to me in life, I am down with a good revenge fantasy. But this trailer is toxic in an already toxic culture in the way it presents the female body.
What if we changed the way we presented fat bodies in the media? Here are some suggestions.
1. Include fat bodies and not have the stories be about how fat they are or their weight loss journey. Let fat people just exist because, well, they do. We can tell stories about fat people without it ever being about their weight.
2. Don’t make being fat be the joke.
3. Abolish fat suits.
4. Don’t let fat be the ugly before and thin be the beautiful after. Fat people are beautiful. Thin people often aren’t. The size and shape of your body is not the end all, be all of who you are.
5. Let’s move away from physical transformation stories to personal transformation stories, stories that show characters learning and growing and choosing to be something new and different not in how they look, but in how they approach the world and their fellow human beings.
My daughters are at the ripe age for developing an eating disorder. The teens I work with are as well. In fact, my youngest was in Kindergarten the first time she came home and cried because someone had bullied her because she was “fat.” I’ve seen both of my girls stand in front of the mirrors, turn sideways, lift up their shirts and examine the size of their bellies. I’ve heard my black belt teenager talk about how big her thighs are, as if muscle is just as toxic as the fat our society has taught her to fear. Trust me, our kids are picking up on all kinds of messages when it comes to their bodies, both the explicit and the implicit ones. They pay attention to the unspoken as much as they do the spoken. That’s why even this trailer is harmful, it is reinforcing all of the negative messaging they are already receiving.
I’m not sure what the overall message of this movie is, though I do know that those involved in making it say it is a dark comedy that calls out the way our culture talks about the female body. I do not think this trailer does what they claim it does. I feel it fails and is toxic. I do know that the trailer for this movie is harmful in that it perpetuates those very things that those involved in making the movie say they are wishing to address. The trailer engages in fat shaming. The trailer does harm in that it reinforces the message that fat is ugly, thin is beautiful, and all you have to do to get thin is stop eating for a couple of months.
Do you know what happens when you stop eating or eat too little? Your body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs to thrive. Your hair thins. Your teeth decay. Your nails become brittle. Your skin does weird things. You sleep more. Your attitude and outlook on life changes. Your body starts to eat itself from the inside out. You will, eventually, die. Slowly at first, but then quickly.
As I mentioned in my introduction, those who develop eating disorders are never considered truly cured. They will spend a lifetime battling toxic body self-loathing, doing the work and then doing it again and again again. You don’t wake up one day and say, I’m done with this and I’m going to start eating normally and loving my body – tada! The work of healing is never done.
We have to change the way we talk about the female body in our world (and yes, men are body shamed and develop eating disorders at high rates as well). A great first step would be not making movies like this. It has the potential to trigger an eating disorder in a large number of pre-teen and teen girls who are already standing on the brink as they wrestle with what it means to inhabit a female body in this world. Insatiable is one Netflix movie that won’t be played in my house or any of my devices.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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