SALT LAKE CITY — Weeks before its debut, critics were denouncing a new Netflix series as fat-phobic, anxiety inducing and generally demeaning to women.
And that was just based on the trailer. Now that “Insatiable” is out, the criticism is even more savage.
Linda Holmes, who covers entertainment for NPR, watched 12 episodes and pronounced it mean and offensive, with juvenile humor that insults not only overweight people, but anyone with moral sensibilities.
For example, one teenage boy in the show is having an affair with another girl's mother. "This story is treated as extremely funny, and the mother as gloriously trashy, and nobody seems too terribly concerned about the fact that it involves an adult having sex with a minor," Holmes writes.
There's also a side story about allegations of molestation.
Meanwhile, a television editor at The New York Times said the show, which debuted Friday, is not just offensive but "potentially damaging."
"I was shocked to realize that an insensitive representation of bullying and obesity might actually be the least of this show’s problems," Aisha Harris said in a discussion with another Times critic, Eleanor Stanford.
And Vox calls it both "obscenely cruel and terminally dull."
The show revolves around a 17-year-old girl named Patty who is mercilessly bullied because she is 70 pounds overweight. When she loses the weight after having her jaw wired shut for three months, she emerges thin, beautiful and obsessed with revenge.
Even though the show's creator and the actress who plays Patty promised that "Insatiable" was not the sum of its trailer, and in fact reflected their own struggles with body image, more than 200,000 people have signed a Change.org petition demanding its cancellation. The petition says the series "perpetuates not only the toxicity of diet culture, but the objectification of women's bodies."
Patty doesn't actually lose weight through dieting, or adopting a healthier lifestyle. Her transformation is the result of a freakish accident wrapped in a fat joke: A homeless man hit her in the mouth when he was trying to steal a candy bar from her.
Moreover, Variety's Caroline Framke writes in The Chicago Tribune that the character "embodies a bingo board's worth of fat stereotypes" and the show never attempts to explore important questions such as what it's like to be fat in a culture that worships thin, or the health implications of losing so much weight so quickly.
"Despite the show's insistence that it understands Patty's struggles with her weight, there's nothing in "Insatiable" to suggest that it actually does," Framke writes.
The series debuts at a time when American women are freshly emboldened to challenge attitudes perceived as sexist and demeaning, particularly those focused on appearance.
The #MeToo movement, which toppled Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and other men accused of serial sexual harassment, is part of this change, as are campaigns to promote fat acceptance, and others that encourage women to embrace their appearance without makeup, dieting or Photoshop.
While men, too, worry about their appearance, the pressure is heightened for women. According to Pew Research Center, 71 percent of Americans feel pressure to be physically attractive, while just 27 percent say the same of men.
Yet, about 1 in 10 American women consider themselves to be very attractive, and nearly one-quarter says they are not very attractive or that they are unattractive.
Among those fighting to redefine beauty standards are two Utah sisters, Lindsay and Lexie Kite, whose nonprofit organization “Beauty Redefined” seeks to promote positive body image, and CVS, the nation’s largest pharmacy, which announced in January that it would no longer use digitally perfected images in marketing CVS products.
Defenders of "Insatiable" say it's a black comedy along the lines of "Election" that slyly ridicules beauty culture. In one scene, Patty looks at herself in the mirror, and still feels fat even though she's now thin. That's indicative of a condition called body dysmorphic disorder, a common cause of dangerous eating disorders.
In a defense of the show on the website Netflixlife.com, writer Alexandria Ingham says the show has a moral purpose.
"What initially looks like a series about fat-shaming is actually a series about what happens when good people make bad choices. Patty goes on a path of revenge to get back at all the bullies, but that’s not necessarily the right thing to do. Just because you’re hurting doesn't mean it’s OK to hurt others," she writes.
But parents might want to think twice about allowing their children to watch the show, and not only because of its portrayal of sexual promiscuity.
One study has found that 82 percent of American 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat, Susan R. Madsen, the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership and Ethics at Utah Valley University and executive director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project, told the Deseret News earlier this year.6 comments on this story
And Dove's 2017 report on beauty and self-confidence found that half of girls around the world lack esteem for their bodies, and 8 in 10 are less likely to socialize and participate in clubs or teams if they don't feel good about their looks.
There's a solution, however, and it doesn't involve sitting in front of a screen. Being active and participating in sports is one of the most effective ways to help a girl feel good about her body, Madsen said.
“It’s important to get them to use their bodies, not for people to admire, but to do what bodies are supposed to do: to be strong and work," she said.