My name is Erica Mones. I have cerebral palsy, an eating disorder, and depression. When I was eighteen, I attempted suicide. This is my truth.
One thing that has been bothering me lately, is the upcoming release of the Netflix show Insatiable. It is about an overweight teenager, Patty, who is bullied about her weight. After an accident leaves her jaw wired shut, she loses a significant (probably dangerous) amount of weight quickly. This means she is hot, and with her newfound hotness she seeks vengeance on her former bullies. For many reasons this is problematic. The first being its tired storyline that is ripped off of The Ugly Duckling. But for me, what is worse is that the creator, Lauren Gussis and lead actress, Debby Ryan, are defending the show’s alleged use of fatphobia as a form of satire. Ryan, who wears a fat suit during Patty’s “fat” scenes, has expressed that she would never participate in a fatphobic project because she struggles with body image issues. Lauren Gussis released a statement saying,
“This is my truth. When I was 13, I was suicidal. My best friend dumped me, I was bullied, and I wanted revenge. I thought if I looked pretty [read: skinny] on the outside, I’d feel like I was enough. Instead, I developed an eating disorder…and the kind of rage that makes you want to do dark things. I’m still not comfortable in my skin…but I’m trying to share my insides–to share my pain and vulnerability through humor. That’s just my way. The show is a cautionary tale about how damaging it can be to believe the outsides are more important–to judge without going deeper. Please give the show a chance.”
While both Ryan and Gussis explain their involvement in this project, eating disorders and body image issues do not excuse poking fun at fat people or participating in a project that victimizes and portrays a marginalized population as a “before.”
As someone who has been suicidal in the past and is currently battling an eating disorder, I can attest that sharing one’s truth does not require poking fun at other people. Sharing one’s truth never requires hurting others. If anything, the best art comes from a place of good; a place that intends to help, not hurt. As a writer, I often find it challenging to write about my disability, eating disorder, and other mental health issues without being inflammatory and sensational, however my best pieces need to be meaningful and true. Inflammatory and sensational are nothing new, artful, or genuine. As a writer, I aim to create new pieces that speak my truth about the world. From what I can see of Insatiable, it is another melodramatic show that equates fatness with unattractiveness, rendering fat characters stagnant until they undergo weight loss. This does not speak the truth or anything close to it.
Last semester, I took a class on screenwriting. After reading many screenplays, our final project was a forty-page screenplay that would be workshopped by our peers. I wrote my screenplay about a disabled girl in college navigating eating disorder recovery, school, and relationships. The hardest part was not being vulnerable with my peers, but instead, telling a genuine story with meaning. Oftentimes, I found my scenes were driven by anger, and so I rewrote them. The protagonist was allowed to be angry at times, but a story driven by anger only reinforces stereotypes. Stories driven by anger often lack depth; they seldom teach their audience valuable lessons. From what both Ryan and Gussis have said and from trailers, Insatiable looks like it is driven by anger.
It is easy to come from a place of rage. It is easy to attack the vulnerable (e.g. Fat, mentally disabled, mentally ill), but the easy way out is seldom the responsible way; it is a cop out. No matter what someone has gone through, using fatphobia or any other form of bigotry for humor is not justified; instead, it is cowardly.
My truth does not need to hurt people; because it comes from a place of forgiveness and confusion and love and anger and hopefulness, but not pure anger.