Dietland: Not the Unproblematic Alternative to Insatiable It’s Made Out to Be

Over 215,000 people have signed a petition to stop the release of Netflix’s new ‘comedy-drama’, Insatiable,  released today (10 August 2018). The series has been heavily criticised on social media as being fatphobic and fatmisic (‘misia’ meaning hate/hatred). The synopsis of the show is that Patty (played by Debby Ryan a la fat suit), an overweight student, takes revenge on her bullies after losing weight (following being punched in the face by said bullies and having her jaw wired shut) and becoming a popular ‘it girl’.

It’s an awful, phobic and tired premise, but that isn’t the point that I’m here to raise. It has been already in far better words than I could conjure myself (take a look at this great article by Sofie Hagen for The Guardian if you’d like to read more on the dangers of Insatiable).

I’m here to talk to you about Dietland, the AMC series, and book by Sarai Walker. Both the series and book tell the story of Plum, a fat woman who works answering fan mail for the editor of a teen girls’ magazine and, at the start of the plot, is planning on undergoing weight-loss surgery. With the introduction of various characters, Plum’s direction takes a turn towards fat acceptance, whilst a more sinister plot line develops around her.

(Disclaimer: I have neither read the book nor watched the series in full; at the point of writing I have read some excerpts and watched episodes 1-4 for research purposes. Hopefully, by the end of the article, you’ll understand why I chose to give both a swift pass as ‘entertainment’.)

It sounds like the fat positive storyline we’ve all been waiting for; is Plum is the feminist, body positive, fat protagonist of our dreams? I already know the answer, and it’s not the one you’re likely to read in any other article on the subject. There’s a reason that I chose to start this article with an overview of the backlash against Netflix’s Insatiable; Dietland is frequently used as a counterargument of how fat representation should be done (a quick Google search will give you a flavour). Read about Why Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette Is So Powerful.

But while Dietland may well be fat positive, but it is such as the expense of other marginalised groups, and it is a far cry from being feminist (unless you’re a SWERF – that is, a sex worker exclusionary radical feminist).

The character’s name is Stella Cross, who is described as someone who “made her living on her back and on all fours like a dog knew her name”, with “nothing more than a sanitized slit between her legs, like the coin slot on a vending machine.” Stella is painted as a character we shouldn’t support, and much of this is done through graphic, explicit slut shaming. This is also likely the justification for her murder by a ‘feminist’ group called Jennifer, who, up until this point, had been murdering male predators; this was their first female kill.

I spoke to Ellidh, a queer sex worker, who “was always taught that those that live by the flesh die by the flesh; seemingly justifying violence towards and the murder of sex workers”. They added that the character’s storyline reminded them “of the latest series of Orange is the New Black [Netflix, season 6], where a guy killed an escort then rolled up uninvited to the ‘shared apartment’ and just picked another kill; violence against and the murder of sex workers is seen as ‘OK’ because we’re viewed as second class citizens with weak and unclearly defined rights…we need to be asking why sex workers, more so trans sex workers, and even more so TWOC (trans women of colour) sex workers deserve to be treated as humanoid creatures, but not whole people with whole, maybe different, but whole lives.”

Ellidh is right; we need to do more, and that includes not throwing another marginalised community under the bus for the sake of a glimpse of fat positivity. We need fat positivity that doesn’t forsake others, such as Puddin’ and Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. We need to be as critical of half-mark attempts like Dietland as we are the likes of Insatiable. We need to question people, especially fat influencers, who are supporting this franchise and, in turn, condoning whorephobia and violence against sex workers. We must do more. We must do better.

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