25 September 2018
The fight for ethnic and sexual diversity in media has taken many victories over the last twenty years—in a world where, at one point, seeing whites and people of color on screen together was unheard of, now blended casts are encouraged in nearly every form of media. Where sexuality had no place in mediated storytelling, it is now celebrated.
Today, however, a different kind of diversification is happening and has had some unfortunate similarities to early sexual and ethnic changes in media; as the revolution for body diversity makes its way to the forefront of mediated images so follow the patterns of oppression and insensitivity mirrored in the past. Stereotyping, deprecation and joking have all had significant impacts on the transition into body diverse media.
In the last year alone, award winning actors like Ashley Graham (Baywatch) and Crissy Metz (This is Us), have sparked a movement that has forced attention on nontraditional body representations in media.
To become a part of the ever growing conversation, Netflix has released a few films and television shows in recent months that showcase nontraditional body characters. Namely, in Netflix originals like Insatiable and Sierra Burgess is a Loser. The streaming service has introduced body diverse storylines in some problematic ways.
Overweight characters in the past have been commonly depicted as the comedic relief, the pitied or the invisible. These themes are all painstakingly present in Netflix’s Insatiable.
Insatiable follows overweight teen, Patty, who loses 70 pounds after an assault leaves her with her jaw wired shut. After the dramatic weight loss, Patty becomes a popular, powerful beauty queen. Throughout the show, the toxic message that women are only desirable when they fit traditional body norms is showcased. In further detail, the line “Skinny is magic” is repeated throughout the show.
Sierra Burgess is a Loser, becomes problematic because it suggests that the main character’s weight is the main reason she is unsuccessful in her professional and personal life. She can’t even talk to people without self-deprecating or comparing her body to others. This is masked however by pseudo-confidence that is undermined in almost every scene.
But, what do both of these roles have in common? The character’s weight has been depicted as their most defining characteristic.
Even though the main characters, in both, represent nontraditional body types in film and TV, the physique’s of the surrounding cast are incredibly standard in traditional media. This acts as a toxic representation that pits being overweight as an abnormal occurrence when in reality 37.9 percent of adults are considered overweight in the United States.
Netflix is an outlet for shows and movies to make it big in the eyes of the public. With all of the diversity going on in the world, you would expect the movies and shows we watch would be more in tune with today’s time.
Depicting weight as the only thing people should be noticing is counter productive to today’s day and age. Hopefully, Netflix can recognize this and show overweight people for what they are – people.