Hey. Hi. I feel very strongly about how extreme weight loss is being portrayed on Netflix’s Insatiable and I think the best way to talk about it is by sharing my own experiences below.
TW: I’m gonna talk a lot about body dysmorphia and disordered eating, so please proceed with caution and care.
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Growing up, I was always a “big girl”. That’s how some people put it. My aunts told me I had a mature body for my age, that I was womanly. But I never felt womanly among my peers.
I was just big. I was a big girl.
And there shouldn’t be anything wrong with being big. But anyone who got through middle school knows that your size always means something and, more often than not, it defines you.
At my school, being the big girl meant that I was the funny one, a sidekick to my friends, none of whom were big. I was tall as well so everyone was a little too scared of me to be openly mean but I was treated differently because of my size. I knew this.
I knew that my best friend, who was a size 0, had a different experience walking through the halls than me. She never worried about her hips knocking water bottles and books off of desks when she approached the board. Her thighs didn’t jiggle as she ran laps in P.E. Her body alone didn’t drawn THAT kind of attention, the bad kind, the kind any teen dreads. She got the right kind of attention, the kind of attention that gets you dates to the dance and invitations to parties.
The only time I got “good” attention was when I made fun of myself and I spent most of my young life telling myself I was totally okay with that, being the joke, having my body be the joke. But I wasn’t. It wasn’t okay ever.
In fact, I’d fantasize daily about something magical happening, about waking up one day and suddenly being small. Sometimes I’d imagine having a genie or a fairy godmother that would wave their hand or a wand and make me small. Sometimes I’d fantasize about having enough money to get liposuction.
And, I even remember thinking how GREAT it would be if something tragic happened, like I got hit in the face so hard with a ball during P.E. that they’d have to WIRE MY JAW SHUT so I couldn’t eat. So I would lose weight and then I’d stop being the big girl.
That is sincerely a thought I had, that is now a comical plot point in a show being marketed to teens on Netflix, arguably the biggest subscription streaming platform in the world right now.
That is a seriously screwed up, very REAL thought that has been made into a giant joke by powerful people with a big platform and this is why I felt like I had to write this. Both the fantasy and the reality of bringing yourself to a place of physical pain to fit into a pair of jeans isn’t funny.
Thinking back to my teen years, it’s scary how much I would’ve done and did to become small.
I was thirteen, lying in bed squeezing my “extra inches” so hard that I left ugly red marks, when I told myself that I was done being lazy and worthless, that I was gonna do whatever it took to “be healthy”.
This was a lie.
Extreme weight loss typically starts with lies. The first lie is the one the world tells you—that the size you start at makes you less of a person, less worthy of love, just less than. The lies that follow are all your own or, at least, that’s how it was for me.
I was never, ever thinking about what was healthy. I was thinking about being thin.
But I knew enough to know how to frame my new routine to all the adults in my life. I wasn’t eating everything on my plate anymore because I wanted to be healthy. So I only ate half of what I was given.
If I had stopped there, that would’ve been healthy. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. Because it wasn’t about being healthy.
At lunch, I started throwing out my sandwich bread (This was before I knew I had Celiac.). Then it was the cheese. I refused creamy condiments. If there were M&Ms in my trail mix, I’d pick them out and throw them away.
I also started running, which if I just ran a mile or two a day, would’ve been a healthy habit. But I didn’t just run a mile or two. Because it wasn’t about being healthy.
I started running five to eight miles a day, often uphill. I would work out in any weather conditions. No matter how hot it was outside, I’d run. If I missed a workout or ate a bite of cake at a birthday party, I’d punish myself. I’d tell myself I was worthless and a failure and force myself to run even further and faster.
Because it wasn’t about being healthy. It was about being thin.
And in a little over a year, I went from a size 17 pant to a size 5. I was “thin” and people started treating me differently. But I didn’t feel any different.
That’s not entirely true either. I was shaky, hungry, and on edge 100% of the time. I have never been more insecure or unhappy. Part of the reason for this was that, I lost the weight so fast ( much like if I’d had my jaw wired shut) that I couldn’t see it. When I looked in the mirror, I was still me. Big me.
I needed to keep losing weight or I’d lose the good attention that I’d only just started getting. I’d lose the “Oh my God, Hannah. You look so good.”’s. If I didn’t keep getting smaller, I’d lose the people I thought I’d already lost, people I went to elementary school with who stopped talking to me in junior high.
When I was big, I thought we’d just grown apart. I was still into dragons and magic and they were more into music and clothes. It happens. But that wasn’t the case. The only thing that changed from junior high to freshman year of high school was my weight. I was still nerding it up hardcore. I just took up less space doing it.
Knowing for certain that the only thing keeping these people away from me was my size really messed me up. But the last thing on my mind was revenge. I haven’t watched “Insatiable”. But I’ve seen the trailers and read Variety’s review. And I know I’m not Patty, but I have been in a similar situation. And, I can tell you that the last thing on my mind when I’d actually done it, when I was losing weight, was vengeance.
I didn’t have space in my starving brain or my shrinking body for revenge. I didn’t have space for anything but my obsession with getting and staying thin. I didn’t have time to go out and party, make people jealous, because parties, socializing, always involved food. Food meant calories. And calories were the enemy.
I filled my free time with miles. I’d jog in place while watching TV with my family. I was consumed with keeping myself from consuming, and from what I’ve read, this is not how Patty’s weight loss is portrayed.
I know everyone’s story is different but the truth about dramatic weight loss and its effects is this: it’s more than a throw away joke or a plot device. It’s very real and can get out of hand and become very dangerous very quickly.
I am lucky enough that I was taken to a doctor before my “diet” and disordered eating became an eating disorder. But I still struggle with my relationships to food, exercise, my body, and my self-worth to this day.
I’ve gained back a good amount of the weight I lost, which really is healthy. But I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t still beat myself up about it. I’m still afraid to weigh myself or be weighed. I know that I do a pretty good job of eating healthy and staying active but I still consistently chastise myself about not doing more and eating less.
Shows like Insatiable not only play into dangerous beauty standards that lead to life-threatening eating disorders but also minimize the life-long impact of dramatic weight loss on a person’s body and psyche. Whether or not people watch the show is a personal choice, but, from where I’m sitting, the show exists to make light of ideas that literally kill people every day and I’m very much not about it.
I think teens, all of us, deserve better. We can do better. We need to do so much better.
It’s confession time. I love writing plays. I love discussing plays. I love reading plays. But a lot of times, I find seeing plays hard to do and here’s why. Theatre has a major accessibility problem.
As any experienced theatre goer knows the majority of people crowding into the seats beside you are usually older, usually white and usually wealthy and this is the group many Artistic Directors are still trying to appease. But that’s a big problem for the future of the art form.
Why? Because while they can afford the many investments traditional theatre demands you make, most other groups of people, especially Millennials, cannot.
For them, paying $60-$200 for a ticket to then drive all the way downtown from the suburbs just to pay another $20 more bucks for parking—all to sit in silence and watch a show they may or may not like is no big deal. But, to younger generations, that’s a hefty and perhaps, impossible investment to make because, as Daily Beast contributor Samantha Allen declared in a recent article, Millennials are poor (1).
Unlike our Boomer and Gen X predecessors, we are a generation drowning in student debt in an economy stifled by stagnant wages and minimal job prospects. Many of us are living paycheck to paycheck (many from our parent’s couches), saving next to nothing and debt financing our mere subsistence.
This makes accessing theatre, from simply a financial standpoint, a huge challenge for young people. Of course, there’s always community theatre options but if we are honest with ourselves there’s only so much mediocre Shakespeare in the Park a young, untrained ear can stand. I will even concede to the fact that there are many smaller, niche companies catering to younger, less liquid crowds. But too often these theatres only appeal to the blessed few of us selfie-takers who embrace the chaos of wandering down into seemingly abandoned Church basements or foreclosed homes to see an avant-garde show just for the sake of the art with a capital A.
While those experiences satisfy some, most Millennials (myself included) aren’t that cool. These cheaper alternatives to the mainstream stage are neither powerful enough nor appealing enough to transform the Netflix generation into subscription, holding theatre-lovers that will gladly fill the seats at the Pantages and the Ahmanson when all the blue haired-Boomers take their final bows.
This is why theatre makers need to recognize that Millennials are a different kind of audience. We have different needs and we need a different kind of theatre that fits our budgets and better represents us and our priorities.
What would a new Millennial-friendly theatre look like?
To entice Millennials to the theatre, the new theatre must first and foremost become monetarily accessible. That means theatre shows should be the same price as the average movie ticket or cheaper. To make this a reality, theatres will need to be smaller, sleeker operations to cut down on venue costs. They will also require a larger source of income separate from ticket sales.
What could these theatres do to supplement lower ticket costs?
Take another note from the movie biz and sell small, pre-packaged snacks (to make it super easy) and booze to patrons—and not just at intermission! Encourage people to order drinks and grab snacks before, during and after performances. Keep the house lights up and let people know it’s okay to move about the space and even communicate with each other (within reason) during the performance.
Now I know some of my fellow theatre artists reading might be upset by this proposal. But hear me out. The theatre started as an interactive, communal event that was in constant competition with what was just beyond the boundaries of the stage. Shakespeare’s company dealt with plague, drunken patrons heckling actors and Queen Elizabeth’s requests to be seated on stage. Today’s actors will be able to handle the occasional boisterous patron.
In fact, the very nature of making theatre more casual increases its accessibility not only to the young and poor. It also offers people with mental and physical disabilities, who have been left out of the loop since the dawn of the fourth wall, a chance to participate.
Take for instance, the lovely and talented Jessica Thom. A talented and passionate theatre-maker with Tourette’s, Thom is still limited in her ability to enjoy going to shows because her verbal tics are labeled by other audience members as “disruptive”. Though this response is expected in a space that demands audiences stay still and be quiet, that doesn’t make it right (2).
For the theatre to thrive in the future, the new theatre model must embrace the fact that many valuable, potential theatre lovers cannot comfortably abide in silent stillness. That is why adopting the theatre-bar model can help every patron feel comfortable and welcome.
In a theatre-bar setting, regardless of mental or physical health, patrons will be allowed to get up, move around and even make noise before, during and after performances without necessarily drawing attention to themselves. Shift audience expectations and the theatre instantly becomes a more accessible, more inclusive and more profitable place.
**Sidebar: This would also solve a lot of the restroom traffic issues traditional theatre spaces face. Of course, lines will be obscenely long if the only time audience members can get up and go is during one designated fifteen minute segment. If people are free to explore the space throughout the performance, much like they do during movies, a lot of pressure will be taken off both the theatre’s plumbing and their patron’s bladders.**
For Millennials to get onboard and the art form’s survival, theatre must be more than something audiences sit and stare at; it must become a fully-integrated and integral part of our communities.
How do you make theatre a cornerstone of a community?
To make your theatre a community cornerstone, it must be both financially and physically accessible and the work produced there must be inclusive and representative of the people who live and work in the surrounding neighborhoods. That means theatre bars must provide diverse casts to perform plays by diverse authors.
As evidenced by the recent rise in grassroots social justice efforts via social media, Millennials have proved that we are not satisfied with the current status quo. And, just as we expect better of our country, we also expect better of our entertainment. We openly long to see more of ourselves and our friends in what we read and watch. And because of this, with every passing year, the theatrical cannon, primarily made up of plays by and about upper-middle class white men, becomes less and less relevant to our lives. But these “classics” are still the foundation of theatre seasons all over the country.
This brings me back to theatre’s accessibility problem with regard to the material being produced. You can’t force Millennials to love Shakespeare or Chekov. The plays, though brilliant in their own time and way, will not speak to everyone, especially many first-time theatre-goers. But, I’d wager a play that is relevant to the people and the place, starring people who they look like and live nearby will help new audiences feel included and embraced by theatre.
So, the concept of local theatre bars should be the new standard theatrical model because it would make inclusion easier and more focused. Companies in these bars could easily build programs, create and cast plays with the community the theatre is in and in this way each theatre bar would offer a unique company of actors as well as unique line up of plays that appeal to, and encourage the involvement of the community surrounding them.
Theatre should not be work for audiences to get excited about; the excitement of seeing great theatre should drive people to work on discovering for themselves the rich history of the art form and the cannon.
At the end of the day, making it cheaper and easier to go to the theatre will help get Millennials in the door, but it is the broader inclusion and interactivity of these new theatre bar spaces that will truly save the theatre. But that's a topic for another blog.
Right now, I am nothing but a wannabe writer. But someday, I want my work to make an impression and I know that won’t happen unless a big shift occurs and theatre becomes more accessible. This is why I’m asking my fellow theatre makers to please consider experimenting with more casual, comfortable performance spaces so we can earn the hearts of new audiences and truly welcome the next generation into the world we love.
Note: Many community/dinner/niche theatres are already putting this model to good use. I am simply calling for broader adoption of these casual, more inclusive/interactive formats.
Okay. First blog post time. Let me tell you a little bit more about me and why I think my work is worth your precious time. It may not be. But I think it might be sometimes and that's something. Right?
I started writing young. Inspired early on by everything from Disney/Pixar films to the great works of Middle Grade & YA novelists, Gail Carson Levine and JK Rowling, I created stories through drawings, home movies and make-believe games long before I was able to write them down.
I finally put pen to paper when I was eleven. It was a rough and lonely time. My grandmother passed away, my two best friends moved across continents and I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
To escape this reality, I started my first (unpublished) novel. Once I finished that, I just wanted to keep going. Since then I’ve written several short stories, short films, plays and another novel--Bound, that I’m currently working on getting published.
I’ve always been drawn to stories focusing on characters that must face both physical and psychological challenges. As a professional, I want to give a voice to people—young people especially—struggling with internal demons and the repressive, societal forces that create them.
But most importantly, I want to create joy for my readers and audiences by writing stories that entertain the mind and elevate the soul.
You, the fans, are the reason writers like me continue writing.
Thank you for joining me on this journey!
Hannah C. Langley