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The Problem With Insatiable

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The first time I remember looking in the mirror and deciding that my appearance needed a total overhaul was in the 8th grade. The idea was planted in my brain by the movies and TV shows about girls that left for the summer and came back to school looking effortlessly beautiful. In a terribly edited makeover montage, these girls straightened their curly hair, made the switch from contacts to glasses, and lost the frumpy clothes and therefore the appearance of extra weight. In the end, the camera would zoom in on them walking victoriously through the school hallway, backpack slung carelessly over one shoulder. After their transformation, they were noticed by their crushes, loved by their peers, and could finally stand up to their bullies.

It was as if the past version of themselves never existed, and suddenly they were beautiful. This is what I wanted.

Every summer I would dream about a new wardrobe, a stylish haircut, and counting calories. I would decide that this year was going to be the year I was finally beautiful. But money, time, and low self-esteem were my enemies in this battle against my frizzy hair, acne, stomach, and thick thighs, and it never quite worked out the way I wanted it to.

I would lose a couple pounds and then gain them back during the school year. I would go to the hairdresser picturing a completely new style and walk out with a trim.  And I would start school with the same sense of style and even lower self-esteem. It was a cruel example of expectation versus reality.

At the time, I felt like I was the only girl who was feeling this way, unaware that almost every other girl at my school saw themselves as a failing protagonist of their own high school movie. As I grew up I learned that these experiences were not unique. In fact, these experiences are growing more and more common.

Young girls are having to consider their looks more than ever as they face a world of social media and personal branding. A study in the Journal of Media Psychology found that, “Exposure to manipulated Instagram photos directly led to lower body image.”  A 2013 study done by the Dove Self Esteem Project found that 47 percent of girls age 11-14 refused to take part in school activities that would show their body in any way.

However, it hasn’t all been bad.  There’s more conversation surrounding body image and body positivity, and as a plus sized person, it’s honestly refreshing to see more bodies like mine in media. Up until a few months ago, I felt like we were making progress in slowly pulling ourselves out of the hole the social media is working so hard to dig.

Then I saw the trailer for Insatiable.

Insatiable is the story of Patty, an overweight high schooler who ends up having her jaw broken and is put on a liquid diet. She loses 70 pounds over the summer and comes back “hot” and ready for revenge.

Like most of the Internet, I was upset. I felt like the media was making progress, like we were confronting our issues regarding image. We had underwear ad campaigns using plus sized models, brands refusing to touch up cellulite in Photoshop, and women going makeup free on the cover of magazines. Weren’t we past fat suits and extreme weight loss storylines?

I guess not.

I decided to watch the first episode of the show, and I was shocked by what I saw. I tried to go into it open minded after the trailer. Maybe it would actually make fun of the “being skinny solved all my problems” plot line. Maybe it would subvert the typical high school power structure and make a statement about body shaming.

It didn’t do either of those things.

In the first episode we’re introduced to Patty. She’s overweight and has been for most of her life. Patty only has one friend, Nonnie, who is obviously in love with her. We’re also introduced to Robert “Bob” Armstrong Jr., a lawyer and failing beauty pageant coach who was just falsely accused of sexually assaulting one of his beauty queen clients.

Patty is immediately unlikeable. She sees everyone at her school as an enemy and seems to blow off the fact that she has an incredibly loyal albeit lovesick friend in Nonnie. She also just doesn’t look like a plus sized teenager. Sure, she has a prosthetic chin and what appears to be lumpy padding stuffed under her shirt, but she doesn’t look overweight. She looks like a thin girl playing a fat girl in a high school play, which is almost what’s actually happening.

Bob isn’t a lot better.

Bob is the character that made me realize that the harmful jokes in this show didn’t only extend to fat people. The false accusation that he’s sexually assaulted his client (who is a minor) is a key plot point in his story, and it feels especially wrong considering what’s happening with the #metoo movement. It seems at least a little inconsiderate to write a subplot about someone being falsely accused of sexual harassment to hurt him when there’s a lot of people saying that’s essentially what’s happening within the movement. It just didn’t sit right with me.

The two characters are brought together when Patty punches a homeless man for calling her fat, and then gets punched in return and has her jaw broken. Bob, desperate after having his reputation ruined, takes her case pro bono.

Originally Bob hopes to get Patty a plea deal, but then he sees that the liquid diet she’s been on has caused her to lose 70 pounds. He decides to have her plead not guilty because, “Pretty girls don’t have to settle.” Gross.

Patty starts to fall for Bob, seeing him as her knight in shining armor. When Nonnie points out how terrible that is because he’s, “A child molester,” Patty responds saying that, “Means [she] might actually have a shot.”

I had to pause the show there and honestly weigh the pros and cons of carrying on watching.

I was able to finish the episode, but did so in a state of permanent cringe.

I could see what they were trying to do. They really wanted this to be a dark, edgy, and satirical comedy, but it never felt like satire. It just felt stereotypical, mean, and tasteless.

I didn’t want to watch the next episode. Yet it’s been renewed for a second season.

I can’t help but feel discouraged by the existence of a show like Insatiable. As someone who has struggled with loving her body as a plus sized woman, seeing a show where the main character’s problems are fixed when she almost magically loses weight hurts. It hurts knowing that we’re still at a place where a show that makes binge eating disorders, sexual assault claims, and the diverse identities of its characters into jokes can be renewed for a second season.

Even though I feel discouraged, I still have hope. I see new dialogues around body positivity popping up online almost daily, and on the days that I feel the worst about myself, seeing parents tweet about teaching their children to love themselves and videos about the plus size models succeeding in the fashion industry makes me feel better. It gives me hope that one day, instead of shows about sudden makeovers and extreme weight loss, we’ll have shows where young girls can see a protagonist that’s portrayed as happy and beautiful, no matter their shape or size.

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#MeToo Movement Creator Speaks at University

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This semester, the Joe Crowley Student Union at University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) hosted guest speaker, Tarana Burke, creator of the #MeToo movement. Burke’s lecture covered the origin of the movement as well as where the movement is heading.

Burke opened her speech by discussing how she came to create the #MeToo movement. She explained that she is from an ordinary city, the Bronx. She explained that she is from an ordinary family, with the exception that she was taught to recognize injustice. She explained that even with an understanding of injustices, she still lacked the tools to address them for some time.

According to Burke, her work with the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement gave her the tools to address injustice. Burke said the organization’s mentality was, “Learn and do.” She said that the first case organized around was the Central Park 5 case. She explained that this case helped to energize her and prove to her that she had power to enact change. “I embraced the idea of ‘You have power now,’” said Burke.

Burke said that she continued her work with the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement when she met a girl she calls Heaven. According to Burke, every year the organization held meetings wherein the young girls the organization helped could freely discuss any issues they had. “Every year a girl would come forward with a story of sexual violence,” said Burke.

The year that Burke befriended Heaven, she could tell that the young girl wanted to speak up during the meeting, but was having difficulty finding her voice. After the meeting, she was approached by Heaven, who told Burke about her own experience with sexual violence.

Burke said, “The whole time all I was thinking was, this happened to me too.” However, she was afraid to say the wrong thing to Heaven, and remained silent. Burke explained that she later realized that she should have said, “Me too.”

Burke went on to explain that language became an important aspect of her work to help these young women. “We started with language,” said Burke, “You can’t heal a thing you can’t name.”

Burke said that in MeToo workshops that the group established, the organizers used pop culture to help the young girls understand that other people have experienced sexual violence. She said the person who always resonated with the girls is Oprah, as she is highly recognizable and influential. “They needed a sense of possibility,” said Burke, “That this is not where their life stops.”

Burke said that the organization’s MeToo workshops spread to other towns. The organization sent packets of information to churches and community centers so that they could start their own groups. Then, in 2017, the #MeToo became popularized online by Alyssa Milano on Twitter. Burke was shocked by how widespread the movement became. “I could never imagine people telling their stories and being supported the way they are today,” said Burke, “I’m floored every day.”

Burke believes that the movement has helped the general public to address issues of sexual violence. “When MeToo went viral, everyday folks were given a way to lift up their voices and say this is not anomaly,” said Burke, “This happened to me too.”

Burke then shifted focus to where the #MeToo movement is headed. “What now? What next?” said Burke, “We’ve had one solid year of unpacking sexual violence. We’re still unpacking it.”

Burke said that the MeToo movement is not a weapon meant to take down powerful men, but a tool for victims of sexual violence to begin healing. “We’re trying to be whole people. We’re trying to walk through life with our dignity intact,” said Burke, “That’s not a lot to ask.”

Burke explained that there is need for individual healing and community healing, which entails changes in laws and culture.

She then focussed on the UNR community in regard to sexual violence. “I challenge you administrators,” said Burke, “How do you work to prevent sexual violence. Are you doing more than lip service?”

Burke explained that several people had asked her to discuss sexual violence on campus at UNR. “I got a number of letters asking me to talk about the culture of sexual violence on this campus,” said Burke.

Burke then addressed the UNR student population directly, urging them to act to facilitate change on campus. “You have power now,” said Burke, “The school is first and foremost accountable to you.”

Burke ended her speech by saying, “So let’s work together and let’s heal together. If you are ready to do that, then I leave you with two words: Me too.”