Becky Kukla nominates AMC’s Dietland with Joy Nash in the leading role as the (almost) perfect antidote to fat-shaming TV shows
New Netflix series Insatiable has been creating a lot of buzz. Before the series was even released, many people were denouncing it based on the trailer which showed main character Patty go from fat to thin, gorging to gorgeous, by way of her jaw being wired shut. That’s without mentioning that actress Debby Ryan plays Patty whilst wearing a fat-suit. Was nothing learnt from watching Shallow Hal (2001)?
Now the series is out there to watch and it has been confirmed that Insatiable is every bit as fat-shaming as the trailer indicated it would be. Sadly, but not surprisingly, it just follows in a long line of TV shows that reinforce the stereotypes surrounding fat bodies instead of dismantling them. Insatiable has also turned out to be homophobic and transphobic and even manages to reduce colon cancer to a series of awkward and uncomfortable jokes (the creators even pulled out all the stops to get poo jokes in there … was this show written by a teenager?). Basically, it’s not only that Insatiable portrays fatness as disgusting and thinness as the only thing young girls should aim for, but the whole show is an absolute mess.
Instead of watching a show which does absolutely nothing to challenge many sad and tired stereotypes, turn your attention to another show out there that’s being completely slept on. AMC’s Dietland (also streaming on Amazon Prime UK) has a protagonist which is the answer to all of Insatiable’s problems and more. Not only does Dietland force audiences to question why society constantly reinforces body ideals onto women, but also its leading actor, Joy Nash, is an actual fat person: already far more worthwhile of your time than Insatiable.
Adapted from Sarai Walker’s novel, Dietland (2015) is the story of overweight ghost-writer Alicia ‘Plum’ Kettle. Plum’s job involves answering emails from young fans of teen girl magazine Daisy Chain, for editor-in-chief Kitty Montgomery (Julianna Margulies playing fantastically against her usual casting). Plum is saving for gastric bypass surgery, something that she believes will help her achieve her goal of finally becoming ‘Alicia’, the thin and better version of herself. She stockpiles clothes that she will wear when she finally begins living her life. She endures diets, refuses cakes at her local cafe and rarely engages with anyone else from her workplace, which results in her living a life which feels pretty meaningless
Plum is a familiar figure, a woman who hates her body and believes that her life will improve beyond measure once she loses that excess weight. It’s a non-reality sold to plus-sized women everywhere, and one which is reinforced in Insatiable. But what happens next is far from familiar. Instead of losing weight, Plum goes on a journey of self-awakening and realises that her ‘real life’ is happening right now, whether she is fat or thin. With the help of some other women from the feminist collective at Calliope House, she slowly unlearns years of internalized misogyny and fatphobia and begins to accept herself.
There’s a whole other plot to Dietland involving a feminist terrorist cell called Jennifer, which at times gets very confusing and seems to lose its way towards the second part of the series. What is clear, though, is the character of Plum and her journey from detesting her body to eventually accepting and loving it. It’s empowering to see a real fat woman on screen, happy with who she is and actively encouraged by other women on the show to love her body the way it is. [Joy Nash is perfectly cast: her 2007 A Fat Rant on YouTube, with more than 1.8 million views, reclaims the word “fat” as descriptive and encourages fat women to love themselves and enjoy their lives – the editor.]
Let’s be absolutely clear here: Dietland isn’t a perfect show; narratively the series is slightly hit and miss. It also projects a great deal of whorephobia towards one of its characters, adult entertainment star Stella Cross. Typically it’s men who are the targets of Jennifer’s terrorist attacks: the group begin by dropping twelve known rapists and/or abusers out of a plane into the desert. But later on, Jennifer kidnap Stella Cross and brutally murder her, publicly blaming her for the sexualisation of women via pornography.
Dietland seems to want its audiences to agree with Jennifer’s actions or, at the very least, understand and give those actions a pass. However, feminism isn’t about throwing other women under the bus – something which is touched upon in the show when Plum questions why Jennifer are also targeting women. By the end of the series, Dietland seems firmly on the side of Jennifer without questioning their treatment of Stella (and other women who work in the porn industry) at all. This is not the flawless feminist show that that we want and desperately need, and this is really important to remember when praising what it does get right.
With this in mind, I’m still glad Dietland exists – even if only to counter the mainstream tidal wave of thin, white, cis women without visible impairments that we usually see on our screens. Seeing different bodies, including those who don’t conform to stereotypical ideas of beauty, is so important. The show is bringing body image and fat acceptance into the spotlight in a way that is rare to see. The women of Calliope House are all outcasts that society has shunned, but they are treated as real people. Additionally, Jennifer’s manifesto and actions open up much needed conversations about the way in which women are treated. Or, more specifically, the way in which men who mistreat women go unpunished.
If Dietland isn’t your cup of tea, then may I take this opportunity to remind you that the wonderful My Mad Fat Diary is currently streaming on All 4 in its entirety. A programme about a young girl from Lincolnshire, Rae Earl’s TV adaptation of her own novel My Fat, Mad Teenage Diary (2007) is a breath of fresh air. [My Fat, Mad Teenage Diary is based on Earl’s teenage diaries from the late 1980s while the TV series happens in the 1990s – the editor] Sixteen-year-old Rae deals with the ups and downs of friendships, relationships and college, as well as her diet-obsessed mother, all whilst living with mental ill health. It’s a frank and honest discussion of eating disorders, mental illness and the quagmire that is teenagehood. Astute and somehow still incredibly funny despite the dark subject matter – My Mad Fat Diary is a fantastic companion piece to Dietland and the perfect antidote to Insatiable.
All images taken from Dietland official FB fanpage @DietlandAMC.
1. Banksy-like graffiti in black, red and white. A woman with short black hair wearing a red top is getting ready to throw a ‘bomb’: a cupcake with a smoking fuse. There’s lettering in the bottom: “Mondays 9/8c AMC”.
2.A white woman with dark hair, wearing a red sweater, is sitting on a bed in front of an open laptop and looking at her phone, smiling. There’s a black woman with shoulder-length curly hair and glasses standing next to her, looking at her as if intrigued. There’s lettering in the bottom: “Dietland. Mon 9/8c AMC”.
3. A white woman wearing dark top is cutting her own hair, holding it in front of her face. There’s lettering in the bottom: “Dietland. Mon 9/8c AMC”.