One of its most notable issues about Netflix’s “Insatiable” is the fact that while the dark comedy is about a young woman who loses a dramatic amount of weight and becomes a beauty pageant contestant, the character of Patty is played by the very thin Debby Ryan, who wears a fat suit for her pre-transformation scenes. To quote Linda Holmes of NPR:
Since all but the first few minutes of Patty’s story involve Patty as a thin girl, these early scenes show star Debby Ryan, a very thin actress, in a fat suit. What that means is that her fat body is just a thin girl galumphing around strapped up in pillows she is not used to, meaning she can only appear graceless and unformed, like a guy on a street corner in a hot dog costume. To the degree a real fat girl might have a sway to her hips, a comfort in her stance or a center of gravity she has learned to navigate, you’ll never get a look at it this way.
The show, which aims to address issues of fat-shaming and eating disorders, has not been well-received by critics for far more reasons than just its myopic take on its main character’s size. But one way it could have averted those issues was by, perhaps, acknowledging that plus-size people not only exist in the world, but are more than capable of living full and happy lives.
Over the course of the season, only one character is actually played by an actor who is legitimately plus-size — and Dee (Ashley D Kelley) is also tasked to represent the black and gay communities as well, the ultimate token whose story is never the focus of the show.
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Thankfully, viewers looking for narratives that treat women who wear sizes larger than two as human beings have better options, streaming on various services. These shows don’t make body issues the sole defining aspect of these characters, and they’re actually watchable. (In this age of too much TV, that last factor means an awful lot.)
As you might guess from the title, body image issues are a major part of this AMC dark comedy. But the point of the show’s journey is that Plum (Joy Nash), a plus-size aspiring writer caught up in the most self-loathing aspects of the beauty industrial complex when we meet her, is ultimately trying to escape these constructs. Plum’s personal battles are mirrored by an actual burgeoning revolution, spurred forward by a “terrorist” group known as Jennifer, but the show’s underlying message is that of self-acceptance, not self-pity — while also acknowledging how it’s in no way an easy path to walk.
Currently streaming on: The official AMC website.
Originally running for six seasons on Lifetime, “Drop Dead Diva” is a light legal procedural with a very high concept twist: The main character is a plus-size woman who, thanks to a SNAFU in Heaven, contains the soul of a deceased model whose reaction to waking up in her new body is literally screaming in horror. But a fierce and winning performance by Brooke Elliott makes this series surprisingly watchable, especially as Jane’s journey becomes one of self-acceptance and a quest for happiness that we can all relate to.
Currently streaming on: Netflix
The HBO comedy created by and starring Lena Dunham will never lack for controversy, but one aspect that’s undeniable is how Dunham led by example when it comes to celebrating one’s body. Frequently and unapologetically nude, Hannah’s comfort with her physicality was perhaps one of the show’s most empowering aspects, and perhaps one of its most enduring legacies.
Currently streaming on: HBO Go/HBO NOW
“The Mindy Project”
NBC Universal Television/Hulu
Of all the issues that Dr. Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) has to deal with over the course of this Fox/Hulu comedy, very low on the list is whatever people might think about her weight. Instead, she’s far more committed to finding a way to balance her romantic comedy fantasies with the realities of life as a practicing OB-GYN, and she lived a whole lot of life over the course of the show’s six-season run. Not only that, but thanks to the brilliant Emmy-nominated costume designs of Salvador Perez, she looked fabulous in every episode.
Currently streaming on: Hulu
“My Mad Fat Diary”
The story of Rae (Sharon Rooney), a 16-year-old British girl just released from a psychiatric hospital, doesn’t shy away from exploring Rae’s many issues (a particularly memorable scene from the first season’s second episode features Rae imagining herself “unzipping” her real body off to reveal a skinnier frame). But Rae’s fierce and funny spirit, even when her inner demons rise up in the form of self-harm, as well as the show’s raw and real look at teen life, makes this an engaging and relatable series that’s about far more than the main character’s size.
Currently streaming on: Hulu
JoJo Whilden / Netflix
The long-running Netflix drama started off as the story of a skinny and educated white woman thrust into the gnarly depths of the federal prison system. But over the past six seasons, the show has become a true ensemble, and many of its most dynamic and beloved characters have plenty of curves underneath their jumpsuits. And yet that never is used to diminish them as real women with passions, desires, and goals. Their hopes for better lives might be hard to achieve (because, well, prison) but they are never seen as “less than” because of their size.
Currently streaming on: Netflix
Honorable mentions: Some people might note the absence of “This is Us” on this list, and that’s for the reason that while the show does feature Chrissy Metz as a plus-size woman with more interests than just her weight, her stories are more often than not centered around her body issues at the expense of developing any real personality for her as a character.
Meanwhile, in production now is the Hulu comedy “Shrill,” based on the memoir by writer Lindy West, which will feature Aidy Bryant (who co-wrote the series) as “Annie, a young woman who wants to change her life — but not her body. Annie is trying to make it as a journalist while juggling bad boyfriends, sick parents and a perfectionist boss, while the world around her deems her not good enough because of her weight. She starts to realize that she’s as good as anyone else, and acts on it.” We’re months away from finding out if “Shrill” is the body-positive comedy that shows like “Insatiable” wish they were — but hopes are high.