The Valuable Representation of Binge Eating Disorder in Netflix's Insatiable

With a surprisingly quiet release considering its past controversy, the newest season of Lauren Gussis’s Insatiable resolves many of the issues surrounding its first season and provides crucial representation for a mental illness that is often overlooked. Not only does the new season explicitly confront issues concerning Patty’s eating disorder that weren’t fleshed out in the first season, but it resolves many gripes critics had with the show in regards to it being over-the-top, focusing too much on humor, and melding genres to the point that it obscures its message.

You might remember the initial backlash against Insatiable when the trailers for season one were first released. The show was accused of being fatphobic and problematic for portraying a teenage girl who starts out fat and then rapidly loses weight and becomes a pageant queen. However, this was an issue of marketing rather than a problem with the actual show. Throughout the first season, it is made clear that Patty’s weight loss may have improved the way she is treated by society because she no longer struggles with fatphobia. This is the only way in which her life is improved by her reduction in weight, though; none of her underlying mental health issues have been addressed, and since she is no longer using food as a coping mechanism to bury her rage and sadness, her life starts to fall apart.

In the first season, Patty rapidly loses weight after being punched in the face, then begins participating in beauty pageants after Bob Armstrong, the lawyer defending her in her case against the man who punched her, offers to be her pageant coach. Patty develops then destroys multiple relationships throughout the season, and is constantly trying to find a quick solution to her rage and emotional issues, whether it be revenge or an exorcism.

While in the prior season Patty struggles with binge eating at times, the second season more clearly addresses her binge eating disorder (BED). In the first season Patty binges for weeks and gains some weight, which she then loses quickly by engaging in problematic behaviors such as laxative abuse and overexercise. The binge eating and compensatory behaviors are not clearly addressed nor even shown to be problematic. The second season improves on this by having characters express concern for Patty when she engages in disordered behaviors. For example, Patty binges on pastries backstage during a pageant, then after putting soap on the remaining pastries to try to prevent herself from eating more of them, still feels compelled to eat them, and later has to run offstage to vomit. Later in the season, she binges on donuts that were meant for children with cancer, showing audiences how strong the compulsion to binge is for those with BED. Her binge eating is often compared to alcoholism, which helps audiences relate to those with BED, since alcoholism is more common and understood. This representation is handled really well, and it creates sympathy and understanding for those struggling with BED. With the only popular representations of BED occurring in sensationalized reality TV shows like My 600-lb Life, Insatiable is providing much-needed attention to the most common but often least noticed eating disorder.

Not only does the new season raise awareness and provide representation for those with BED, but is also aesthetically pleasing, well-paced, and cognizant of important social issues. While the show does not have so many shocking moments as to be exhausting, the plot never becomes slow. The show combines different genres together, but does so in a way that is subtle, allowing the more serious aspects of the show to come across clearly. Often the show’s message is stated in a way that may be too explicit, but this is an improvement over the first season, where it’s obscured by the show’s outrageousness. The second season also explores social issues such as ableism and the struggles of identity associated with being mixed race. There is a lawyer who shows up multiple times in the season who defies stereotypes about disabled people as victims, and the show also gives more attention to Magnolia’s struggles with her identity as a girl with a white father and black mother.

An issue that arises at the end of the season is that multiple characters seem to just disappear from the plot. It feels almost as if there is a missing episode between the ninth and tenth episodes, since two subplots weren’t fully resolved. If this season had had twelve episodes like the prior season, it seems that there would have been more time and space to adequately resolve the plots concerning the dropped characters.

A potential third season could go in many directions, but what I am hoping for is that Patty will finally address the underlying mental disorder pushing her to binge. I also want the third season to give even more focus to minor characters like Magnolia, who has received much more attention and whose character has always been the most compelling. After waiting over a year for it to be released, the second season has made my appetite for season three insatiable.