Sierra Burgess is a Loser vs Insatiable – who does body positivity better?

Aoife O'Brien

Sierra Burgess is A Loser hit Netflix late August

Insatiable and Sierra Burgess is a Loser, two new Netflix originals, have received criticism for fat shaming despite proclaiming to promote body positivity.

Insatiable focuses on the story of a teenage girl, Patty (Debby Ryan), who loses 70 pounds and seeks revenge on those who bullied her for being overweight.

Sierra Burgess is a Loser follows Sierra’s (Shannon Purser) virtual romance with a boy, Jamey (Noah Centineo), who thinks he is talking to somebody else and has no idea what Sierra looks like.

Insatiable’s message is that even if you outwardly ‘fix’ your problems, in this case by becoming skinny, everything under the surface still remains.

It explores issues of over-consumption and body dysmorphic disorder and addresses the misconception that an individual must be dangerously underweight to suffer with disordered eating.

Despite losing weight, Patty still obsesses over it, repeatedly telling herself “skinny is magic.”

Her offhand attitude towards laxatives and fasting, to counteract her binge-eating and her anxiety when confronted with the image of herself in a swimsuit, represent the everyday experience of those with a high functioning eating disorder.

A major point of contention for viewers however, is the use of Debby wearing a fat-suit. Despite only being used in one episode, it is viewed as a crude and unrealistic caricature that sets the tone of the show.

While Insatiable’s sentiment is clear, the lack of character development takes away from the overall message.

In the first episode, the newly skinny Patty looks around a classroom telling herself, “I could be the former fatty who turned into a brain. Or an athlete. Or a princess.” This idea that being overweight defines a person, where skinny people have limitless possibilities, is a damaging concept.

The problem with Sierra Burgess is a Loser is not underdeveloped characters but a poorly written script.

Sierra is not introduced as ‘fat.’ She is described as intelligent and funny and when she looks in the mirror she calls herself “a magnificent beast.”

However, marketed as a rom-com that shows ‘fat women’ deserve love too, a believable love story is needed. Yet aside from the fact Sierra and Jamey’s relationship is based on lies, their conversations are so unbearably generic that we never see the pair fall for each other.

Then, when Jamey finally realises he has been “catfished”, all of his rage simply disappears so that the movie can be wrapped up nice and neatly.

He comes to Sierra’s house before homecoming to tell her that, “even though she isn’t everyone’s type,” she’s still exactly what he’s looking for. That despite being fat, he’s still into her.

While, as a whole it manages to avoid the stereotype that being thin and being happy are mutually exclusive, it creates the idea that weight is a barrier to love. When Sierra is called “lesbian” and “trans” as an insult, because she is not typically feminine, this idea is reinforced.

Insatiable highlights the fact that a journey may not always produce the expected results, but the lack of effort put into Patty’s character before she lost weight obliterates the message of the show. Once again we have a fat person defined only by their weight.

Sierra Burgess is Loser is refreshing in terms of its casting because the story is not reliant on Sierra’s weight. It is definitely more progressive in terms of body positivity, however a poor script that targets marginalised groups such as the transgender community for humour takes away from the integrity of the film.

Aoife O’Brien


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