Insatiable premieres on Netflix on August 10, and tells the story of a teenager named Patty who loses a significant amount of weight one summer and decides to take revenge on her bullies when she returns to school. The series creator has said the show is very personal to her, but is Insatiable based on a true story?
Not quite. Insatiable seems to be more fantasy than it is reality, though the concept sprang from creator and showrunner Lauren Gussis' childhood. She talked about her inspiration for the show after the trailer debuted and many viewers felt it was reductive and fat-shaming. In a statement posted to Twitter, Gussis wrote about her own struggles as a thirteen-year-old: she had been ditched by her best friends and bullied by others for her weight, which left her feeling suicidal. "I thought if I looked pretty on the outside, I'd feel like I was enough," she said. She went on to develop an eating disorder, and her journey to feel comfortable in her own skin continued to adulthood.
Insatiable sprang from those feelings. "This show is a cautionary tale about how damaging it can be to believe the outsides are important — to judge without going deeper," Gussis said.
Netflix's Original Series Vice President Cindy Holland reiterated that the series was inspired by Gussis' life, but the situations were taken to exaggerated extremes. "Lauren Gussis, who is the creator, felt very strongly about exploring these issues based on her own experiences, but in a satirical, over-the-top way," Holland said at the 2018 Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour. "Ultimately, the message of the show is that what is most important is that you feel comfortable in your own self. Fat-shaming itself, that criticism, is embedded in the DNA of the show."
Though not a true story, it seems like Gussis was trying to capture certain things about her emotions in a satirical format. She referred to Patty as "the demon of my inner bullied teenager" when speaking to Vanity Fair, and explained that allowing Insatiable to mirror her own feelings allowed her to work through them. Through the show, she got to experience the "crazy fever-dream revenge fantasy" she'd had when she was young. "I got to see how it turned out," she said. "It didn't turn out great. That's what was healing. That's the thing that released me."
Some characters on the show are based on real people, too. Patty decides to take part in a beauty pageant and her coach is a former attorney named Bob. He's based on an actual lawyer-slash-pageant coach named Bill Alverson. He briefly had a reality show on TLC called Coach Charming, and Film Daily reported that he was known for his harsh advice to his clients.
According to a profile of Alverson in The New York Times from 2014, he told one aspiring pageant contestant that her Facebook was "too narcissistic." He told another that she had to "lose the ebonics" to be Miss Mississippi. To a ten year old who wanted to be a baker, he said, "That's fine, because you're not a chunker. If you had a weight problem, I'd say you have to lay off all the croissants." Bob and Patty seem to be the only characters who are rooted in real people, though it's possible there are more. Gussis might not have shared every single source of inspiration for each character.
Insatiable is definitely Gussis' story, though it may not look exactly like the life she lived. It's not true, but it is personal.