TV

Instead of ‘Insatiable’ Watch The Delightfully Body-Positive ‘My Mad Fat Diary’

There's not a fat suit in sight.

Insatiable

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When the trailer dropped for new Netflix teen drama Insatiable, people were pissed. The makers claimed they were creating a show about body positivity but the general consensus was that they’d instead made The Biggest Loser meets revenge porn.

Our cup runneth over with think-pieces about how bad Insatiable is, but I say skip them (and of course skip watching the actual show) and spend your time sinking your teeth into all three seasons of My Mad Fat Diary, a bloody delightful British show with a complicated and interesting approach to body image.

And not a fat suit in sight.

Based on the Rae Earl memoir of the same name (well, the book is called My Mad Fat Teenage Diary), this show is utterly charming. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, the soundtrack is awesome and it’s one of those shows that works perfectly for both adults and teens.

My Mad Fat Diary meets Rae just as she is checking out of a psychiatric ward, having been admitted for a suicide attempt or as Rae puts it “doing something stupid”. Narrated via her entries into the titular diary, the story chronicles her re-entry back home, making new friends, falling in love and finding out what life is going to look like for her now.

So, why watch it?

Nineties Nostalgia

It is very hard to convince me that the year 2000 was a full 18 years ago, but the fact we can now feel nostalgic about the 90s is a good indication that time has indeed passed.

Set between 1996–1998, My Mad Fat Diary is packed full of 90s nostalgia, and not the boyband/girl power kind, more the ill-fitting baggy jeans and flanno sort. We’re talking a plot point built around an Oasis concert, drama that would never unfold if everyone had mobile phones, early sexual encounters set to Britpop and Bjork, and yes, a wedding Macarena.

One of my favourite things about Rae is the way she is styled. So often we only let plus size women anywhere near a TV screen if they are well femmed up. Chuck a 1950s dress on and a vintage look hairdo and fat becomes ‘curvy’ and ‘voluptuous’ and the focus of problematic memes that claim there’s a ‘real’ way to be a beautiful woman.

But Rae is a tomboy, or a product of 90s grunge fashion. She is presented as desirable both because of and in spite of her looks, not objectified but also not ridiculed. Her romantic arc doesn’t ignore her size — because society doesn’t ignore size. Instead the issue is addressed through humour, empathy and a healthy amount of adolescent confusion and heartbreak. Which brings us to…

Romantic Comedy Or A Buddy Comedy?

Both! While My Mad Fat Diary offers all the tropes of teen romance, the friendships and family relationships are integral to the plotline and are given as much if not more weight in the story.

Each of Rae’s relationships is complicated and real, each character fallible, difficult and human — Tix, who she meets in hospital, her therapist Kester, her Mum, her best friend Chloe — I could write a short essay on each.

Come For Jodie Comer, Stay For The Whole Damn Cast

If you were part of the Killing Eve mania that swept the globe a few months back you’ll quickly recognise the actress playing Rae’s best friend Chloe as Jodie Comer in a very different but equally charming role. The woman has a knack for playing people who do terrible things but are inexplicably loveable.

Sharon Rooney as Rae is such a delight. She’s funny and dark and engaging and frustrating. She’s a total teenager. Her story is also loaded with the humour inherent to teen sexual awakening and inexperienced desire, and Rooney’s comedy chops are bang on. The first episode alone is a treasure trove of hilarious comments about the boys she has crushes on. I don’t want to spoil too many, so I’ll just give you this:

“Archie, the Tyrannosaurus of sexiness was coming over. I wanted him to treat me like that goat in Jurassic Park and just eat. me. whole.”

Rae Earl Is Basically Australian Now

Normally we Australians tend to the parochial, so it’s ridiculous that there hasn’t been a huge fuss made over this show considering its author now lives in Tasmania and hangs about on Twitter chatting to people you probably know.

She’s thin now, but I’ll forgive it.

Where To Start

Start at the beginning. The seasons aren’t that long, at 6, 7 and 3 episodes, and you need to follow the plot chronologically.

There’s some disconcerting weirdness in the early episodes and you aren’t sure where they’re going to take certain characters and storylines, but the pay off is worth it. The evolution of Kareem — Rae’s mother’s Tunisian boyfriend — for example, is better than early impressions might suggest.

Season 2 and 3 aren’t as good as Season 1 but you love everyone so much by that stage you go along with it.

Where To Watch

Like Pose and a bunch of other great shows, the cruel masters of Australian TV have conspired to keep My Mad Fat Diary from us.

Mainstream Australian TV is too busy defending Chris Lilley in blackface to bother with an excellent and charming teen drama like this. So, you have to pay for it or watch it on YouTube. Or I guess you could tweet at Rae and ask if she has the DVDs. Or you could read the book.

Just do it, ok? You won’t be disappointed.

Maeve Marsden is a writer, independent producer and performer based in Sydney. She hosts LGBTQI+ storytelling night and podcast Queerstories, sings about gin and feminism, and tweets from @maevemarsden.