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  • Tasha Stewart

The age of Ozempic highlights the superficiality of body positive

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq

The past year has seen a new drug sweeping through the medical cabinets of the Hollywood glitterati. Semaglutide, a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes and sold under the brand name Ozempic, has taken Hollywood by storm and become an essential part of red carpet prep, largely for its side effect of causing drastic weight loss. The widespread use of Ozempic as a weight loss drug has not only caused worrying shortages, leaving type 2 diabetes sufferers fearful they’ll be left without, but is also indicative of an insidious move away from an era of body positivity, an era perhaps now being highlighted for its superficiality.

Female body shapes have long been subjected to trends and fads that differentiate year on year. Impossible to keep up with, women’s bodies are treated as objects that can be morphed and manipulated in the manner of cartoon characters. Amazonian models such as Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford became the pinnacle of the 1980s, but the 1990s saw the emergence of thin, sylph-like models gracing runways - perhaps most notably Kate Moss, poster girl of the heroin-chic movement and notorious proponent of the belief that ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’. In the 2000s, the popularity of Victoria’s Secret and their infamous annual fashion show ushered in a new era of the athletic model - still slender, but ideally accompanied by washer board abs and a voluptuous chest. In more recent years the ‘slim-thick’ trend has seen celebrities such as the Kardashians thrive, as they have profited off body ideals that herald curvier, Junoesque figures as the pinnacle of glamour. Invasive surgical procedures such as the ‘Brazilian butt lift’ - a notoriously dangerous operation - have become a staple of celebrities and influencers alike. However, with recent trends like the growing use of Ozempic accounted for, it appears that thin is suddenly ‘back in’, with many celebrities forgoing implants or having them removed.

The ushering in of Ozempic as a widely-accepted magic bullet, and the return to the body ideals of the 1990s is proof of what many have known for years: being thin is always, and has always, been ‘in’. Whether we examine the models of the 1980s or the influencers of the 2010s, a common denominator is present: thinness.

It might appear that brands and celebrities alike have begun to venture into the realms of body positivity, but in reality, this performative acceptance is just means to a materialistic end. The furore of body positive marketing and diversity initiatives throughout Hollywood and the world of PR and marketing in the past ten years have come in response to falling profits and social media weaponry, yet it has been marked that this form of inclusivity is mere ‘appropriation of a prosocial movement that undermines its efficacy’.

One brand that has shown a sharp shift in their moral compass is Victoria’s Secret. After a huge tumble in profits, paired with detrimental comments made by then-Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek in 2018 that the brand was not marketed towards plus size people, Victoria’s Secret chose to can their annual televised runway show (although it will reappear on screens later this year) and embarked upon a new marketing initiative placing plus size models front and centre. Razek has since resigned, after facing harsh criticism for perpetuating a culture of misogyny and harassment within the brand. This shift away from its traditional target market, one that it was eager to emphasise, may be heralded by some as an important cultural shift indicative of an era of growing body positivity, but in reality, the brand’s move towards acceptance appears a disingenuous deflection of criticism when accounting for low sales and declining public interest. When combining this with the rise of Ozempic as a mainstay amongst the Hollywood and modelling elite, it is hard to truly take seriously campaigns promoting size inclusivity. It appears the very same people appearing to champion acceptance are also those contributing to the return of thinness through their consumption and promotion of Ozempic.

When compared with the rise of Ozempic amongst the rich and famous and the newfound obsession with a return to thinness, the rise of body positive marketing appears disingenuous and desultory. We are fooling ourselves into believing that a focus on diversity is anything other than a profit ploy; depressingly superficial inclusivity doesn't really scratch the surface of an institutional obsession with thinness that is built on an obsession with Eurocentric beauty standards. Just like women’s body shapes, it appears body positivity is just a fad.

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