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Ozempic Exposed the Cracks in the Body Positivity Movement

7 minute read
Mhloyi (she/her) is a Brooklyn-based writer, body-positive influencer, and social video producer at Them. Featured in Them & Teen Vogue, her work centers fat, Black, and queer social issues and representation in media.

By now, we’re all familiar with the newfound popularity of Ozempic, a drug created to help manage type 2 diabetes, being used as the new miracle weight loss drug. Recent studies have shown that the active ingredient in Ozempic, semaglutide, can cause weight loss and in 2021, the FDA approved a drug with a higher dose of semaglutide to treat “obesity.” However, the popularity of this new drug is increasing the weight of the pressure to pursue thinness. The return of low-rise jeans and Kim Kardashian shrinking her BBL were some of the first harbingers of the reversion back to a time when only our phones were allowed to be “thick.” It’s clear that the unlearning and undoing of a century’s worth of harm by the rise of the “body positivity movement” is regarded as just another trend.

I was born on the heels of Generation Y, so my mind and body developed during the ‘Got Milk?’ propaganda of the early 2000s. Truth be told, if Ozempic was introduced when I was growing up, I probably would’ve been eager to get my hands on some myself. I was raised—even in an African immigrant household—to believe that the worst thing you could possibly be is fat. I grew up wondering if the taste of Slim Fast would make me diminish and dance like the women in the commercials. I lusted after those dry, unappetizing Weight Watchers pastries because I craved the feeling of eating chocolate without immediately feeling guilty afterward. I felt the disappointment in my mother’s gaze whenever she bought me clothes where the tag had double digits. I longed for a weight loss version of a get-rich-quick scheme to make the numbers go back down. Just 15 years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find any dissenting voices concerned about these weight loss fads to make the impressionable masses shrink instantly.

So what’s changed?

In the past 10 years, there has been more mainstream recognition of many social justice issues, likely aided by the egalitarianism of social media. One of many issues brought to the forefront is the widely-accepted marginalization of fat people. For the first time, fat people had the power and the platform to be visible on our own terms, tell our own stories, and call for the advancement of body positivity.

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The body-positive movement’s origins have always been political. The movement was started by fat Black women in the ‘60s and largely addressed the fact that fatphobia is rooted in anti-Black racism. However, despite Black women being targets of medical fatphobia as well as their looks being used to undermine their leadership in the women’s rights and civil rights movements, the fat acceptance groups that followed also chose to center whiteness and undermine Black women’s contributions. And the reason why it’s so easy for people to hop on the Ozempic train is that the mainstream commodification of the body-positive movement is as flavorless and diluted as the low-fat diet regimens of yesteryear.

Read more: What the Ozempic Obsession Misses About Food and Health

Before 2014, I had never considered fatness as an identity. Even though my own experiences with eating disorders proved the exact opposite, I wholly believed that fatness was a choice and something separate from one’s self—a skintight suit I’d spend the rest of my life shedding. Learning about the pillars of the body-positive movement helped me unlearn these harmful ideas that perpetuated my internalized fatphobia and fatphobia towards those larger than me. At the time, I thought this process of unlearning was an obvious prerequisite for anyone to consider themselves a participant in the movement. But the internet doesn’t require any proof of internal work for you to use #bodyposi with a photo of yourself.

Millennials experienced the most profound shift from the Kate-Mossian beauty standard that dominated all media, to a steady increase in body-diverse representation. As warm and fuzzy as it felt in the beginning, to see a lingerie commercial featuring women with (and without) hips, thighs, and tummies freely dancing around in their underwear, the hyper focus on representation shifted the conversation away from liberation to a much more palatable discourse surrounding self-love. After all, the movement was originally created to disrupt the social order and dismantle the systems that keep white, thin, able-bodied people in power. The easiest way to undermine that effort and, yet again, center whiteness was to extract a by-product of years of marginalization that everyone (especially non-cis and non-male) can relate to and make that aspect a nameless and faceless enemy that is less threatening to the status quo: a negative self-image.

But what’s wrong with focusing on self-love? Well, for one, self-love is clearly absent of politic. Self-love is what has been used to justify the erasure of the most marginalized bodies in favor of size-8-to-12 white women being pushed to the forefront. Self-love has equated “feeling bad about your body” with being marginalized because of it. Anyone who tries to speak out in opposition to the lack of radicalism is quickly silenced, being told that body positivity is for everyone because everyone has access to the feeling of insecurity. The fact is that insecurity is rooted in society’s discouragement of having any racialized features—and this includes fatness.

Anything can be done in the name of self-love, and the selves that society loves have the power to cause harm without reproach. Dangerous diets and surgeries are bought and sold in pursuit of self-love. How else do we explain the willingness to create scarcity of a potentially life-saving medication in pursuit of vanity? Fatphobia is already inherently ableist, but watching the indifference towards making a drug (that is meant to assist with the very disease that makes society scorn fat people) be made inaccessible to those who need it in real time has further underlined the fact that fake concerns for public health is nothing more than a tactic meant to disappear anyone that they deem undesirable. For self-love in no way discourages the suffering of others.

I count myself both lucky and unlucky that I am not easily swayed by idle affirmations. Of course, in my journey, I have been seduced by the adorable illustrations with positive platitudes attached to them that amount to some version of “love yourself.” But that was never enough to sway me. Why should I love myself when the world treats fat people like second-class citizens? Why should I love myself instead of trying harder to be a version of myself that the rest of the world would encourage me to love?

My skepticism forced me to dig deeper. My self-love is an act of defiance because the only reason I was taught to hate myself was to uphold white supremacy. I was taught to hate myself so that other people could profit from it. I was taught to blame myself for my own marginalization instead of working to dismantle the systems that have placed me there. And more important than that, it’s not just about me. Our reliance on the “love yourself” and the mainstream body-positive ideology has made the issue of fatphobia an individual battle and in that, there is no solidarity. Without community, we are easily divided and conquered.

The Ozempic craze is a swift wind that has revealed that we’ve spent the past decade building a house of cards. We need a new way to think about body positivity now more than ever. The mainstream idea of body positivity threatens the fight for fat liberation, as we face yet another massive push for fat elimination. This is what happens when a movement for liberation is reduced to something as fickle as women dancing in commercials.

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