Voices: The dark side of the Ozempic ‘skinny jab’
Growing up I took ballet classes. As I entered my teenage years, what started as a hobby became something altogether more toxic. I saw 14-year-olds smoking cigarettes after class; heard unfortunate noises coming from toilet cubicles.
I knew the cause. Thinness seemed like the highest ideal a dancer could attain.
Of course, this obsession wasn’t just a part of the ballet world; it was everywhere. It was normal. Diets were a universal topic of discussion amongst all women as far as I could tell.
It took a long time for me to turn a more scrutinising eye on the diet culture I’d grown up in. To learn about fatphobia and the societal harm done to people who exist in larger bodies.
Over time – with a lot of effort and education – I began to move past the continual cycle of losing and gaining weight which I’d been trapped in since my teenage years.
I started practising intuitive eating (a weight-neutral approach to diet involving listening to your natural hunger cues). I exercised for fun rather than punishment. I really thought my relationship with food was mostly healed.
Then I heard about Ozempic.
The new drug, marketed as a diabetes medication, has been splashed across headlines and is racking up views on TikTok. Not for its effectiveness in treating type 2 diabetes, I might add, but for its off-label use as a weight loss treatment.
Reportedly all the rage amongst LA elites and A-listers alike, Ozempic’s ability to shave off the pounds has triggered a huge soar in demand. The treatment works due to an active ingredient – semaglutide – which regulates blood sugar, but also induces a chemical revulsion to food.
This, combined with its ability to prolong a feeling of fullness, has made it an ostensible miracle solution for quick and effective weight loss. Ozempic is injected subcutaneously – commonly through the abdomen or thigh – and is already being dubbed “the skinny jab”.
The more I learned about Ozempic, the more my old demons began to raise their heads. I was surprised to find myself bewilderingly, intoxicatingly tempted.
The truth is, effortless thinness is a siren call for many people. Especially women. It’s a desired state which has been conditioned into us since childhood. What Ozempic has really shown us is just how close to the surface, and how potent, that desire truly is.
This is why it’s crucially important we resist it. That we do everything we can to stop drugs like this from being misappropriated to achieve an arbitrary aesthetic ideal. If we don’t, the consequences could be dire.
Rocketing demand for the drug has already caused shortages for those who genuinely need it. And that’s not to mention the laundry list of side effects associated with its use – from nausea and fatigue to more serious risks such as thyroid cancer.
Plus, much like the fad diets which have preceded it, Ozempic only works while you’re on it, with many prior users reporting that they’ve gained all the weight back, and more, since coming off it.
Given the costs associated with taking Ozempic off-label – and the rising popularity of cosmetic treatments intended to remedy the signs of premature ageing caused by the drug – the whole thing seems like a black hole for money, time and self-esteem.
Of course, it hasn’t helped that the scramble to get hold of Ozempic has coincided with the Y2K fashion revival. Low-rise jeans and bare midriffs are back, and, inevitably, the associated early-aughts body ideal has returned with it.
It’s unnerving, but perhaps not surprising, to see how quickly the fashion world has flipped. After years of branded body positivity, plus-sized models have seemingly disappeared from catwalks during fashion week. In many ways, Kim Kardashian’s drastic weight loss ahead of last year’s Met Gala was the canary in the coal mine for all that’s happened since.
And yet, we must not forget that beauty standards are ultimately vacuous, capricious fictions. Whatever the current coveted physique, it is often driven by scarcity more than anything else. Just as a plump figure indicated wealth and beauty in the Renaissance era, today, thinness is the chosen status symbol for the exact same qualities.
To me, it seems there are two options: to continue to fight our appetites, hate our bodies, and waste our money. Or to simply opt out of the whole ridiculous fanfare. The latter might be a challenge, but unlike every fad diet I’ve ever tried, the results will at least be healthy and enduring.