Beauty Mark is a monthly column by Allie Rowbottom, where she answers readers' pressing beauty questions. To submit your question, email email@example.com.
Ah the big O: Ozempic. What a product! What an encapsulation of myriad cultural ethos and class divides! What a time to be alive! Though the shortage of Ozempic and other GLP-1 receptor agonists (like Wegovy and Munjaro) is ongoing—remedied for the most part, then returned every few months as drug companies hustle to keep up with demand–discourse has recently turned to whether people using glp-1 agonists for what appears to be “vanity” weight loss (defined as minor weight loss and/or weight loss without significant medical necessity) are using the drugs as a band-aid, a circumnavigation of their own laziness, a failure of will. Are they blindly buying into beauty culture, or perpetuating fatphobia, or failing to properly absorb the messaging of the body positivity movement by using the drug to lose weight they wouldn’t want to lose if they had properly absorbed the messaging of the body positivity movement?
Body positivity is ostensibly about accepting all bodies. It’s about helping individuals to embrace and feel comfortable in their bodies. This does not, by definition, exclude bodies on Ozempic. Then again, body positivity is also about combatting unrealistic body standards, and it’s hard to imagine the proliferation of GLP-1 agonists, especially among celebrities and influencers, helping to combat a cultural obsession with thinness as power. Herein lies the contradiction that defies the sweet comfort of shaming other people, the easy morality of a viral tweet.
Yes, when Kyle Richards and Mindy Kaling are in People Magazine attributing their dramatic “transformations” to quitting drinking, hiking, and riding the Peloton, I do find it deeply disappointing. Especially if they, representative of the most privileged among us, could be using their platforms to speak out against cultural forces that equate thinness with worth. Or (here comes another contradiction) when they could be pushing for wider understanding, affordability, and availability of the drugs they have (allegedly) used to what they feel are healthy ends. After all, not all bodies lose weight with ease; obesity is not a matter of willpower. And glp-1 agonists are reportedly having positive, potentially lifesaving effects on some users’ mental wellbeing that far surpass the superficial markers of numbers on a scale. Then again, they also may be contributing to unrealistic body standards and causing mental distress to others. Not to mention the difficulty patients taking glp-1 agonists for type 2 diabetes have had in accessing medication. A third option: celebrities and public figures, rather than lie about their Ozempic use, could simply say nothing at all.
Of course, there’s yet another element to this conversation, the (#y2k #aesthetic) elephant in the room: our cultural fixation with body as trend and the current swing toward the thin ideal en vogue in the 1990s and early 2000s. I knew this was coming, many of you probably did, too. I even predicted it in my novel Aesthetica, written before this “aesthetic” return had actualized. Why did I know it was coming? Because capitalism thrives on a nostalgia; it feeds off our memories, our yearnings for lost time, by selling the totems of those memories back to us. Though, of course, we can never fully relive the past.
Beauty standards work in a similar way: just as they are becoming attainable, they switch. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t all be striving (and paying for) what’s just out of reach; and what is more out of reach than a body type ninety-nine percent of humans cannot achieve by eating to satiety? That’s why even as “body trends” come and go, culture continually equates extreme thinness (albeit with subtle variations) with power for women in particular. The ideal of extreme thinness foisted upon women is an obvious metaphor for deeply rooted, culturally engrained misogyny. Maintaining it diminishes and distracts us, siphoning away the time and money and mental fortitude we could otherwise use to do important stuff. And it’s no coincidence that the extreme thin ideal has reared up in a big way at this terrible moment for American women. You don’t teach starvation to those you value.
And yet, teaching starvation is as normal in our culture as shaming.
It’s hard for me to promote shaming as a path to encouraging change. For the most part, in my opinion, shame tends to yield only small, short term behavioral shifts before the inevitable impasse or worse, backlash. But it’s also one of the only ways to reach the most egomaniacal among us like corporations and the Kardashians. So I guess there’s a time and place for it, but I also think shame as weapon is vastly overused, especially on social media.
I do wish celebrities and public figures were more open and transparent about all manner of cosmetic work they have done. I wish they disabused their followers and fans of the mythical (lucrative) notion that they don’t have skin texture, floating ribs, wrinkles, flat chests, small butts, stubborn fat resistant to exercise, the list goes on. I wish they situated themselves outside of the capitalist cycle of subterfuge. I wish they spoke to and acknowledged all the contradictions of their privilege and the cost of living in the public eye. I wish more of us had tolerance for contradiction and mess because I think understanding moral ambiguity as the stuff of life is antithetical to shame and the suffering it creates.
But I understand why we don’t tolerate such things. Life is scary, perhaps more now than ever. Shame is also scary. Especially for women (how many men do you see on blast for using Ozempic?) shamed no matter what we do, it makes sense to try and avoid it. Most readers will know what I’m talking about. You’re too fat until you lose weight and then you’re either too small or not yet small enough and should maybe take Ozempic. At the same time, you’re supposed to love yourself and your body with radical acceptance, somehow becoming immune to the messaging you’ve internalized since birth. If you fail at this, you’ve failed other women and possibly feminism itself. My point is that, for women, it often feels like no matter what we choose, we are always juggling impossibilities. Womanhood becomes, then, a constant negotiation of lesser evils.
Which brings me back to shame. The painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong behavior. When there is no right behavior, when life is full of contradictions and other people’s pain and prejudices and judgements and the myriad reasons any one of us might have for altering and augmenting our bodies, all we have is our capacity for critical thought, which we can use to determine what is best for us. Thought is power, thinness is not.
For more on the intersection between Ozempic & celebrity culture I recommend checking out @igfamousbydana on Instagram!