“When I look around at this room I can’t help but wonder, ‘Is Ozempic right for me?'”
Jimmy Kimmel opened the 2023 Academy Awards with a joke that represents an uncomfortable and unfortunate reality for many: A new drug that has been found to induce weight loss is sweeping Hollywood and reigniting the idea that “thin is in.”
Elon Musk and Chelsea Handler are among the few big names who have admitted to using the drug for weight loss, though Handler said she stopped using it after learning it was intended for those with diabetes. But experts say most celebrities who use Ozempic are likely keeping their lips sealed.
Pushes for transparency about Photoshop use and plastic surgery in recent years have helped usher in a new era of body acceptance and positivity, but this return to skinny culture points to remaining cracks in the system. How far would people go to look a certain way? And does the public have a right to know if the super-thin star they’re comparing themselves to is using Ozempic to get there?
More: Elon Musk’s weight loss, Ozempic, Wegovy and what to know about the new TikTok viral treatment
What is Ozempic?
Ozempic is the brand name of semaglutide, just one of many in a drug class known as incretins. In June of 2021, the Food and Drug Administration approved the semaglutide – under the brand name Wegovy – as a treatment for chronic obesity. Since then, interest in the drug, which requires weekly injections, has skyrocketed.
A ‘spiral back into skinny culture’
Ella Halikas is a Sports Illustrated model. But there was a time when the Ozempic craze would have rattled her body image.
“I’m very confident – that can’t be rocked or shaken,” Halikas tells USA TODAY. “But if this was happening when I was in high school, I would be begging my mom to take me to get the shots and I think that says a lot. It’s really going to affect a lot of people across the country and the world. … It’s really, really damaging and making us all spiral back into skinny culture.”
Discussions about body image have evolved over the past few years to celebrate different body types. But many have worried in the past few months about a regression.
Kim Kardashian revealed she rapidly lost 16 pounds to fit into Marilyn Monroe’s dress for the Met Gala last year. The New York Post published the headline “Bye-bye booty: Heroin chic is back” in the fall. And stars like Adele, Rebel Wilson and Mindy Kaling losing weight have sparked massive public interest.
“People’s attention are drawn to celebrities whose body types don’t fit this thin ideal and then when they lose weight, people may be more attuned to it,” says Meghan Gillen. “It adds a pressure on people. This person was standing for what people actually look like and now they’re going along with this (thin) ideal.”
She adds: “Any kind of body transformation creates fascination. Like, ‘how did your body change that much?’ But also, ‘how did you do it?’ These are real women. Their bodies represent what a lot of women look like. And I think people are just wondering ‘what’s the secret?’ “
The way we talk about Ozempic matters
The concept of an “ideal” body type can trigger “feelings of shame and lack of self-worth, anxiety and depression,” Gillen says. “Lots of negative emotions (stem) from looking at celebrities that people say, ‘This is the ideal body size.’ It’s the sense that you just can’t measure up and you’re just not good enough.”
Enter: Weight loss drugs like Ozempic or cosmetic surgeries as options to “mitigate those feelings of shame,” Gillen adds.
Beyond triggering mental health issues, the growing number of people, famous or not, jumping to use Ozempic has created a shortage for those who are diabetic and rely on Ozempic for their health.
Does the public have a right to know about celebrities’ Ozempic use?
Though some may argue that celebrities not being open about using the drug for weight loss perpetuates unrealistic body standards, Gillen believes it’s more important to educate people – young people, especially – on media literacy as a whole, rather than calling out individual cases.
“I think it may cross the line into their own personal business, because they’re individuals too and I imagine it’s challenging to be in the spotlight and have people taking photos and saying ‘it looks like you just gained 10 pounds or lost 10 pounds,’ ” she adds.
Plus, Gillen says, research suggests that explaining the way in which a celebrity has lost weight wouldn’t actually make most people feel better about themselves. A study found that adding disclaimers to Photoshopped images of people’s bodies didn’t stop viewers from comparing their own images to the edited pictures.
“I think as a culture, (we need to examine) how far are we all really willing to go to be skinny,” Halikas says. “We’re going to the extremes. … It just comes down to the conversation of knowing you’re enough. You are enough the way you are today. You don’t need to change yourself. You don’t need to hop on a trend.”