The buzzy new drug Ozempic was designed in a lab to deal with diabetes, however typically it looks like it was additionally designed in a lab to spark bad-faith company conversations about physique positivity. Ozempic and its generic identify, semaglutide, are such provocations: After years of manufacturers promoting feel-good taglines about how all our bodies are stunning, the arrival on the scene of apparently efficient weight reduction medication is asking plenty of bluffs. Breathless headlines report that, as soon as once more, thin is in. Our cultural ambivalence towards a politics of physique acceptance has been thrown into sharp reduction.
“We’ve paid lip service to physique acceptance, we’ve go-girl-ed bigger girls, we’ve celebrated curves, we’ve acknowledged the gargantuan societal components in how folks look, we quote-unquote did the work,” observed Vogue in March. “However now with Ozempic, being chubby can immediately (if expensively) be mounted. Bigger folks can swiftly transition to a extra societally acceptable dimension. Ozempic is a miracle drug, a remedy for the fatness we’ve begrudgingly pressured ourselves to simply accept.”
I’ve come to assume that we are able to see the identical political ambivalence enjoying out in one of many different largest dialog starters of this 12 months: Barbie, the new pink feminist film/doll business.
“Issues might be each/and. I’m doing the factor and subverting the factor,” director Greta Gerwig told the New York Times. Was such subversion actually potential on the subject of Barbie and feminism? Was it potential when Mattel was, in any case, funding Gerwig’s supposedly subversive image in an effort to promote plenty of dolls and accompanying merch? That was the sticking level, the promoting, how a lot the film was an exquisitely made, lovingly ambivalent and tender business for Barbie and all that she stands for.
“So, what are these bevies of pink-bedecked filmgoing females imagined to make of all this?” asked the Guardian, rhetorically, in a pan of Barbie. “They’ll see seductive however doubtful stereotypes embellished moderately than subverted. Muddled messaging could dispel moderately than stimulate any impulse to campaign. … A transparent name to motion does ultimately emerge: go forth and purchase the merchandise of the movie’s sponsor, Mattel, and its galaxy of business companions.”
Barbie was a film about how everybody was stunning and Barbie herself owed us all an apology for ever making us assume in any other case. On the identical time, it was getting used to promote a lot. How might we reconcile these two concepts?
The conversations about Barbie and Ozempic are mirror photographs of one another. They’re about what occurs when a second that’s ostensibly about instructing girls to like their our bodies bumps up towards the big sum of money there may be to be made by promoting girls stuff that teaches them to hate their our bodies. They’re testaments to the failures of the previous decade of mainstream neoliberal feminism.
“I’m not Stereotypical Barbie fairly.”
In early commercials for the doll, Barbie was all the time “Barbie, stunning Barbie.” But Barbie the film has a vexed relationship with Barbie’s magnificence. Barbie’s magnificence is, inside the realm of this film, a political pressure, an influence, a weapon. Like all weapons, it has darkish sides.
“I’m not fairly anymore. … I’m not Stereotypical Barbie fairly,” Barbie weeps at one level within the movie. Dryly, the narrator cuts in: “Word to the filmmakers: Margot Robbie is the unsuitable particular person to forged if you wish to make this level.”
Robbie’s Barbie is pointedly named Stereotypical Barbie as a result of she so embodies the sweetness commonplace Barbie is beloved and vilified for: massive blonde hair, tanned European pores and skin and perky European options, blue eyes, impossibly tall and impossibly buxom. Since Barbie’s origin within the Nineteen Fifties, Mattel has added new dolls to the road with completely different pores and skin tones and hair textures and physique sorts, however Stereotypical Barbie is the one we’re usually speaking about once we say Barbie.
Robbie, even whereas lamenting that she isn’t fairly, comes nearer to embodying the Stereotypical Barbie superb than most human beings can. But even Robbie’s Barbie isn’t utterly trustworthy. That’s as a result of Barbie’s proportions usually are not human: A proportional human-size Barbie would not be able to walk upright or support her head on her neck. This reality, Gerwig told the New York Times, “all the time caught with me,” however it doesn’t make an look in Gerwig’s movie.
As an alternative, Barbie enjoys celebrating Barbie’s magnificence. The digicam pans luxuriously over her gleaming blonde hair, her good smile, her kicky wardrobe. Watching the film, we like her, and we like her as a result of she is gorgeous. The a part of a Barbie doll’s magnificence that’s grotesque, that’s bodily unimaginable, has been neatly excised from the file.
But Barbie the film can be conscious that Barbie’s explicit model of magnificence is, allow us to say, politically problematic.
“You signify all the pieces unsuitable with our tradition,” a Gen Z cynic tells Barbie. “Sexualized capitalism, unrealistic bodily beliefs.” Then she calls Barbie a fascist, and the digicam closes in on Barbie’s shocked, weeping face.
Barbie’s magnificence can be, crucially, a vulnerability. When Barbie leaves Barbieland for the true world, she finds herself objectified by males for the primary time, and her implausibly excellent magnificence solely accentuates and amplifies that objectification. It “very a lot has an undertone of violence,” Barbie realizes with mounting horror.
Gerwig sees Barbie’s plastic and objectifiable magnificence as one half of a binary. On the opposite facet is the great thing about Barbie’s humanity, which she realizes after Gloria — the human lady who performs together with her — makes the connection for her. “It’s actually unimaginable to be a girl,” Gloria says. “You might be so stunning and so sensible, and it kills me that you just don’t assume you’re adequate.”
That second is the dual to the scene that lies on the coronary heart of the movie, when Barbie, within the midst of an existential disaster in the true world, sees an outdated lady ready at a bus cease. “You’re stunning,” Barbie tells the girl. “I do know it,” the girl replies.
These two moments are the utopian imaginative and prescient of Barbie, the redemption of all of the hurt her magnificence brought about us and the repudiation of all of the hurt her magnificence makes her weak to. Magnificence in its truest type on this film is the energy and humanity of particular person girls, and we affirm life once we are capable of acknowledge that humanity in each other, in everybody from Margot Robbie to outdated women catching the bus. Magnificence solely turns into sinister, right here, when it’s utilized by males to use little ladies.
If that’s the message of Barbie as a murals, it turns into tougher to sq. with the message of Barbie as a business property meant to promote dolls and their merch. Mattel used Barbie as an opportunity to score over 100 licensing deals, together with many, many skincare and make-up merchandise that exist to show girls to appropriate all of the so-called bodily flaws that Barbie doesn’t have.
Barbie earnings from each the feel-good efficiency of embracing cellulite and wrinkles and the sensible instruments of erasing them. … Settle for your imperfections! it yells in its make-believe world. Now reject them! it counters in the true one. Meditate on demise! the manufacturing proposes. Obliterate all superficial indicators of mortality! its merchandise argue. It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t must — within the fingers of Barbie’s advertising division, viewers are however Barbie dolls, merchandise being smashed into merchandise.
Off-brand, there’s Barbie Botox, a pattern Mattel hasn’t licensed and isn’t cashing in on however is offered in Barbie’s identify nonetheless. It’s a process the place you inject your trapezius muscle with Botox to slim and elongate the neck, recreating the anatomically unimaginable Barbie neck that so haunted Gerwig. It took off as a pattern on TikTok in August, shortly after the film got here out, and at the moment the hashtag has 17.5 million views.
If Barbie the film desires you to embrace the outdated lady on the bus cease, a number of girls watched it and got here away with the need to inject Botox into their shoulders till their muscle groups shrank away; to bleach and wax and tone till they, too, had been Stereotypical Barbie.
The Kardashians, by no means ones to overlook a physique modification pattern, are proper there with the remainder of the Barbiecore.
“Kim dropped twenty-one kilos earlier than the Met Gala, the place she wore a gown made well-known by Marilyn Monroe,” reported the New Yorker in March. “Khloé, who has spoken prior to now about struggling together with her weight, posted fortieth-birthday images wherein she regarded as slim and blond as a Barbie.”
Which brings us to the Ozempic within the room.
“You need to say you wish to be wholesome, but additionally it’s a must to be skinny.”
Ozempic is without doubt one of the model names for the drug semaglutide, which was approved as a diabetes drug in the US in 2017. Semaglutide is claimed to be remarkably efficient as a diabetes remedy, however it turned well-known for one in every of its unwanted effects: It is rather, superb at making folks shed pounds. Hollywood, ostensibly an business that now embraces the human physique in all its many sizes and complexities, sat up and took discover.
Final September, Variety reported that Ozempic has “saturated the business” of present enterprise. Film glamour nonetheless has its cachet. “The buy-in of Hollywood,” said New York magazine in February, “took Ozempic from drugs to standing image.” Now, semaglutide has been accredited to be used as a weight reduction drug below the model identify Wegovy, though it’s usually not lined by insurance coverage.
The famously curvy Kardashians have shrunk. Adele misplaced weight. Mindy Kaling misplaced weight. None of them admitted to utilizing weight reduction medication, with the coyness attribute of our present Ozempic second: It’s necessary proper now that girls ought to get skinny, however they need to get skinny the proper means. (“I’ve tried actually laborious to let go of this concept of shedding weight for vainness causes and actually attempting to consider how I might be wholesome,” Kaling told People of her weight loss.) If a well-known lady admits to utilizing an injection to be skinny, her thinness is now not aspirational.
That’s a part of the Ozempic impact. Now that it’s theoretically potential for anybody who can afford the out-of-pocket prices to get skinny, all of the invisible contradictions of our tradition’s physique politics are all of a sudden, blindingly clear: To have a great physique, our tradition tells us, is to have a skinny physique. There are dangerous methods and good methods of getting a skinny physique. Is there any good technique to have a fats physique?
Simply 18 months in the past, these concepts weren’t fairly as seen in mainstream discourse as they’re now.
“There was simply this period — I wish to say, like, 2017 to 2020 — the place it was seen as gauche to be, like, I’m on a food regimen,” observed science writer Olga Khazan on the podcast Radio Atlantic in September. “Folks stopped weight-reduction plan. You understand, the CEO of Weight Watchers round that point was like, Wholesome is the brand new skinny.”
Wholesome was, after all, a euphemism for skinny, however the proper of thin. Skinny on the waist, thicker on the butt and breast. That was the look girls had been imagined to intention for, and it was ostensibly an improve from the heroin stylish superb of the Nineties, an indication of how far our tradition had progressed. No matter superb a girl was aiming for, she couldn’t, as Gerwig notes in Barbie, say so.
“You need to be skinny however not too skinny, and you’ll by no means say you wish to be skinny,” Gerwig’s Gloria says. “You need to say you wish to be wholesome, but additionally it’s a must to be skinny.”
Now, Khazan reported on Radio Atlantic, you may simply say you wish to be skinny. And whereas Khazan argued it was necessary to take care of the beneficial properties of the physique positivity motion and never “disgrace people who find themselves overweight or make them really feel fats or lazy or by some means ‘lower than,’ simply because they’re overweight,” she additionally famous that Ozempic put a brand new asterisk subsequent to their dimension.
“I do assume that this period of semaglutide places a brand new concentrate on the truth that in case you’re, you understand, severely chubby or overweight, there’s something you are able to do about that,” Khazan mused.
There are any variety of causes an individual may select to not go on Ozempic. Proper now, it’s not lined by insurers for weight reduction, and the out-of-pocket prices are costly. It’s at the moment in such excessive demand for weight reduction that people who need it to treat their diabetes are having trouble accessing it. Taking it messes with digestive well being, and the accompanying side effects can be severe. Some folks lose a lot of their urge for food on Ozempic they experience malnutrition. Plus, in case you go off the drug, the weight you lost will come back. Meaning if you would like the load to remain off, it’s a must to keep on this drug to your complete life, and because it’s a brand new remedy, we don’t know what its long-term use actually appears like or what well being dangers include it.
All the identical, if there may be “one thing you are able to do about” your weight, selecting to not do one thing about your weight, for regardless of the cause, turns into one thing our tradition will take a look at askance. Folks perceive this shift instinctively, particularly fats folks.
On NPR, general practitioner Mara Gordon talked about a patient who begged her for an Ozempic prescription, weeping. The affected person was chubby in accordance with the BMI chart, however she was nonetheless metabolically wholesome. The affected person “had tried for years to make peace together with her greater physique, however mentioned she was sick of preventing for physique acceptance,” Gordon writes. “Despite the fact that her blood strain and blood sugar ranges had been well-controlled, she was floor down by the fatphobia she skilled every single day. She needed Ozempic.”
Speaking to Jia Tolentino within the New Yorker, plastic surgeon Jonathan Kaplan said he thinks Ozempic use is going to tick up among fat people soon — particularly, Tolentino writes, “fats individuals who had been combating discomfort, with inconvenience, with social strain all their lives, who might need recently felt inspired to attempt to settle for their heavier weight.” Now, says Kaplan, “They’re now not going to simply accept that they need to simply be pleased with the physique they’ve.”
Ozempic appears to offer our body-fascist tradition permission to say the quiet half out loud, the quiet issues we whisper to at least one one other once we promote Barbie merch: Your physique is just not sufficient, you must hate your physique, you may repair your physique solely by struggling and injecting and sacrificing cash for its everlasting upkeep. These concepts had been imagined to be on their means out of the tradition by now. Ozempic and Barbie make it clear that they’re simply as sturdy as ever.
“WE demand equal rights for fats folks in all points of life”
Physique positivity as we all know it comes from the fats rights motion, and the fats rights motion is one in every of political motion and solidarity.
The fat rights movement emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s as an outgrowth of the civil rights and feminist actions. It’s rooted in a easy and radical concept: Fats persons are full human beings who ought to be handled with full human dignity.
“WE see our battle as allied with the struggles of different oppressed teams towards classism, racism, sexism, ageism, monetary exploitation, imperialism and the like,” declared the 1970 Fat Liberation Manifesto. “WE demand equal rights for fats folks in all points of life, as promised within the Structure of the USA. We demand equal entry to items and providers within the public area, and an finish to discrimination towards us within the areas of employment, training, public services and well being providers.”
Fat activists hosted sit-ins in Central Park and mounted letter-writing campaigns. They picketed the White House and gyms that had fatphobic ad campaigns. This was a motion not of feel-good buzzwords about self-love however of political motion, with a concrete agenda and calls for to be fabricated from these in energy.
A kind of calls for was particularly about Barbie. It was within the context of an lively and radical fats rights motion that feminists picketed the 1972 Toy Fair, singling out Barbie as a software that teaches little ladies to see themselves solely as intercourse objects.
Within the web period, fat activism birthed body positivity, a motion centered on unapologetic love for one’s physique. At first, physique positivity particularly meant love for one’s fats physique, however over time, it expanded to imply self-love for all, it doesn’t matter what their our bodies appear to be. The change was inclusive, however it got here with downsides.
“Lots of the hottest Physique Positivity position fashions solely have ‘imperfect’ our bodies after they take off their garments and draw arrows pointing to their imperfections,” writes National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance chair Tigress Osborn for the BBC. “Visibly fats influencers — those that are undeniably fats it doesn’t matter what they’re carrying — even have their very own followings, however they cope with extra harassment, extra account bans, and extra pushback for ‘glorifying weight problems.’”
As physique positivity turned a hashtag that white cisgender straight-size girls publish below their unretouched bikini photos, the marginalized our bodies that fats activism promised to help drifted to the sidelines of the motion. In the meantime, the thought of physique positivity turned a helpful cowl for firms that needed a trendy veneer of feminism over their merchandise with out having to make significant structural adjustments to their work which may have an effect on the underside line. All it’s a must to do, actually, is rent extra plus-size fashions, so long as they’ve traditional hourglass figures moderately than massive stomachs.
Greta Gerwig’s Barbie film exists due to the identical neoliberal logic. Mattel employed a beloved feminist director to make Barbie as a result of they needed to borrow Gerwig’s feminist credentials to make their product extra engaging. As Moira Donegan mused in The Nation, “In a way, this chilly market calculation reveals some unambiguously excellent news for American feminism: Mattel is telling us, with capitalism’s merciless honesty, that it doesn’t assume a rigidly sexist Barbie could make a revenue anymore. Folks — girls — need one thing completely different.”
The excellent news it reveals for firms: You’ll be able to nonetheless promote your anatomically unimaginable Barbie dolls, your Barbie cosmetics, your Barbie Botox. You’ll be able to fake that it’s completely different from the outdated Barbie dolls, the outdated make-up, the outdated Botox, however you don’t even have to alter something.
Physique positivity and self-love are precious, particularly inside a tradition that hates you and your physique. Embracing physique positivity is nonetheless not the identical factor as, as an illustration, advocating for legal guidelines towards firing folks for the scale of their our bodies, or to make American well being care less reliant on the unreliable and unscientific BMI scale as a metric.
A part of what the Ozempic second makes clear is how simply companies and influencers and tastemakers can reverse the shallow, superficial celebration of feminism and physique positivity that has grow to be so well-liked over the previous decade. If our solely accountability to at least one one other is to ensure that we love our personal our bodies, then why not champion a model new food regimen drug whose long-term unwanted effects are unknown? Why not humiliate those that don’t take it? Why not tell children to take it, too?
“Something might be executed within the identify of self-love, and the selves that society loves have the facility to trigger hurt with out reproach,” writes body positivity influencer Catherine Mhloyi for Time. “Harmful diets and surgical procedures are purchased and offered in pursuit of self-love. … The explanation why it’s really easy for folks to hop on the Ozempic practice is that the mainstream commodification of the body-positive motion is as flavorless and diluted because the low-fat food regimen regimens of yesteryear.”
Ozempic exhibits us why we can not belief this company feminism: It’s a feminism of aesthetics and individualism and business opportunism, not of political dedication. As quickly because the merciless honesty of capitalism tells Mattel that it’s of their greatest curiosity to take action, they’ll depart feminist Barbie behind, the identical means they deserted the plus-size fashions and the physique optimistic photoshoots. They’ll begin telling us as soon as once more, the best way they all the time used to, that the outdated lady on the bus cease isn’t stunning. They’ll inform us she’s a loser as an alternative.