Ozempic. It’s been touted as a miracle drug, used endlessly as a Hollywood punchline, and become the impetus for almost $5 billion in sales for pharmaceutical companies in 2023 alone. Since its release in 2017, the injectable Weight Loss medication and others in its class have revolutionized the landscape of chronic weight management drugs and been marketed as safe and incredibly effective. But as newer Weight Loss medications enter the market, the popularity of drugs like Ozempic and the rising discourse surrounding them has highlighted a new problem: Ozempic shaming.
Much of the original debate around Ozempic evolved from the drug’s original purpose: a supplementary treatment for adults with type 2 diabetes. Ozempic, known as semaglutide, mimics the body’s GLP-1 hormone, which regulates sugar. But it also controls appetites and delays the stomach from emptying, which makes Weight Loss a common side effect. Since 2021, demand for the drug has created a months-long national shortage — one that’s still going. But even as Ozempic’s success has led to the development and approval of GLP-1 medications specifically for Weight Loss — advancements the medical community has celebrated — the cultural conversation around Weight Loss drugs has become increasingly toxic.
First, Ozempic’s popularity sparked an online debate about whether Ozempic users on the drug purely for Weight Loss were “stealing” the drug from diabetes patients. They were thieves, taking medication that wasn’t meant for them out of vanity. Once other semaglutide options were approved for Weight Loss, users were then accused of taking the “easy way out.” Tabloids spread rumors about dozens of celebrities who looked like they had lost weight, filling checkout aisles and timelines with before and after photos. Posting a photo online? You’d better hope you don’t look too different, or your comments might be filled with people asking if you were taking Ozempic. The drug went from something you take to something you catch people taking. And even now, with thousands of patients sharing that the medication has had a positive impact on their health, people still can’t seem to stop making Ozempic users the butt of the joke. Creating stigmas around medical treatment isn’t just rude — it’s dangerous.
But some people are pushing back against Ozempic’s stigma. Earlier this month, New York Times bestselling author and Booker Prize finalist Brandon Taylor criticized the way society has shamed Ozempic users, highlighting how other medicines that are equally helpful, like asthma inhalers or antidepressants, aren’t nearly as looked down upon. “I don’t know if you guys realize this, but you have developed a really bad fatphobic idiom around ozempic that somehow lets you degrade people for taking it in a way that’s still calling them fat,” he wrote on X. “Truly if anyone is looking for proof that fat people can’t win, it’s in the comments under any article about Ozempic,” said culture writer Arianna Rebolini. ‘Real Housewives’ star Emily Simpson told ABC News online commenters were angrier about her Ozempic prescription than her liposuction. And just last week, media mogul and Weight Watchers spokesperson Oprah revealed to People that she was on medication for Weight Loss, and was tired of feeling ashamed about it. “The fact that there’s a medically approved prescription for managing weight and staying healthier, in my lifetime, feels like relief, like redemption, like a gift, and not something to hide behind and once again be ridiculed for,” Oprah said. “I’m absolutely done with the shaming from other people, and particularly myself.”
Most medical organizations agree that chronic weight gain is, at its core, a medical condition. Obesity can put patients at higher risk for chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes. But patients who weigh more often struggle to receive accurate and helpful medical attention from doctors, often being told to lose weight instead of having underlying genetic or historic factors examined. Being fat is treated as a moral failing, a lapse in self-control, instead of one aspect of a human’s medical history. While Ozempic shame is often couched in body positivity language, the underlying belief system is one of hostility.
This isn’t to say that any criticism of medicine is harmful. Pharmaceutical companies profit when people use their products. As the Food and Drug Administration approves more Weight Loss medications under fast-tracked processes, it’s important to ensure that patients remain as safe as possible. The internet has also had a long and sordid history with body image — think the “thinfluencers” of Instagram or TikTok’s continued problem of advertising dangerous crash diets to young women. And as Ozempic’s popularity is supported and driven by word of mouth and unregulated online communities, this can often look like being public about popular trends that can be dangerous. But what advocating for patient safety shouldn’t look like is public and pointed humiliation.
What the stigma around Ozempic has created is an already fatphobic world taken to its most cruel, most biting. One where people interested in Weight Loss medication are shamed for needing it in the first place and vilified if they decide to take it. It’s a dilemma people can’t escape — and shouldn’t have been placed in to begin with. As the research and medical consensus around chronic weight management continues to develop, it’s important that our cultural conversations around new innovations don’t make people who need them feel too ashamed to get help. There’s a way to start a dialogue around medicines and their side effects without shaming people who benefit from them. It’s high time we figured that out.
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