Everyone is thin and no one is happy

In many ways the 2022 Met Gala was centred around Kim Kardashian. While other celebrities displayed ostentatious costumes crafted by haute couture designers, Kim Kardashian opted for a different route.

Despite the theme being “In America: An Anthology of Fashion”, with a focus on The Gilded Age, Kim Kardashian decided to instead wear a real Marilyn Monroe dress from 1962 adorned with only a white fur coat and her then-beau Pete Davidson. She drew explicit focus to her body in the way that attention had been foist upon Marilyn throughout her life. To wear the dress was to display her body at the forefront of the Kardashian brand in a way that had not really been done before. While the Kardashians have often positioned their bodies at the centre of their brands and tried to stay on trend, this was the first time one of them had deliberately presented themselves as an icon, even if it was only through association. When Kim Kardashian walked up the steps at the Met Gala, she almost announced that she was the body to aspire to, to strive for.

But what was that body? Soon after appearing on the red carpet, Kim Kardashian began to openly talk about how she “had” to lose 16lbs in three weeks to fit into the dress. She was notably slimmer than previous appearances that were characterized by plastic surgery augmentations which defined her body for years. Her body had undergone a dramatic weight loss that she somehow managed to maintain. The version of Kim that attended the Met Gala was not something that was done simply to fulfil a job, similar to, for instance, that of an actor who may gain or lose weight for a role. It was instead a change in lifestyle and what it meant to be a Kardashian, shifting their image away from one created by plastic surgeries like Brazilian butt lifts. The goal now was to be thin.

There has always been an underlying notion that our bodies are the products of wider socio-economic trends and function in line with those

Of course the initial changes in the ideal were manufactured internally. Kim’s sister Khloe followed her path; continuing her long history of plastic surgery, diet and exercise regimes, she began to look noticeably thinner. However, soon after it began to spread further with the comedians Mindy Kaling and Chelsea Handler being among those who lost noticeable weight. A large number of actresses and reality stars all began to quickly lose the weight. Even Elon Musk began shedding weight, likely because if he was spending notable amounts of time creating problems with his latest venture he may as well look good doing it.

Thinness has once again become the goal body type, but it’s different this time. When the 1920s flapper movement was promoting the thin body, it was as a factor of androgyny – the progression of the first wave feminist movement led to a merge of more masculine and feminine styles even if only slightly. To have a flapper dress accompanied by a slender body was a statement of sorts, you were rebelling against the ideals of femininity but not that much. There are similar narratives behind other popular body types and what it represented at the time even if the actual body type only changed slightly.

When ‘heroin chic’ was in vogue in the 90s, it was a close alignment with the nihilism of the decade. To watch the models grow waifish and pale suggested that, even in the drab environment of the 1990s, they could find a way to make it look attractive. There is also the sheer coincidence of Kate Moss saying “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” in 2009 as the world was in the midst of a financial crisis. Regardless of the moral ideals behind it, there has always been an underlying notion that our bodies are the products of wider socio-economic trends and function in line with those.

So what version of thinness are we subjecting our bodies to now? Apparently it’s one dictated by pharmaceuticals, more specifically Ozempic. The “miracle” weight-loss drug was developed by Novo Nordic in 2012 and approved for usage on patients with type 2 diabetes in 2017.  Since then it has gone from a relatively small scale drug to something that is rumoured (and I say rumoured because very few people are willing to openly discuss it) to be used by a legion of rich and successful people before slowly beginning to trickle its way down to us normal folk. There have even been shortages in the supply of the drug and similar substances such as Wegovy meaning that many people, even those using it for medical reasons, are unable to get enough of it.

The body standards today are more pervasive, pushing us to contort our bodies into a rigid pre-set ideals of how we should look

At the time of writing, the long term effects of Ozempic are unknown. An article in The Cut which spent most of the word count swooning over the drug stated that “there are side effects for many Ozempians. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea [sic], and constipation are the most common” before causally mentioning that some people were “shitting their brains out” due to them taking the drug. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the long-term effects of the drug that aren’t known because we simply do not have any conclusive research for it. However, in some ways, the long-term effects of the drug do not matter – the mere fact that it has become so immensely popular is an incredulous fact in and of itself. There has been such a significant push for our bodies to be thin, to subject them to unknown drugs, that people are willing to pay insane amounts of money to lose around 15% of their body weight regardless of the consequences.

Yet this is not the first time that our bodies and highly controversial drugs have overlapped. Fen-Phen was regularly sold up until 1997 when it was found to cause heart valve defects in a third of patients. It had been approved based on a study of only 121 people but was sold to over six million people, most of whom were women and not all of them medically classed as overweight. Even since then, there has been the prominence of substances that supress appetite to the point where people simply lose the weight. Whether it be over-the-counter laxatives, Ozempic, or even the suggestion of taking illegal substances, the desire for people to stay as thin as possible has pushed them into taking more extreme measures and using these substances as a way to stay in line with the beauty ideal.

As time has passed and our bodies have been subjected to more scrutiny, the level of conformity pushed onto an average person multiplies. While a certain body type was desired for the flapper girls of the 1920s, a woman working in a densely populated city or rural village didn’t really care about it in the same way she would now. The body standards today are more pervasive, pushing us to contort our bodies into a rigid pre-set ideals of how we should look. In a world governed by a corporate ideal of beauty of course thinness is the idea. It is, according to feminist psychoanalyst Susie Orbach, “an aspirational issue, a means to enter what on the surface appears to be a new classless society. But it is – falsely, I believe – promoted as a health issue.” To be thin, regardless of class status, is a marker of “good” health regardless of how that body is achieved. A person who simply has a slimmer body will be positioned as just as good as someone who is undergoing intense medical procedures or even eating disorders to achieve their body measurements.

Which is why we’ve ended up in the situation we are in. The adoption of the belief that thinness is the desirable goal has led to more rigorous ideals of what we must do to achieve it. Prior to the Ozempic allegations, Kim Kardashian was believed to have gotten gastric sleeve surgery to lose the weight for her Met Gala appearance and has made many ludicrous statements like saying “if you told me that I literally had to eat poop every single day and I would look younger, I might” in an interview with the New York Times (she did later double down on the statement and called it a joke). We have ended up with the rich subjecting themselves to pharmaceutical treatments with unknown side effects just to be that bit thinner and the rest of us trying to find ways to emulate them, reaching a body standard that is artificially constructed.

Spending an entire century confronted with a rigid ideal of beauty that has been pushed through every facet of our lives is hard to unlearn

So is this our life? Is this how we will continue to treat our bodies? Will instances like Ozempic shortages and the lines of people queuing for surgeries like BBLs simply become passe as the bodies of the wealthy are surgically augmented and we try and keep up even if it is not sustainable? Hopefully not. There has slowly been the rise of an inclusive, body neutral movement that encourages us to not see our bodies as test subjects for random trends but to actually accept them as a vessel of existence, a living being made up of complex systems that houses a human being. Activists like Orbach and Aubrey Gordon, author of You Just Need to Lose Weight”: And 19 Other Myths About Fat People and co-host on the podcast Maintenance Phase, which discusses the dangers of the current view of health and wellness in society, are trying to present this counternarrative and that a human being is more than their capability to be thin. That they can exist in any shape and should be accepted for it. However instead of paying mere lip service to activists like them, there needs to be whole hearted acceptance of their ideals and the implementation of their philosophy into our society.

I am aware that it is not that simple. That spending an entire century confronted with a rigid ideal of beauty that has now been pushed through every facet of our lives is hard to unlearn. It is not simply a problem of Ozempic, of some celebrities and doctors shilling stuff to make quick money and lose 25lbs. It bleeds into the lives of all of us and how we see our bodies and the bodies of those around us. So while the moment Kim Kardashian squeezed into the Marilyn Monroe dress for the Met Gala was one that was the marking of a cultural change, that our bodies were to once again be subjected to a new routine of subjugation to the beauty ideal, it was not new. It is a battle that we are in and will remain in for a long time to come. As Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, stated: “If our culture’s fixation on female fatness or thinness were about sex, it would be a private issue between a woman and her lover; if it were about health, between a woman and herself…But female fat is the subject of public passion, and women feel guilty about female fat, because we implicitly recognize that under the myth, women’s bodies are not our own but society’s, and that thinness is not a private aesthetic, but hunger a social concession exacted by the community.”

We should no longer subject our bodies to this immense, pervasive subjugation because if we do then the consequences will only damage us further, leading us to destruction under our own standards of beauty just so we could have that ‘perfect’ body.


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