The Skin I’m In: Ozempic, Fatphobia, and Hunger

Watching The Marvelous Ms. Maisel, I was struck with panic by how thin the women were when I saw them engaging in group exercise. Then, during a time of severe disordered eating, I did what I always did. I looked up the approximate height and weight of the actress and, using a rudimentary proportion formula, calculated how much I would need to weigh to be an equivalent weight at my height. Then I felt sick.

The show takes place in the era of the youth and young adulthood of my Jewish-American grandmother, may she rest in peace. I’ve been without my grandmother for thirteen years now. She was diabetic, and died after having a stroke as a complication of a gastric bypass surgery meant to help her lose weight. In younger pictures of her, including the one taken on her wedding day, she is thin. She is smiling. In pictures of her in old age, she is fat. She is smiling. She has a cloud of wispy, silver curls. She sits on a giant plastic caterpillar at a museum. She stands next to my mother at her wedding. Life of the party, mother of the bride. She is, most importantly, alive.

What I didn’t know is that her past thinness was granted by a pill. If your grandmother was alive during the 1950s though the 70s, there’s a good chance her doctor prescribed her a cocktail of uppers, appetite suppressants, and antidepressants. Today, clip compilations of movie stars staring incredulously at reporters asking about how they “have their figure” are mashed together and tagged #feminism. What these clips and posts don’t tell you is that, just like in my grandmother’s day, people aren’t all genetically and naturally thinner. It feels like these movie stars are saying you can’t afford to look this way, and I can’t afford to let you know I’m both part of the system and hurt by it.

I think these media encounters provide  a chance for honesty about the level of personal training, medication, and access to specific foods that drive a lifestyle of promotion based on looks.

The women in Maisel? Your grandma, maybe? They were on drugs. Just like your favorite movie stars are on Ozempic, chain smoking, starving themselves, and wealthy enough to afford to receive their nutrients via IV now. Every weight-loss drug that has come onto the market has been revealed to have dangerous side effects. They range from the drug abuse and cardiac arrest that can accompany amphetamines and fen-phen use to the stomach paralysis some Ozempic patients are beginning to report.

Anyway, I couldn’t finish even a single season of Ms. Maisel.

The moments that solidified my relationship with food now play as a clip-show in my head. The time a teacher, in sixth grade, called me “a little piggy* for taking a second serving of goldfish crackers. Another: didn’t know my mom wasn’t beautiful until she told me. My mom is fat, with red-brown hair and hazel eyes, and I spent a lot of growing up listening to my dad call her a fat fuck during fights. Then, I spent a lot of time hearing her tell me, don’t get fat! Don’t get fat!

My dad once told me a sobering story of climbing trees in the government-owned orchards of his communist ‘home-country’ to reap the runty apples leftover from the state harvest. He decided I hadn’t eaten an apple to the core before throwing it away. As a toddler, he gave me an entire box of pastries to eat after he and my mom had a fight while his mom was living with us. I ate all of it under the kitchen table and had to go to the hospital because of an intestinal fissure.

I was a very skinny child of the 2000s. I always struggled with being either too hungry or not hungry enough. I got diagnosed with ADHD when I was in first grade, and I was in my Jewish grandparents’ kitchen when I first learned to take pills with sink water that smelled like sulfur. I gagged constantly. My mom made me repeat until I was able to get down the pill. Afterwards, I felt placid. I wasn’t hungry anymore. I wasn’t really anything anymore.

I had a teacher watching me in every class in elementary school, including during electives like gym and library science. They were given a chart. The teacher would circle a smiley, neutral, or sad face to show my primary teacher how well I had behaved, or how badly I had behaved. The faces got smilier after I started my medication.

Food became special and secret. My hunger would come all at once, late at night, when eating was over. There were years of my life where I barely remember eating except for Wednesday night McDonald’s after dance class and my dad bringing me Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I was 11 years old and still in a car seat.

Sometimes I feel that my mom’s semi-facetious comments about how hot she is are just that: deprecating herself before someone else gets the chance to. Awkward and ambivalently femmedyke in middle and high school, bony, I did the same thing. During the scene queen and emo eras of the late 2000s and early 2010s, my favorite type of person who posted about herself online was a chubby girl with brightly dyed hair parted to the side. She was fun, alternative, and everything I wasn’t allowed to be.

Both of my cultures place a huge emphasis on the pleasure, communion, and heritage that accompany food. From okra stewed in tomato sauce to roast chicken to flaky hand pies, I was taught that not finishing what’s on your plate is a big problem – but that being fat was an even bigger one.

No one actually prepared me for what would happen when, like my grandmother, I got tired of being on meth lite.

I gained weight. I had huge tits and great cleavage. I felt hot. I didn’t care – until comments from my parents started rolling in, and people started treating me differently. Except for an elderly and loving cousin, who told me I used to be ‘scary thin’ and that I looked ‘so healthy’ now. I should probably tell him how much that offhand comment meant to me, and how I carry it with me at times when I think about the long-term damage I may have done to my body in my years on and off diet pills.

I did Weight Watchers for a year with my mom, while taking a diet pill in secret. I lost the weight, put on the weight, put it off again, and put it on again. I compared myself, and still compare myself, to skinny friends and enemies.

I got addicted to the approval I got from my parents for my weight loss more than anything. Just not being abused over it anymore in an era of “Anyone can lose weight! Anyone can look like this!” felt fantastic. It’s harder to restrict these days, and I’ve gained some of the weight back. I’m eating, but getting punished for how I look because of it. I’m still learning to love myself.

Fat Jewish women in media, whether a sitcom character written by a man or a ghoul featured in antisemitic propaganda, are associated with laziness and greediness. It hasn’t always been this way, but I don’t really want a ‘return’ to some practices like North Africa force-feeding of young girls to make them more desirable, or some German ideal of zaftig. I would like increasing diversification and more portrayal of many different body types. I would like to see fat and midsize women as delicate love interests, specifically, in Austen-like pieces. I want to develop new erotic and aesthetic languages.I’d like to see Isaac Mizrahi’s fashions on a big-bellied, big-backsided Neolithic Canaanite goddess statue. That kind of thing.

On a more personal note: I just wanted my mom to be proud of me and to feel like the person I was before I went off my ADHD medication, gained a bunch of weight, and started getting body shamed by my dad, too. I am desperately trying to embrace being midsize before I kill myself over this, either through medication or starvation. If you are doing the same, you are not alone. It is exhausting and grueling being in this world. The sting of that is only slightly lessened by every fat, hot model smoldering at me from a screen or billboard or TikTok video. By the way, one of her exists for every twelve articles about Wegovy or its ‘natural’ ‘affordable’ substitutes. And then there’s the insult of thin friends disingenuously telling me I’m beautiful while not-so-secretly pitying me and posting about their fear of being fat.

I have to ask myself: am I scared of being fat, or am I scared of the abuse and degradation that accompanies it?

I am staying alive and fighting for the day that the miracle of fat shines on us. I am working for the day that I watch oil glistening on my and my girlfriend’s fingers from frying kubbe with the same mesmerized stare I reserve for freshly glazed acrylic nails. The miracle of my girlfriend’s fatness shines on me every day. She is large, hot, strong, delicate; she protects me and holds me so tightly I can forget what I’m so worried about, what I’m dying over. Because even if I can’t love myself, I really love her. Even if I try to fast, she’s there to break it with eleven PM corner-store candy, cuddles, and silly videos. The adage about not being able to love someone else before you love yourself isn’t true. Sometimes, someone can teach you how to love yourself.

I’m waiting for the day that my body isn’t a point of discussion at all, except for me and my girlfriend’s soft panting as we try to figure out exactly where that body likes to be touched.

My biggest piece of advice: look to the older women in your life. Cis, trans, or gender-apathetic, each of them is going to lead by example. One will not wear makeup. One will wear a lot of makeup and very little clothing. One might wear no makeup and few clothes. Or, she may wear flowy kaftans, or baggy salwar, or leggings from her days as a yoga instructor. One may be reclaiming a girlhood she never had and reminding you that you could die any day, so if you don’t wear the dress waiting at the back of your closet for the day you’re suddenly thin, you’ll die on a day you’re magically and beautifully midsize or fat. Together, we are very beautiful and resilient. Each time we break, or think we are going to, we are becoming the version of ourselves that is enough to hold all of us. There are hot, fat, Jewish Barbie dolls now––inspired by us!

Meanwhile, I’m going to be giving a fat fucking middle finger to anyone who tries to make me feel bad about the skin I’m in.

*writer is using a pseudonym