Johann Hari thought Ozempic was a 'magic pill'. One comment from his niece made him reconsider.

Extract taken from Magic Pill: The Extraordinary Benefits and Disturbing Risks of the New Weight Loss Drugs by Johann Hari, published by Bloomsbury, out now: $34.99

The following discusses eating disorders.

Eight months after I started taking Ozempic, I was FaceTiming with my niece, Erin. In my rational mind, I knew she was eighteen and about to head off to university for the first time but she's the youngest member of my family, the baby, and to me, she'll always be seven years old. Nobody in the world activates my protective instincts more. She was talking to me from a pub, and she said: 'You’ve lost so much weight I can actually see your jawline!' She giggled. As I was about to preen at the compliment, her face hardened into a frown. She looked down at herself and said: 'I need to get some Ozempic. Will you buy me some?'

It took me a moment to register that she wasn't joking.

My niece is a normal, healthy weight, and she suddenly looked sad, and contemptuous of her body.

Of all the moments in writing this book, this was the one that most made me feel like I was doing something really wrong. I wondered if by losing weight in the way that I had — and by being so happy about the physical loss — I had contradicted all the messages I had been trying to tell her since she was a toddler. I wanted her to accept herself; to value herself; to not buy into the messages telling women in particular that their bodies need to be shrivelled to have value.

I realised that in the year or so leading up to this conversation, my niece had witnessed a wider change. Unlike when I was her age, there had been some female celebrities in the public eye who weren't skinny — comedians, actresses, reality-show stars. They often talked proudly about being happy with their bodies. But now, suddenly, they had all dramatically shrunk. Very few of them admitted they were taking the new weight-loss drugs, but the only other possible explanation was that there had been an outbreak of dysentery in Malibu. What was this communicating to her? What was I communicating to her?


Thanks in part to these drugs, the glacially slow progress towards presenting a broader range of bodies as acceptable has been slammed into reverse. Some of the most famous women in the world are visibly getting smaller. What will be the effect? There is strong evidence that if you change the kind of women who are represented as beautiful, you change how girls in particular feel about their bodies. For example, in 1966, a survey of high school girls found that 50 per cent of them believed they were too fat. Three years later, in 1969, 80 per cent thought they were too fat. (In reality, only 15 per cent of them were even slightly overweight in medical terms.) What changed? In 1966, a seventeen-year-old model named Lesley Hornby was suddenly and sensationally declared to be the new paragon of female beauty. She was announced as ‘the face of 1966’ by the fashion press, and became better known as Twiggy. She weighed six and a half stone. After her rise to fame, fashion models shrank — and women’s hatred of their own bodies increased.

Watch: The Cost Of Beauty. Post continues after video.

Video via Dove.

Would these new weight-loss drugs have a similar effect on girls like my niece? I told Erin that there was no way in the world that I would buy her Ozempic. She shrugged. She’s a resilient person, and it turned out to be a transient desire on her part.

But I wondered how many other girls of a healthy weight were asking the question she’d asked me — and what would happen to them. Exploring this question led me to uncover the twelfth risk that is associated with these drugs.

The person I most wanted to discuss this with was Elise Loehnen, a woman who has gone through an incredible transformation in the time I have known her. I first met her in 2017 in a minimalist diner in Los Angeles, when she was the chief content officer for Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle brand. Goop has built a commercial temple of 'wellness', selling people very expensive products and experiences that promise to cleanse and rejuvenate them. Elise was obviously very intelligent, but at first I assumed she was an uncritical part of this world and its ideas. Then something curious happened. In 2020, Elise was seeing people with Covid on the news, and she thought: 'People are actually dying, and I’m inventing reasons to be unhappy with my perfectly healthy body.' It seemed a form of madness. She left Goop and became increasingly outspoken about the whole philosophy of trying to expensively 'fix' your body — warning that, in her view, this leads women not to liberation, but to self-punishment. She doesn't criticise her former employer, but she is one of the most thoughtful critics of the whole way of thinking that is so dominant in Hollywood, and seeps out from there into much of the culture.


Elise told me there's no point going out for dinner with many of her friends any more, because they're on high doses of Ozempic so they have 'no appetite' and 'no interest in food'. These are women who were already slim when they started, and now they are using the drug to 'completely sever their appetite'. She sits there looking at people pick at their food and thinks: 'Why are we even at dinner?' It looks like, to her friends, 'thinness is so much more satisfying than food'. She shook her head. 'That, to me, is not a price I am willing to pay.'

If you want to know the effect this will have, she believes, you only need to look back to the 1990s, when she and I were teenagers. She went to boarding school when she was fifteen, and around that time, there was an abrupt shift in the kind of body that the fashion industry celebrated. In the 1980s, the star supermodels — Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford 'had amazing bodies, but they had, like, bodies', Elise said. 'I'm not saying these women weren't thin, but they didn't look skinny… They were tall. They were women. They were not diminutive little creatures.' Then it all changed. Kate Moss was chosen by the fashion industry as the new look. She had a tiny body and appeared almost prepubescent. Breasts were out; emaciation was in. Soon, every model started to look like a starved child. In the sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, a fashion magazine editor says: 'If the models get any younger, they'll be chucking foetuses down the catwalk.' In the wake of this, Elise and her friends became obsessed with what she calls 'an unnatural skinniness'. They would look at Kate Moss and think 'we were outgrowing her, outpacing her in our size'. So they started to ask: 'How do you stop yourself from becoming a woman?'


She watched as all her closest friends started to 'winnow away'. They became hyper-regulated around food, severely restricting what they ate and compulsively exercising. 'One was a runner, one was a dancer, one was a rower. I just watched their bodies change.' In that environment, Elise became highly conscious about her own body. 'When I got to boarding school, I was a huge eater, and very active. I would, for breakfast, have two bagels with butter and cinnamon sugar on them.' Although she was not overweight, hearing the other girls constantly critique their own thinner bodies for being fat made her think: 'Whoa, you think you’re fat?' She started to cut back on eating dramatically.

When an unhealthy image of thinness is promoted to young women, some of them begin to starve themselves — and that creates pressure on other girls to cut back, and on and on the downward spiral goes. 'It was so contagious,' Elise said, 'it's like a quicksand.' But in the age of Ozempic, 'when I look at Kate Moss now, I think — oh, she looks pretty healthy compared to the models that we see today … Our beauty standards have only become more extreme.' She believes that today 'dieting is out, while "elimination" is in'.


She told me you can’t think about this clearly unless you reflect on the ways in which women are treated differently from men. Men are allowed a broader range of acceptable body types, from 'dad bods' to 'bears'. When men receive pressure to change their bodies, they usually want to become more muscular — which brings its own challenges and can be taken to extremes, but isn't inherently unhealthy like starving yourself is. Women are given much less permission to find their own place in the world — they have been pressured for thousands of years to make themselves small and to suppress their desires. With Ozempic, they are saying: 'I have no hunger. I have no desire. I will keep myself small at any cost. It is the most important thing to me — more than sustaining myself, or keeping myself alive.' It's a form of erasing yourself. 'Killing our appetites,' she warned in an article, 'seems like a type of death.'

After a lifetime of rejecting and tormenting her own body, Elise said she’d had enough. She didn't want a drug that would tame her flesh. She didn’t want to lose her appetite. She decided to live in peace with her body and its longings.

Listen to the full episode below: 

Feature Image: Instagram @johann.hari.

For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email You can also visit their website, here. 

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