The Democratization of Thinness

Across the world, a wonder drug is helping the rich lose weight without the inconvenience of putting in an effort. As a result, Semaglutide, a string of amino acids created by a Danish pharma giant to reduce blood sugar, is democratizing thinness. What was once possible only for people with resolve, lovers of fitness, austere-eaters, the genetically lucky, the vain, and masochists, is now attainable to unremarkable people. In time, as patents expire across the world, the prices of the drug will crash and most people will be able to lose weight in the easiest way the world has yet invented. And we will move closer to a kind of equality that is not talked about often—better health for people who cannot work hard to achieve it, or people who are simply not lucky enough to be born with normal metabolism. Is this sort of equality a good thing? What can ever be bad about equality?

For centuries, democracy had a great reputation, until our times when the democratization of opinions began to accurately reflect human nature. Not everyone enjoys this revelation. But what can be wrong in the leveling of the field in health? What happens when bad genes, gluttony and decadence can go unpunished? What is the consequence of simplification, of something that used to be very difficult becoming easy,

Semaglutide was developed by the pharma major Novo Nordisk as a way to manage diabetes. The drug increases the production of insulin, which in turn reduces blood sugar. A collateral benefit is fat loss. Semaglutide, which is sold under various brand names, is a prescription drug. It is prescribed for obesity too, but widely used unofficially, without prescription, by those who may not be diabetic or obese, but want to look fit, or at least thinner.

There have been weight-loss drugs before, but Semaglutide actually works, according to general medical and user opinion. There are side effects, but so far nothing out of the ordinary when compared to other medicines. It is very expensive, as new superstar drugs tend to be. It is usually injected every week, or had orally everyday. In India, its injections can cost ₹80,000 a month, and the pill can cost ₹10,000 a month. The drug is even more expensive in the West. Yet, there is such strong demand for it that Nova Nordisk is not able to meet it. An odd quality of our times is that the rich are our guinea pigs, and it is they who inform us of new cures and that they are ‘safe.’

But there is ancient wisdom in us that warns us of easy things. Among the people who are very suspicious of Semaglutide are, not surprisingly, those who would not be needing it. They are fit and usually misunderstood as ‘disciplined.’

It is one of our most bogus concepts—that some people can endure a degree of suffering to do the right thing, or, in other words, that some people are ‘disciplined.’ The fit are usually people who are simply lucky enough to enjoy physical exercise and who find it easy to stay away from fast carbs, or who have a strong useful vice, like vanity, that helps them make little sacrifices. Discipline is a name given to private procedures that come easy to some people and is plain suffering for most others. Even most ascetics in history who did painful things were probably aided more by their mental ailments than any resolve.

The fit ask others to be fit because it is in our nature to ask people to be like us, to do what comes easy to us. But the path to fitness makes most people miserable. I know people who start believing in mysterious injuries inside them just to save themselves from exercise, and who manufacture mental trauma just to eat some chocolate. Modern food is a very powerful drug. So maybe it is only fair that the modern world has given us another drug in compensation.

I am trying hard to be compassionate, but lest you mistake me for a wonderful person, I should say I am among the people who believe that there can be no alternative to austere eating and exercise; not just exercise, but vigorous daily exercise. That is the way to be, I want to say, because that is way that comes easy to me. But I am unable to find a clinching argument against decadence. If people love eating, why shouldn’t they simply have a wonder drug? After all, half the world is alive today only because of medicines. I do believe though that what is called longevity today is merely a prolonging of death.

The fit do point out that Semaglutide has to be had forever, so its consumers will have to deal with the side effects forever. But then, people who eat frugally, too, have to do it forever. People who work-out, too, have to do it forever. Exercise has its own adverse side-effects, like injuries. I am just saying that the case against the drug is obvious but not terrifying, at least not terrifying to most people.

There is one argument against it, though. Just 20 years ago, only people who read a lot had access to knowledge. Not all of them were intuitive, so they could not make analytical leaps with it, but still they possessed some information. Today, knowledge can be Googled. Yet, there is a difference between a person who has the foundation of accumulating information the hard way and someone who is able to arrive at the same conclusion using technology. The muscle memory of labour lends depth to people. The muscle memory is in fact our true self. Our true health is not what we appear to be, but what the body knows it has gone through, what the body knows it can endure.

This first appeared in The Mint

(Stay and read other pieces which are not about weight-loss.)

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