From the 90s ‘anything bigger than a size 8 is fat’ era to the now reign of the Kardashians, the media has had the body image of women and feminine-presenting people in a chokehold. Now, there is another dangerous method on the rise: Apetamin.
During the Keeping Up With The Kardashians 2021 reunion special, the infamous family was asked by Andy Cohen whether they feel responsible for promoting an unattainable beauty standard. Now, we all know the real answer, duh… they obviously are. But of course they denied this statement. In a response that angered the internet, “No, I don’t,” Kim Kardashian replied. “Because I think we get up, we do the work. We work out.”
Kendall Jenner added to her sister’s response, “We all really enjoy taking care of ourselves and being healthy, so I think if anything, the only thing we’re really trying to represent is just being the most healthy version of yourself.” This seems ironic, not only because of the family’s obvious history of heavily editing their photos but also the disturbingly lengthy timeline of promoting unhealthy and dangerous methods of weight loss. From appetite suppressant lollipops to ‘skinny teas’ the evidence is there.
Khloe Kardashian, perhaps most guilty of the above, disturbed and angered fans after comments that were made in a conversation with Jay Shetty, “I can’t stand people that are like eating a bucket of Häagen-Dazs ice cream and they are like ‘I am so fat’ and they won’t work out, they won’t change their diet, they won’t drink more water.”
With a history of promoting ‘skinny teas’, heavily photoshopped images and eventually admitting to a nose job at the reunion, many pointed out the hypocrisy of her statement—labelling her a fat-shamer. Kardashian also got into hot water over her response to an image that surfaced of her ‘real’ body.
More insidiously, the critical understanding of race is at play; the valid accusations of blackfishing are stacked against the family. These same features that are fetishised and adorned on white bodies are then sold back as insecurities to those same women of colour. The Kardashians’ role in creating a harmful and unattainable beauty standard has arguably bred a world of dangerous and unregulated methods to achieve this body.
Common definitions of yet another new patriarchal trend of women’s bodies is described as ‘slim thick’, an hourglass figure that involves having a ‘snatched’ waist, fatphobic flat stomach, large breasts and of course a big bum. Now, much like the eating disorders developed from the 90s and 00s, people are turning to dangerous methods to ‘get the look’. Enter the drug Apetamin.
Most people can’t afford the infamously dangerous surgery called the ‘Brazilian Butt Lift’ (BBL): the world’s fastest-growing cosmetic procedure which involves a surgical fat transfer from another part of the body into the butt. The pressure to achieve this expensive ‘slim thick’ look has left people getting cheap surgeries abroad (with many dying as a result) and now, using unregulated drugs.
Apetamin is an unlicensed drug in both the US and UK which has recently taken the internet by storm—widely available to be purchased online, the drug has been promoted by influencers online as a means to achieve a non-surgical BBL effect. Dazed reported in May 2021 that “there are 11 million views on the Apetamin hashtag on TikTok and countless Instagram accounts dedicated to the drug.” However, as of Screen Shot’s reports, the hashtag is nowhere to be seen, with TikTok justifying its removal of the phrase under “behaviour or content that violates our guidelines.”
In an attempt to wipe promotion of the substance off the web, senior health leaders from NHS England wrote a letter to Instagram chief Adam Mosseri that read, “We are writing regarding the unlicensed and dangerous drug Apetamin, which is promoted on your platform and could result in serious harm to any individual who takes it.” It continued, “This substance is consumed as a supplement, to foster a specific body image and shape, deemed to be desirable by some high-profile influencers, and predominantly targeted at younger women and girls.”
It seems to have worked as the hashtag for the drug on Instagram has also been removed since. While investigating the substance, Buzzfeed made a number of inquiries to Amazon (which, you guessed it, sold the product) and YouTube, which hosted a number of videos of users detailing their experience with the drug. The publication’s inquiries led to the product being removed and the videos taken down. So why is it so dangerous?
Apetamin, which is produced by TIL Healthcare—an Indian pharmaceutical company—is promoted as a substance that will stimulate your appetite. In other words, its aim is to help you gain weight. Containing an ingredient called cyproheptadine hydrochloride—a prescription-only (in the UK and US) antihistamine used to treat allergies—Apetamin is not regulated or approved for safe consumption by neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
While speaking to gal-dem, registered dietician Tai Ibitoye explained that it works by “block[ing] histamine receptors so that the chain reaction that causes the symptoms of allergies is stopped. The potential side-effect of this particular antihistamine is increased appetite and weight gain.” The illegal import of these products has put many women at risk, more specifically black women.
As someone with a severe nut allergy, I’ve had a history with strong antihistamine epipens and let me tell you, it’s no joke. Those who have used Apetamin have reported a number of serious side-effects including severe drowsiness and weakness, nausea, tremors and shaking, blurred vision, heart complications, liver failure and some even fell into a coma. I can personally attest to some of these symptoms.
In a BBC Three documentary released in April 2021, Dangerous Curves: Get Thicc, Get Sick?, Altou Mvuama disclosed her mother’s coma experience with Apetamin. Another previous user of the drug, Jahnelle Owusu, told Buzzfeed she wanted to attain a “womanly figure.” After six bottles she had gained 60 pounds but developed severe swelling around her lower joints and extreme fatigue. “It’s not fatigue as in you’re just tired—it literally puts you to sleep,” she stated.
YouTuber AshaGrand also claimed in the documentary that Apetamin had caused her to fall asleep at the wheel of her car, causing a terrible car crash that almost took her life. It goes without saying, but do not take this drug—not just because of its dangerous side-effects but more so because you do not have to go to those measures to change your appearance in the first place.
We have to free ourselves from this Kardashian chokehold and breathe a body neutral reality again.
Remember the term ‘thigh gap’, which refers to the space some people have between their inner thighs when standing upright with their feet touching? Around 2013, the whole world (and Tumblr) went crazy for it—leading many individuals to consider it a special feature of physical attractiveness and physical fitness in women.
Among teenage girls mostly, the thigh gap had become a beauty ideal, which in turn led them to resort to extreme dieting or even surgery in order to try to obtain it. Little did we know that the thigh gap is a physiognomic feature natural only for women with a certain type of body shape and bone structure—one that most women do not have. Attempts to attain the unattainable ideal resulted in a myriad of problems like low self-esteem and even eating disorders.
But things didn’t stop there. In 2014, another harmful body image trend appeared online: the bikini bridge. Defined as “when bikini bottoms are suspended between the two hip bones, causing a space between the bikini and the lower abdomen,” the trend originated in the US in January, when a user on the /b/ section on the imageboard 4chan made up a parody of popular ‘thinspiration’ memes through the launch of ‘Operation Bikini Bridge’.
According to a posting on the website, users intended to spread content across social media regarding bikini bridges as a joke. It was quickly reported on by US television programme Today on 7 January. Several commentators critiqued the posts for displaying insensitivity or being “dangerous” for women with an eating disorder. But that didn’t help much, teenagers had already switched their thigh gap obsession for the bikini bridge.
Urban Dictionary defines thinspiration, also shortened to thinspo, as a term “used by people suffering from eating disorders to help keep them inspired. The idea behind thinspo is that it helps motivate and inspire you to lose weight and become or stay thin.” Thinspo usually consists of photos of unhealthily skinny people—sometimes even taking the forms of celebrities who have lost a great deal of weight. But thinspo can also be anything besides just photos. Book quotes, song lyrics, films…you name it.
Although thigh gaps were first celebrated as physical attributes denoting attractiveness in women because of our society’s harmful beauty standards and obsession with thinness, the bikini bridge was initially introduced as thinspiration propaganda. It goes without saying that both have had an incredibly toxic impact on those who were exposed to such unrealistic standards.
It exploded online, and Tumblr pages as well as Instagram accounts dedicated to either showcasing the bikini bridge or denouncing it flooded social media platforms. The bikini bridge became mainstream and 4chan’s little experiment proved to be a horrifying success.
Trends such as thinspiration and fitspiration provide insight into the darker side of how social media shape attitudes to women’s bodies. However, what was less understood at the time is how body ideals are communicated through social media and what makes them gain traction.
The Conversation went on a mission to analyse the viral spread of the bikini bridge and identified four factors that contributed to its notoriety. Firstly, it was introduced as a ‘simple’, singular body goal: the term ‘bikini bridge’ offered catchy mass appeal as something that users could strive to achieve.
Secondly, it didn’t really matter if the notion of a bikini bridge was real or fake—it was believable as it drew on innate cultural beliefs about how a woman’s body should look. Thirdly, the bikini bridge was accelerated by other online communities, such as pro-anorexia groups and online pornographers, who leveraged its hashtag to spread their own harmful messages.
And finally, online users helped further spread the bikini bridge trend by voicing conflicting opinions about it—creating a very public conversation. The phenomenon caught on quickly because it reflected the cultural expectations placed on women’s bodies and what was seen as culturally valuable.
Of course, the idea of beauty is constantly evolving as whom we deem ‘beautiful’ is a reflection of our values. Today, it’s more inclusive than ever, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more work left to be done. Just as it’s helped so many of these toxic trends grow, social media has also proved to be a great help in amplifying the voices of minority communities, so that their calls for representation can’t be so easily ignored.
The new definition of beauty is being written by a selfie generation: people who are the cover stars of their own narrative. Beauty is shifting into political correctness, cultural enlightenment, and social justice instead of thigh gaps and bikini bridges.