Virgie Tovar is a fat activist. She’s advocated for body diversity for over a decade, written books that include You Have the Right to Remain Fat and spoken out against weight-based discrimination. But in 2023, she started receiving emails about business opportunities that don't align with her work's mission. These messages were pitching partnerships with clinics providing weight-loss drugs and offering Tovar money to go on a weight-loss journey.
“It didn’t even start to register as a phenomenon. I thought it was just spam,” Tovar tells Yahoo Life of receiving the first few Ozempic-related offers last year. “I deleted probably four or five before I started to realize that this is like a deluge."
This Tuesday, Tovar decided to speak out about the messages she had been receiving by posting a simple message to her Instagram feed. In her post, she holds up a piece of paper that reads: “I don’t want Ozempic."
“Throughout 2023 and now in 2024 I have been offered free Ozempic for weight loss by influencer marketing companies and others,” she wrote in the post’s caption. “I know I'm not the only one.”
Ahead, Tovar and other plus-size influencers share how stakeholders in the weight-loss drug boom have reached out to them — and why they're resisting.
Where influencer marketing and weight-loss drugs come together
Sarah Chiwaya, a plus-size blogger and consultant, is no stranger to receiving pitches for partnerships around diet and weight loss. She tells Yahoo Life that she’s been messaged by agencies touting related products or programs for years. She's noticed an even larger push for modern GLP-1 medications and the hoopla surrounding them.
“I got the first paid semaglutide [the active ingredient in medications like Ozempic and Wegovy] partnership offer in September 2023 from a marketing company called Patient Acquisition, and I've received multiple a month from various agencies ever since,” she says, noting that several offers might arrive in her inbox in a single day.
Posting to her Instagram Stories on Jan. 22, Ash Pryor, a plus-size Peloton instructor, shared a screenshot of an email that she had received with an offer of the same nature. "Would you be interested in a $1,500 FREE service for semaglutide/tirzepatide weight-loss treatment in exchange for up to two reels and two stories per month?" the email, whose sender she omitted, read. "F*** all the way off!" Pryor wrote on the post.
Tovar showed Yahoo Life a total of five emails from a marketing assistant at Patient Acquisition. While the wording differs across a few of the messages, they each include an offer for a free weight-loss service in exchange for content. The highest value offer Tovar received was $2,000.
“We help wellness clinics find local creators just like you!” reads one email dated Oct. 3, 2023. “They really just want to find active profiles like yours, who are open to sharing their wellness journey with their followers and documenting the process.”
Although semaglutide and tirzepatide aren’t named in the initial emails from Patient Acquisition, the agency’s Instagram account displays videos from creators who have partnered with the brand to share their weight-loss journeys on either of the medications. Yahoo Life reached out to a few of those creators and hasn't heard back.
Daniel Walton, the agency’s founder, tells Yahoo Life that there was a unique opportunity to lean into influencer marketing as the drugs became more popular.
“Pretty much every [wellness or aesthetics clinic] is trying to offer weight loss now. It's like the hottest thing that's hit the internet. So once all these celebrities kind of went public with getting on Ozempic, it just really blew up in the last like 13, 14 months,” he says.
The biggest issue, according to Walton, is that people interested in taking weight-loss medications don’t know how to get access to them and might even end up at clinics that are “cutting corners” or not providing proper dosages. Patient Acquisition aims to work with “legit providers that have good sources, good doctors and that are providing safe medication,” he says. “That's kind of the whole purpose with the influencer marketing, is to make people aware that it's a safe solution.”
And according to him, the agency is looking at creators whose brands align with these types of campaigns.
"These influencers have oftentimes considered the medication or they're on the medication, so we're just getting them to go public," he says. "We really want campaign alignment, and overall influencer alignment with people who would either benefit from the weight loss or one of the other [aesthetic] services."
While Tovar has received numerous emails from this agency — and others, like Aspire, which is working with Ro Body Program: Ozempic & Wegovy — she sees no alignment.
"I don’t cover weight loss. I cover weight discrimination," she says. "That’s where it starts to feel a little bit like targeting."
Why size-inclusive activists are speaking out
The push of weight-loss medications toward those who are outspoken about body diversity and inclusion is the latest attempt to undermine the work that they have put into the body positivity movement for so many years, according to plus-size male model Zach Miko.
While he has yet to receive offers for weight-loss drugs, he tells Yahoo Life that he's been presented with "fully compensated" fat removal procedures in the past. He's not surprised by the recent propositions being sent to his peers.
"I find that these companies are targeting the people most outspoken about body acceptance in hopes of converting or silencing us. These offers are attempting to undo decades of work, growth and self-love," says Miko. "The weight-loss industry is a multibillion-dollar industry that will go belly up if people love themselves."
Tovar shares a similar perspective.
"It just feels [the weight-loss industry] is like, by any means necessary, we are going to change your body, we are going to take the money out of your pocket or we're gonna pay you to do it," she says. "It speaks to the fact that there’s this fundamental belief that there's no world in which I don't want to be thin."
Most importantly, activists like Tovar want people to know that they maintain the right to exist in their bodies in whatever way they want, even among the mass promotion of options that comply with the thin ideal.
"Right now, it feels like there's no dissenting voice in this conversation. And so I think what I'm just hoping for is that there's just someone who's holding it down," says Tovar of continuing to be a voice for body diversity. "I'm thinking of the people who really are tired of living with feeling like they have to take drugs or live their entire life in order to become a thin person. Whatever we can do to remind them that, yes, there are still people who, even with [the existence of] Ozempic, still believe in body diversity and still believe in the right that people have to not live with food restriction and mandated medication because of fatphobia."