When it comes to Novo Nordisk, a significant portion of 2023 has been dedicated to weight loss and obesity.

The mainstream popularity of drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy has turned the Danish drugmaker into a household name in a field that it has focused on for years.

Now, the company is expanding its involvement in the obesity space with a four-part documentary series that premieres on the Sundance channel Wednesday.

Thick Skin follows the lives of four women in Philadelphia as they pursue professional success, face challenging relationships with their parents and search for love. 

While that description may sound echo the narratives of reality TV shows the primary differences are that the series features subjects who are larger women and Novo is backing the effort.

This is not the company’s first foray into changing the conversation around obesity. The ongoing It’s Bigger Than Me campaign, with actress-rapper Queen Latifah as a spokesperson, is perhaps the most visible initiative.  

“We began our efforts addressing the stigma around obesity many years ago,” Yvonne Bryant, senior director, consumer marketing lead at Novo, told MM+M. “We supported initiatives led by the Obesity Action Coalition, the largest patient non-profit advocacy group, such as the Stop Weight Bias campaign. The conversation is shifting, as more people understand that obesity is a chronic, progressive disease, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, that impairs health and requires long-term, holistic approaches to care and treatment.”

To continue to push this shift, Wavemaker Global, which landed the Novo Nordisk account in 2020, looked to go beyond tools like talk-show integrations and more conventional media partnerships in their latest effort. 

Jenna Fidellow, US head of Content at Wavemaker, describes where the agency ended up after conducting a brief from Novo Nordisk and participating in a number of brainstorming sessions.

“We came to a different place where we said, ‘This feels like this is longer form content, this is true storytelling’,” she says. “When we looked at partners that we wanted to collaborate and co-create with, AMC was absolutely top of mind with their content studio. They truly are best in class with the storytelling capabilities that they have and the direct access that they have to producers and innovative storytellers. When we started conversations about a potential partnership, we felt they were the right partner to help us bring this brief to life.”

When AMC was offered the opportunity to create longer-form content that approaches obesity in a more nuanced and less sensationalized way, they saw the project as one that could tap into their strengths. 

“It felt different, special and personal to a lot of the creative team that was working on it in a way that other things that we’ve worked on in the past were not,” Kim Granito, CMO of AMC Networks explains. “We’re a company that tells authentic stories rooted in a diversity of perspectives. Changing perceptions is at the heart of what we do well and it’s why we launched Content Room, our in-house branded entertainment studio. These are the exact types of projects that we love doing. This topic is not only incredibly culturally relevant, it’s also important.” 

To create the series, AMC worked with Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce of 9.14 Pictures in Philadelphia, which helps to explain in part why the program is located there. However, the city’s diversity and high obesity rate also made it an appealing location. 

Casting directors then found the four women who are the stars of the program: Ashley, a baker; Queen, a burlesque performer; Lexi, a singer; and Susanne, who works educating others about obesity bias. 

The program has an immediacy and power that comes from its documentary approach, as viewers are allowed a close look at the struggles of the four women, from judgmental parents to being overlooked on casting calls for not fitting the image of a young ingénue, for example. 

Thick Skin is, however, also features several triumphs. These range from professional accomplishments to more personal moments, including, spoiler alert, a touching marriage proposal.

The feeling of having been invited into the lives of these women is, of course, by design. 

“This was a small verité documentary crew, so the set felt safe and intimate,” Granito says. “There are a lot of things you don’t necessarily plan for coming out of it, but I think the rawness of that is what made this so powerful.”

As the AMC, Wavemaker and Novo teams look forward to the premiere on Wednesday, Fidellow hopes that conversations will follow in its wake, and ideally ones that are grounded in a deeper understanding of the experience of obesity. 

“Content [like this] doesn’t exist. It’s not out there now,” she says. “So the tools, the door opening to allow for this type of dialogue was not open. We feel that this has meaningfully helped to start a conversation, a dialogue, a journey that we’ve all been part of and we’ll continue to be in this space.”

Granito adds her final reflections on the program: “We hope that we have shown every person, regardless of body size, is deserving of empathy and respect. When people feel that respect, they’re able to live their healthiest lives.” 

For an April 2024 article on the Novo Nordisk-supported doc Embodied, which dissects weight stigma and fatphobia, click here.