Our March 2020 cover star, British actress Jameela Jamil, could be satisfied starring in hit television shows, walking multiple red carpets and basking in the glow of celebrity, but she is not.
A rising star, thanks to her role in NBC’s The Good Place, alongside Ted Danson and Kristen Bell (the show airs on Netflix in Singapore), Jameela has also taken on a side job, that of an outspoken activist who wants the world to know that girls and women have more to offer than just their beauty.
Fed up with societal expectations, the Indian-Pakistani starlet started a movement called “I Weigh” in 2018 through an Instagram account, where she encourages women to post images of themselves and reveal how much they weigh – not in kilos – but in qualities they are proud of, such as being a good friend, a loving sister, a hard worker, and so on.
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“I hadn’t actually intended to start a movement. I just posted something in retaliation against pictures of famous women with their weight written across their bodies,” admits the 33-year-old.
“I feel like we’ve come too far as a gender to be measured in this way. So, I wrote down what I weigh, but I wrote it in achievements, and my metrics weren’t pounds and kilos. They were my financial independence, my activism, my relationships – everything that I survived.”
Her body positivity message that each of us is perfect the way we are, and that we need to stop body shaming one another, resonated with women across the world. The account now has more than a million followers who measure themselves by a totally different set of criterion.
“I weigh the sum of all of my parts, not a measly number on a scale that fits a patriarchal expectation of me,” asserts Jameela. “And by doing that I just received a huge global response, and we had literally hundreds of thousands of people write in, wanting to join in and do the same thing and wanting to say what they weigh.
“I met one young 17-year-old who told me that before ‘I Weigh’, she didn’t know she was supposed to love herself, and that is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard because that’s what we’ve trained young girls to do, which is to hate themselves. That’s all we teach them how to do. We never teach them to be proud of anything. We only teach them to obsess over their aesthetics.”
Obsessing over one’s looks comes with the territory when you’re in the spotlight. However, Jameela is one of the few public figures who peels back the shiny veneer of being a celebrity by revealing the sometimes ugly but genuine parts of being human.
I weigh the sum of all my parts, not a measly number on a scale that fits a patriarchal expectation of meJameela Jamil
She’s shared all her struggles on her Instagram where no topic, no matter how difficult, are off-limits. Jameela has opened up about her breast cancer scare, her mental health struggle and her experience with eating disorders and body dysmorphia. The latter being a big part of the reason why she fiercely advocates for body neutrality.
“I kept seeing very toxic messaging all over social media, and I wanted to create a safe space not only for myself but for young people who are currently as vulnerable as I once was when I was younger and exposed to toxicity. I wanted to fight back against a society that shames us to make us consume things that we don’t need,” she explains.
Jameela openly criticises celebrities who promote unhealthy body image or diet products on social media. She made headlines two years ago for lashing out at Kim Kardashian for promoting an “appetite suppressant lollipop” on Instagram, calling her “irresponsible” and a “toxic influence”. Kim later removed the post.
“I genuinely think we’ve changed the way that people see diet culture, and it’s no longer seen as just the norm. We’ve started to realise how devious and disconcerting it is and how much it preys on us and manipulates us, and I feel very proud to be a part of that,” says the actress.
Cutting Through The Fat
It’s easy to make sweeping statements about what needs to change when you look as naturally gorgeous as Jameela does. In fact, she’s faced major backlash for it on social media platofrms like Twitter with commentators saying she uses body positivity as a self-branding tactic. However, the actress really was a product of relentless bullying that crippled her sense of self-worth growing up.
“I was a chubby kid. I’m also a woman of colour. I was also disabled as a teenager [after a car accident],” she reveals. “So, yeah, my life has been a world of no’s that turned into yes’s in my 20s because I walked into privilege, and therefore, was afforded all these opportunities that the same human being wasn’t, just because I looked different.”
What she doesn’t want is for girls and young women to ever feel the way she felt based solely on her looks. While she acknowledges that it’s a huge task, Jameela is hopeful that the conversation she’s started around shame and body image will continue to make a difference.
“We need to start educating young people about nutrition, the dangers of diet products and the dangers of dieting,” says Jameela. “We need to get that education in schools. We need to get parents to understand how to teach their children properly about diet, weight, and fatphobia. We need to stop parents from being fat-phobic about themselves and about their children.”
Text: Jennifer Adams/Famous
Additional reporting: Natalya Molok
Photos: Martin Schoeller/AUGUST & TPG News