Jameela Jamil is hardly a recognized household name in America—but she is well on her way to becoming one. Jamil is an actress most known for her role as Tahani Al-Jamil in The Good Place. She has recently caused a stir in the media by championing the portrayal of women for their talent rather than their appearance. Jamil is a British actress, model and activist originally from London, England. When she was a child, Jamil suffered from anorexia nervosa and has spoken about not eating a single full meal between the ages of 14 and 17. Jamil attributes her eating disorder to the narratives presented in the media. “There were never any women who were celebrated for their intellect, they’re not given any attention in the press,” Jamil said. “I wasn’t reading about wonderful astronauts or scientists, or great musicians. I was just seeing highly sexualized pop stars who were very, very skinny on my TV, or I was seeing skeletal actresses whose weight was obsessively spoken about. All of my magazines were selling weight-loss products, or telling me to be thin, otherwise I wasn’t worth anything.”
Fifteen years ago Jamil was involved in a tragic car accident that nearly left her unable to walk. However, this encounter with paralysis pushed Jamil to change her relationship with her body. Following this accident Jamil not only began vocalizing disability awareness in the media, but also demonstrating her stance on body positivity. She hopes to encourage women to see themselves as more than their body by celebrating their talents and achievements instead. “I want to take back the control of what women are valued as and move entirely away from the conversation. I want to hear about and see what women are doing. Are we traveling? Are we loving? Are we studying? Are we succeeding? Are we running around after children? Are we growing emotionally?” Jamil said in an article she wrote about body representation, specifically as demonstrated on social media.
As a step to encourage this type of media representation, Jamil started an Instagram account under the handle @i_weigh. This account highlights weighing one another in achievements rather than pounds. In acknowledging that women are more than their bodies and portraying this on mass media, Jamil is working toward a more inclusive environment—an environment where she claims that fat-phobia is equated to hate speech. The Instagram page currently boasts over 270,000 followers and features posts sent to Jamil via direct message. Each post highlights what users weigh themselves as with text such as “Strong”, “Anxiety Warrior”, “Fast Learner” and “Feminist”. These posts encourage women to find self-worth in what is unique about them. With the success of her instagram page, Jamil recently announced that she would be transfering the page, and thereby the “I Weigh” campaign, into a company.
In addition to starting her own company, Jamil has recently been involved in a media uproar regarding her criticism of other celebrities’ product promotions. She has called out celebrities such as Cardi B and Khloe Kardashian for using detox tea, which she claims exists to sell fantasies of perceived perfection. Instead of striving for perfection, Jamil wants women to focus on their experiences and disengage from comparing themselves to others. However, she has not been a stranger to critics herself. Internet debates arose when critics began taking issue with Jamil’s possible anti-feminist language in diminishing the power of women who choose to promote certain products.
Despite the criticism she has received on both sides of the argument, Jamil stands strong as a feminist activist. She is a proponent of equality, seeing women as more than their bodies and encouraging people of all types to be proud of who they are. She strives to change the way media portrays women—focusing on achievement rather than physical appearance. Whether you believe Jamil is in the right or wrong, it is clear that she is a woman with a bold voice speaking for what she believes in. She is inspiring and challenges media users to review the material they are consuming. Have we had enough of appearance-based self-worth? Are we ready to take a stand and weigh ourselves through experiences rather than pounds? Jamil certainly is.
If you would like to listen to more about Jamil’s story, check out the Girl Boss podcast on Spotify.