Jameela Jamil approaches life with what she calls reckless abandon — “I have high hopes but no expectation,” she tells The Call’s Erica Williams Simon — and without shame. She says it’s how she was able to go from English teacher to host of the popular UK television show, Freshly Squeezed. (She met a producer at a pub who suggested she apply to audition, so she did.) That same fearlessness later fueled her move to America with“no idea” what she was doing. And it had to have been what bolstered her through one harrowing journey of an audition (it’s something out of a movie; it also involves a bit of a cautionary tale about mistaking a curling iron for a dildo), that, despite no prior television acting experience, landed her a lead role on the hit NBC show The Good Place.
Her fearlessness extends beyond her career path as an actor, too. Jameela is an outspoken, dedicated activist against hate speech toward women, particularly where bodies and weight are concerned. She started the Instagram campaign “I Weigh” as an antidote to the body positive movement, which she believes has strayed from its original messaging: to uplift women who are discriminated against for their size, color, and/or ability, and has instead become “a manipulative marketing slogan.” She has publicly criticized The Kardashians, and Kim Kardashian in particular, for promoting toxic, unrealistic beauty ideals. Just recently, an interview she did with Channel 4’s Way to Change the World made waves when she expanded upon her issues with The Kardashians and why she thinks it’s important to speak out against women who, as she says in her conversation with Erica, are “double agents for the patriarchy.”
She also speaks about the criticism that she gets for her critiques against other women; societal pressures around female beauty standards; why she’s against airbrushing; and how she’s willing to speak out, loudly, in the name of her beliefs. As she told Erica, she’s ready to “go down in flames” if it means contributing to a greater cause.
“I would like to see women love themselves more. I would like to see less 14-year-olds feel like shit about themselves. And if I can contribute to that in any way then I will have done a good job here. That means so much more to me than a fucking Emmy or whatever else matters in this business.”
Below are a few takeaways from the rest of their conversation, but for the full Jameela Jamil impact, I promise: You’re better off listening.
On Realizing What Mattered to Her Early On in Her Career
I got sick when I was about 29. I was very, very stressed, very unhappy. Someone had found — a doctor had found, not just someone randomly in the street — a doctor had found a lump in my breast, almost like a little ball of what I take as stress. And it was not cancerous but it did wake me up and make me think, “God, what if that had been cancer? What about all the things that I haven’t done? What do I need as a person?” Not how much money do I need, not how many celebrities do I need to be photographed next to. … What will nourish me? What will I want to have done when I look back on my life and I’m on my deathbed?
On Airbrushing (and Those Who’ve Airbrushed Her in the Past)
I was definitely more self-conscious in my twenties and I was under scrutiny constantly. I was doing a little bit of modeling here and there and being airbrushed, and then feeling like I needed to live up to the airbrushed image. Fuck airbrushing. Done with airbrushing. Gonna try and outlaw it everywhere.
… I’d like you to say out loud that you changed the shape and size of the brown woman’s nose in this picture and that you made her thighs longer and you get rid of her cellulite and her stretch marks. … And you made her lighter and you made her hair glossier. It makes me so angry. I’m done with airbrushing. Don’t let anyone airbrush me. I would rather never shoot again. I would rather [not] be shot for anything ever again than allow my image, than allow a fake computerized image of myself to go out into the world that women then see and hold themselves up to a standard that I, myself, have not achieved.
On Patriarchal Beauty Standards
I’m loud and obnoxious on social media about all of these things. I attack people or public institutions that I think are hurting women, very openly and very aggressively. Oh, just stop telling women to not eat. Just stop it. We’ve got to stop telling women to eat less. … You need to not wake up an hour and a half earlier than a man to do your hair and makeup. You need to not spend two hours at the gym. You need to not spend your whole day thinking about your body, thinking about your weight, thinking about your skin. You need to be thinking about how to grow your business, grow your brand, grow your family, grow your internal happiness. … It takes up so much fucking time that I wish there was an app. You know there’s that app now that can chart how long you spend on social media a day? I wish there was an app that showed women how much time they spend every day thinking bad thoughts about themselves and about their aesthetic.
In Response to Those Who Feel Her Critiques of The Kardashians et al. Shame Women for the Choices They Make About Their Own Bodies
I’m not trying to shame anything other than what I consider to be bad behavior by men or women. Men and women, nobody is safe from my criticism if I feel that they are doing something that is hurting women. Just having a vagina doesn’t make you impossible to criticize. I think something that’s been frustrating for me about feminism, the movement of feminism at the moment, is that now you can’t say anything, ever, about a woman, no matter what she’s doing wrong, because she’s a woman and that’s seen as anti-feminist. Feminism is just about equality. Feminism doesn’t mean that no woman ever gets pulled up. Via criticism, I have improved. Via being told that I need to change certain things about myself, I have grown and evolved as a human being. We have to be able to call each other out, as long as it is done with the intention of love. With the intention of good. I’m not saying that they [the Kardashians] look bad. I’m not saying anything or trashy or non-constructive to anyone. … You can look however you want. But don’t sell appetite suppressants to little girls.
… I’m not trying to slut-shame or skinny-shame or fat-shame or surgery-shame anyone. I’m just calling out the bullshit and appealing to these people to grow up and take responsibility and use their platform responsibly.
Why She’s Willing to Go Down in Flames
My thirties has brought me a fearlessness where I’m literally just willing to go down in flames. I’m now just fine to not work in this industry, rather than be someone who contributes to the pain of women.
… I’ve been through a lot in my life and I’ve struggled with a lot of mental health problems as a result of bad behavior by other people unto me and bad examples and being surrounded by toxicity since I was very, very small. I struggled very severely with anxiety and depression in the first ten years of [my career]. Which was kind of brilliant in the end because it showed me that money and fame and success don’t make you happier. They don’t cover any of your cuts and bruises.
… I now feel passionately about finding a way for other women to feel the way that I feel now. I have managed to rid myself of all of the resounding shame that I had and all of the pain and all of the self-hatred has all gone from me now. … I fully love and respect myself and I want to help other women get to that stage and I can see everything that got me there. A lot of it was shame-based. And now, I’m obsessed with shame and ridding women of it because I’ve seen the darkest point of where that can take you to.
On Protecting Herself With What She Calls the “Fuck Shit Detox”
… I’ve unfollowed anyone that I find triggering in any way on social media. If they make me feel bad about my lifestyle, unfollow. If you make me feel bad about my skin or about my body, I unfollow. If I feel like you are promoting something shallow that makes me feel bored, or belittled, or … sad about where women are in the world, I unfollow. I think that is very important to remember that you are in control of what you see. … If certain women’s magazines trigger you and make you feel bad about yourself and make you focus on your body or like, how to please a man, and that makes you feel detached from yourself, don’t buy those magazines. You have to really protect yourself. I really bubble myself from what I allow in. Even friends who talk all the time about their weight and their image all the time, I’ve distanced myself from. Because I don’t want to hear that. I’ve distanced myself from people who behave badly to me. I call it the Fuck Shit Detox. And it’s how I live my life.
Photographed by Edith Young at the Sculpture Garden of the Crosby Street Hotel.