Jameela Jamil has become known for her sass both on-screen, as Tahani in The Good Place, and IRL, where she identifies herself as a, “feminist-in-progress.” The British actor has long spoken out against unfair body standards; her body-positive initiative, I Weigh, encourages her followers to measure themselves by what makes them unique and valuable instead of by numbers on a scale. While we stan a feminist queen—and more body positivity is always needed—even our feminist idols can falter.
Over the weekend, Jamil made headlines with a series of social media posts and a personal essay that took aim at airbrushing. In an article for the BBC, the actor called for airbrushing in magazines to be made illegal, calling it a “disgusting tool that has been weaponised, […] against women.” Recalling her own experience with an eating disorder as a teenager, Jamil said she knows firsthand how damaging these “perfect” images can be. She also called for a boycott of airbrush and editing apps. “I would like to put airbrushing in the bin. I want it gone. I want it out of here,” she wrote. Comparing the depictions of men and women on magazine covers—think George Clooney being considered a “silver fox” while Sandra Bullock is praised for being eternally ageless—Jamil asked why women aren’t given the same allowance to be themselves, wrinkles, spots and all. “It is anti-feminist. It is ageist. It is fat-phobic. It looks weird. It looks wrong. It’s robbing you of your time, money, comfort, integrity and self worth,” Jamil wrote. “Delete the apps and unfollow those who are complicit in this crime against our gender.”
Then, she took to Instagram the same day, where she shared a photo of herself with a caption that said, “Say no to airbrushing. Pores and lines and spots and dry lips are something kids need to see so they don’t grow up thinking there is something f-cking wrong with them. I want to look like a person, not an emoji…”
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Say no to airbrushing. Pores and lines and spots and dry lips are something kids need to see so they don’t grow up thinking there is something fucking wrong with them. I want to look like a person, not an emoji. Thanks for never retouching me @selashiloniphoto ps. I’m aware I still have fairly clear skin these days. But it’s sad to know a magazine would 100 percent blur all of my little lines and “imperfections” because they would see this as “offputting” because they don’t like human beings.
Which all sounds great. But social media followers were perplexed by Jamil’s execution, especially the part where the image that accompanied her Instagram caption was a seriously gorge, obviously professionally taken, and TBH pretty flawless photo (this definitely wasn’t a #wokeuplikethis moment). Although Jamil made sure to specify that the photo was un-retouched, it still felt… really out of touch?
can't believe y'all give jameela jamil and those bangs a platform. goodbye
— SadeVEVO (@fillegrossiere) December 2, 2018
i have kept my mouth shut about Jameela Jamil for a while but i would prefer it if she got a journal or a locked alt
— tom schwartz’s transition lenses (@rachelmillman) December 2, 2018
But this isn’t the first time Jamil has seemingly taken on the role of crusader—or saviour—without acknowledging the nuances at play or the work of the women who came before her. She made these comments only a few weeks after she called out celebrities like Cardi B, Khloé Kardashian and Iggy Azalea for promoting detox teas to their followers in order to “snap back” post-baby or obtain a “fit” bod.
Responding to a November 23 Insta post by the “Bodak Yellow” rapper—in which Bardi talks about her love for Teami Blends—Jamil took to Twitter to express her dismay, tweeting: “They got Cardi on the laxative nonsense ‘detox’ tea. GOD I hope all these celebrities all shit their pants in public, the way the poor women who buy this nonsense upon their recommendation do. Not that they actually take this shit. They just flog it because they need MORE MONEY.”
They got Cardi B on the laxative nonsense “detox” tea. GOD I hope all these celebrities all shit their pants in public, the way the poor women who buy this nonsense upon their recommendation do. Not that they actually take this shit. They just flog it because they need MORE MONEY pic.twitter.com/OhmTjjWVOp
— Jameela Jamil (@jameelajamil) November 24, 2018
Then, in the shade of all shades, Jamil followed up her post with a video on the ’gram, which spilled the, ahem, tea on what she says are the *real* effects of those detox teas—and it’s anything but pretty.
And let’s not forget that The Good Place actor had previously called out another appetite-suppressant aficionado—Kim Kardashian West—decrying the reality TV screen queen for her promotion of Flat Tummy Co lollipops in May.
Let’s be clear, using laxative or appetite-suppressants to lose weight is not healthy, and can sometimes be very dangerous. It’s definitely *not* something we stand behind. But when it comes to Jamil’s crusades against the celebs who promote them and her opposition to airbrushing, her stance (and her timing) seems extremely dated. We already know that detox teas are harmful. Body positive activists have been talking about—and working towards eradicating—them for years. But it doesn’t seem like Jamil has been paying attention. As writer Lara Witt said in a 13-tweet thread: “So much of what Jameela J is doing or saying seems very much like she hasn’t made the effort to see who is working on the issues she cares about. She lacks the critical analysis already explored by others and ends up harming people (see her anti-Blackness).”
So much of what Jameela J is doing or saying seems very much like she hasn’t made the effort to see who is working on the issues she cares about. She lacks the critical analysis already explored by others and ends up harming people (see her anti-Blackness).
— Lara Witt (@Femmefeministe) December 3, 2018
In the same thread, Witt wrote, “The whole photoshop issue now seems old(?) and her reaction to it ignores her own privilege in terms of her own appearance and also misunderstands how her solution harms women.”
After receiving pretty much internet-wide acclaim for calling the Kardashians “double agents of the patriarchy” in an August interview with Channel 4 News, it feels like Jamil is now trying capitalize on that attention and make feminism a part of her brand.
In addition to feeling somewhat dated, as Witt touches on in her tweet, Jamil’s comments are extremely out-of-touch. While it’s not our place to decide or discredit how she may feel about her own body and physical appearance, her comments re: airbrushing and detox teas fail to acknowledge her own privilege, as someone who already has what’s often considered the “ideal” body type, something several Twitter users pointed out.
— 𝕤𝕙𝕖𝕣𝕖𝕖𝕟 (@shereeny) December 2, 2018
This isn’t something new—or specific to Jamil. Riverdale actor Lili Reinhart has spoken out about her own issues within the body positivity movement, specifically her own body dysmorphia and the backlash she has faced for talking about her insecurity while seemingly having an “ideal” body. That’s not to say Reinhart or Jamil don’t have legitimate insecurities—of course they do! As plus-sized activist Denise Bidot said in an interview with Mic, “Body positivity is not exclusive to a size. Body positivity shows that you can be perfect and beautiful, and [thinner women] should be empowered by it.” But recognizing their privilege within the body positivity movement is important—as is acknowledging the individuals who paved the way: plus-size women.
Look, being a feminist is hard—especially when you’re a woman of colour. It’s easy, and sometimes almost inevitable, that you will be held to a higher standard than some of your non-minority counterparts, something Jamil herself acknowledges. But her recent comments, including the way she positions the Kardashians as detrimental to women, have highlighted the hypocrisy in Jamil’s own feminism. (The hypocrisy isn’t new either, btw. Back in 2013, she criticized the imagery in Beyoncé’s self-titled 2013 visual album, saying it was just too overtly sexual, a.k.a. slut-shaming Queen B.)
Jameela Jamil is one of those people who says yassss body positivity but then shares a meme about how Skinny Chicks Should Eat A Sandwich
— Hilary Hagerman (@HilaryHagerman) December 3, 2018
In much the same way that Latina actor Gina Rodriguez was called out for her lack of critical analysis when it comes to pay inequity within Hollywood, Jamil’s critiques don’t take into account systems of oppression that come into play when women like the Kardashians push detox teas. Yes, we an absolutely critique them for capitalizing on a damaging beauty ideal—but we can’t act as if they are solely responsible for that ideal. They’re cogs in a deeply problematic machine, one that existed pre-KUWTK and, sadly, will likely linger on well after the show stops airing.
“Jameela Jamil’s feminism is toxic because she is content to pick at women, low hanging fruit when the real work would be to challenge the socio-political systems and corporations whose work started long before the stars of today and will continue long after” https://t.co/ic3Cot73eL
— DanielléDASH GIFLord (@DanielleDASH) September 27, 2018
As British writer Danielle Dash writes in her (seriously great) analysis of Jamil’s brand of feminism, she “must recognise [sic] that if Kim Kardashian is a ‘double agent for the patriarchy’ then so is she. If your feminist activism cannot exist without denigrating other women did you really wash and season your chicken before putting it on the grill? If your feminism is exclusionary, start again and come correct. This ain’t it.”