Why we felt she needed to be included in this list: Jameela Jamil is a body neutrality activist and is well known for battling it out on social media, especially against popular diet products and fads.
Jameela Jamil is on a mission and no one can stop her. The Good Place actress may earn a living in Hollywood, but that doesn’t mean she’s willing to go along with their rules, especially when it comes to women’s bodies.
Jamil, born in London, England, to an Indian father and Pakistani mother, struggled with anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphia as a teenager. Having not menstruated for three years because she was starving to fit into an ideal, Jamil says she hadn’t eaten a full meal between the ages of 14 and 17. Nothing in her life, including her academics, scholarships or her many talents, mattered or made her good enough if she didn’t weigh six and a half stone (or 91 pounds).
We’re seeing statistically the highest rates of teenage suicide, eating disorders, self-harm, and cosmetic surgery. We’re in an epidemic of self-hatred for young people in particular. And they’re the future.
After modelling for a short period (where she was encouraged to smoke, eat only red peppers, and carry a small bag of sweetener around for when she felt faint to avoid full meals), Jamil credits being hit by a car at 17 to giving her a new perspective and saving her life. She broke several bones and damaged her spine, and was told that she might never walk again. After steroid treatment and physiotherapy she slowly recovered but the trauma made her appreciate her body in a whole new way. She spent the next 10 years recovering from her anorexia and her insecurities and is now creating a platform to raise awareness about the impact of unhealthy cultural norms around women and their bodies.
Jamil, having previously worked as an English teacher, a model, photographer, fashion scout, and a radio and TV host in the U.K., moved to Los Angeles in 2016 after a breast cancer scare at the age of 29 in search of work as a DJ or radio show host. Although she had no acting experience, her agent sent her to an audition for the comedy The Good Place, directed by Mike Schur, co-creator of Parks and Recreation. She got the role and has since played the role of Tahani Al-Jamil, an obnoxious English socialite famous for her tasteful fashion and tendency to name drop, alongside Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. When she’s not filming, Jamil has dedicated herself to shedding light on unhealthy diet fads and fighting against celebrity-promoted diet products.
A critic of diet shakes and eating suppressant products, Jamil has shared that as a teenager she starved herself and took laxatives and tips from celebrities on how to maintain a low weight. In 2018, she launched I Weigh, an Instagram account dedicated to encouraging women to look past the flesh on their bones and see how amazing and valuable they are. The account invites followers to submit non-edited selfies with the hashtag #iweigh, with text describing the things they feel grateful for or proud of. In part for this work, she was named on BBC’s 100 Women 2018: The Trailblazing Women We Should All Get To Know.
This year, she also started an online petition calling on social media platforms to restrict promotion of unhealthy diet products. The petition was signed by 240,000 people and ultimately, compelled Instagram and Facebook to change their policies on diet product promotions.
I’ll never have the last 20 years of my life back, in which I suffered from an eating disorder, because of how society abuses women around their aesthetic. So I’ll be damned if I’m going to have a huge following on Instagram and this big shiny show and all this privilege — and not do something to protect people from what I went through as a child.Forbes
Known for being outspoken, Jamil has unabashedly called out celebrities like the Kardashians and Cardi B for promoting diet suppressants and laxative tea products for weight loss. She was quick to tweet about the irony that she started the I Weigh movement in a post defending the Kardashians (saying they shouldn’t be reduced to nothing more than a number on a weighing scale) and then they spent the next year flogging weight loss products and rhetoric.
This past September, when she was invited to give a speech at a UN women’s conference, She began by scolding diplomats sitting at the back who were talking over the speakers — asking them to be quiet on a night in which incredible women were being honoured and pointing out that women have been spoken over for long enough. She was also one of the 15 women selected to appear on the cover of the September 2019 issue of British Vogue, Forces for Change, by guest editor Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
The actress-activist recently argued with Victoria’s Secret Angel Sara Sampaio on Twitter over the treatment of young models and the crazy standards set by the fashion industry, and says she receives a lot of backlash for her opinions. Luckily, she doesn’t mind being disliked and warns people on her Twitter page: “I respond to abuse publicly, so don’t start fights that you can’t finish.”
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