Jameela Jamil's good looks are irrelevant – what she's saying matters

Jameela Jamil is an actress and television presenter, most recently appearing in the hit Netflix comedy The Good Place alongside Kristen Bell and Ted Danson.

She's also a dedicated body positivity activist; running a social media movement entitled 'I Weigh' to encourage young women to denounce society's intense focus on appearances. It's part of an effort to reduce the number of eating disorders being diagnosed around the world, similar to the one that affected her as a teenager.

She is also, objectively, physically beautiful – tall, slim, with long flowing hair and a gorgeous face. This is the part of Jamil that seems to rub people up the wrong way.

Social media

This month, Jamil has been hitting the headlines more than usual and it's all down to her social media. Last week, the actress called out celebrities who have participated in the Instagram trend of promoting so-called 'detox teas'; calling the products "laxative nonsense" and saying she hoped these celebrities (including Cardi B and Khloe Kardashian) would "shit their pants in public, the way the poor women who buy this nonsense upon their recommendation do."

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Jamil advised women who were interested in losing weight to never "take diet advice from women who know nothing about nutrition/basic advertising ethics. If you want to get healthier, talk to a trainer/doctor."

Following on from her comments, Jamil then uploaded a video of herself mocking the detox-tea advertisers, which depicted her drinking the tea and then (ahem) urgently needing the toilet.

With her comments on detox teas causing a considerable stir online, Jamil was not finished there. This week, she's been tackling airbrushing – specifically, the use of Photoshop and enhancements on photos of women, versus photos of men.

Again taking to social media, Jamil used some examples of magazine covers featuring stars aged 50 and over to support her point that women are treated and viewed differently than men when it comes to ageing.

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Jamil makes a point of insisting her photos are left unenhanced, without Photoshop, when she is featured in magazines; mentioning the fact when promoting her own cover shoots.

The backlash

From afar, there is seemingly nothing wrong with Jamil's actions — she's fighting the good fight. She's using her platform to advocate against harmful products, outdated gender norms and an image-centric narrative that has plagued women's progress for decades. Big claps for Jamil. But, as always, fault has been found in the minutiae of Jamil's movement; namely, the fact that she is attractive.

Jamil's comments have landed her dangerously close to the #cancelled depths of the internet, with many expressing outrage and disgust at her candour. Her crime, as far as I can see, is being good-looking and a bit brash while doing it. That's it.

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Why do we insist on policing women's opinions?

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"Jamil has a point, but I don't care because she's just so annoying". Hmm. Where have I heard that before?

The history of policing women's viewpoints and the way they express them has been long and arduous. While many men may argue that road has come to an end, any woman who has found herself on the receiving end of a barrage of abuse for having an opinion (and there are far too many of us) will tell you it has not.

Social media has opened up a whole new world of this particular kind of abuse, with online trolling becoming as much a part of daily life as going to work and doing the shopping. Jamil, as someone in the public eye, is presumably well versed in the sinister messages of fury that emerge from the dark corners of the internet. But these more subtle messages of hate from her fellow women – from her fellow feminists – must be more confusing, and more hurtful because of it.

A woman can be smart and pretty

At what point is a woman physically flawed enough to have an opinion on beauty? At what point is she 'ugly' enough to be smart?

Jamil is fighting a good fight, and she's doing it from a good place. She struggled with an eating disorder for most of her teenage years, and has been vocal in expressing how mainstream beauty standards played a part in that. She has campaigned for years for body acceptance and positivity, and she has dealt with increasingly venomous trolls over the years as a result. Yet she kept going.

In reality, none of that matters. What matters is that she has agency and the right to an opinion because she's a person. That is enough. That is valid.

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At what point is a woman physically flawed enough to have an opinion on beauty? At what point is she 'ugly' enough to be smart?

This type of aesthetic-focused hate smacks of the blatant sexism we had all assumed we'd gotten past; that a woman can't possibly be smart and pretty. That she can't possibly care about her hair and her politics at the same time, in case her head explodes.

My own feminism

I'm ashamed to say that, throughout Jamil's crusade, I even found myself silently backlashing against her. "God, isn't she annoying," I'd say to myself. "Who does she think she is, being so good-looking and giving out about beauty? She doesn't have to worry about that at all."

That is, until I stopped and examined why I was thinking that way. Do I just find her annoying because she's pretty? Have I been taught to inherently dislike pretty girls because of the bullsh*t messages I've received via the media since I was a child?

Isn't that just lazy internalised misogyny that I have a responsibility to call myself out on? And, of course, the bottom line – isn't what Jameela Jamil has to say far more important than how she looks?

The answer is yes. And also, yes, Jamil is a bit annoying. She is over the top in the way she addresses these issues, and she could probably be a bit less offensive in the way she calls out the perpetrators.

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But here's the thing; annoying, loud people are the ones who get stuff done. Nothing of note was ever accomplished by someone who took care to be demure. Changemakers are in your face, they're irritating, they get under your skin until you give in. But you do give in. And I hope we give in to Jameela Jamil.


Featured image: Jameela Jamil via Instagram

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