As part of an interview with Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy for the Ways To Change The World podcast, Jameela Jamil explained how photographs of her have been manipulated to seemingly change her race in certain magazines. “People have made me look white in so many of the magazines and campaigns I’ve shot for… People change my nose to make it look more like a little Caucasian nose and they’ve changed the colour of my skin to make it lighter and to make me look more acceptable, perhaps, to a Caucasian audience. It hurts my feelings.” Jamil addressed the fact that, while it’s hurtful and dangerous for young girls to see this happen in the media, it’s also extremely unhelpful for those in the photographs. “Airbrushing and changing my ethnicity is bad for my mental health – it’s not just bad for the mental health of the girls who are looking at it. It makes me dislike what I’m seeing in the mirror. It sends a direct message from the editor to me, and from whoever Photoshops my image to me, that I am not good enough as I am, that the way I turned up on the set that day wasn’t good enough.”
Since she has been in NBC’s The Good Place, Jamil has used her platform to speak out against a range of subjects, so it’s not a surprise to see her speaking so candidly about her experience of retouching. But in a world where everyone appears to share every aspect of their lives on social media, it’s actually still very rare for those in the public eye to speak openly and honestly about certain issues. Take the Kardashians, for example. They have a reality TV show; they’re all social-media sensations and have built entire businesses based on that fact. They share the most intimate details of their lives with the world, but they mostly deny having had any sort of (very obvious) plastic surgery. This seems to be symptomatic of our world at the moment: while everyone appears to be sharing more than ever and discussing issues that once were taboo or just ignored, there is still an impenetrable veil that exists to make people – and it is mostly women – believe that they are only the sum of their appearance; that they are only worth what they weigh, which is the very thing Jamil’s own campaign, #Iweigh, has sought to destroy.
Jamil is working to destroy the systems that are in place to keep women down, to make them constantly question themselves and what they have to offer
Jamil began asking people to share their “weight” in terms of their achievements, proudest moments and characteristics on social media, in a bid to highlight the fact that there is so much more to a person than their body mass index. “Women of every size and shape and age and background sent me their declarations of self-love and clapped back at the shame they have been drenched in their whole lives,” Jamil wrote on her website soon after the campaign took off. Since then, there have been thousands of posts all over social media. Jamil is also not afraid to call out other people who peddle the sort of messages that work to make women feel badly about themselves. The aforementioned Kardashians, whom Jamil refers to as “double agents for the patriarchy” in the Ways To Change The World podcast, have felt her wrath. When Kim Kardashian post a photo to Instagram, advertising “appetite suppressant lollipops”, Jamil wasted no time in declaring her disapproval. “How do we minimize this woman’s bullshit?” Jamil wrote on Twitter. “When will she just love herself and stop obsessing about how to ‘fix’ problems that were never there? She was always beautiful. She’s never seen it because she is broken by the SAME society that she now contributes more toxicity to.”
The thing is, why aren’t more people saying these things? Why are we all prepared to put up with weight-loss programmes, Photoshopped images and the manipulation of women’s appearance? Jamil is, in many ways, the friend we’ve never had who is willing to speak out on our behalf. She is a beautiful, famous woman. But that does not mean that she is unaffected by these issues. It’s not a body-positivity movement, either. It’s about the simple fact that women have so much more to offer the world than their weight, their appearance. Jamil is working to destroy the systems that are in place to keep women down, to make them constantly question themselves and what they have to offer. Those systems, of which people like the Kardashians are a lucrative part, are “selling us self-consciousness”, as Jamil says to Guru-Murthy.
As a young woman, I personally wish I’d had Jamil – or someone with the same, unapologetic message – with me when I was a teenager and probably most susceptible to the bullshit we’re all fed as young women. But she’s here now and I couldn’t be happier about it. She’s not tiptoeing around the issue for fear of repercussions. She’s willing to speak out against Emile Hirsch, who violently attacked her friend and has just been cast in the new Quentin Tarantino film. She’s willing to speak out against the sexual assault and harassment that women face on a daily basis. She’s willing to challenge the racist attitudes that lead to her photographs being retouched. And she’s willing to say that we’re all worth more than our looks. “We deserve more,” Jamil said recently on Twitter. “Women deserve more. It would only help the human race to allow one HALF of it to reach its potential rather than just constantly attack it, hold it down, emotionally waterboard it with false imagery and absurd, belittling ideals.”