by Uma Ramesh
I’ve never been helped by a celebrity before. Reading about them has entertained me, helped me fall asleep after a long day and, sometimes, taught me important lessons. Still, I’ve never finished an article about a famous person and known my life would be meaningfully better for it. I didn’t think it was possible. Then I came across Jameela Jamil.
Jamil, who stars on NBC’s The Good Place, has recently gained attention for spearheading the “life positivity” movement. Life positivity attacks the notion that a woman’s worth lies in how pleasing she is to the male gaze. Jamil wants to help women celebrate the lives they’ve built for themselves and remember that they’re far more than their bodies. In her words: “The patriarchy profits from conditioning women to only think about our exterior, to spend all our money and time obsessing over our aesthetic rather than building what’s inside.”
In March, Jamil launched I Weigh, an online campaign that affirms “how amazing we are beyond the flesh on our bones.” Her @i_weigh Instagram account encourages followers to post photographs of themselves and write what they weigh in accomplishments, struggles and growth. Jamil has also spoken out against retouched photos, arguing in December that the practice should be illegal in commercial contexts. To her, airbrushing reinforces the norm that “women should be attractive to the straight, male gaze at all costs” – even if it means erasing parts of their bodies. Similar concerns led Jamil to criticize Avon last month for advertising an anti-cellulite product with the line: “dimples are cute on your face (not on your thighs).” She argued that the ad, which Avon later apologized for, shames women into believing that we need to fix “inevitable, completely normal” parts of ourselves.
Jamil bluntly acknowledges how degrading our beauty standards are to women, making life positivity feel more empowering than many similar initiatives I’ve come across. Women’s empowerment efforts often leave me feeling empty; their cheerfulness and can-do spirit seem painfully naïve after recent revelations about the rampant sexism in our society. In contrast, the spirit of life positivity could be distilled into a quote from Jamil’s September interview with Elle: “Being okay with yourself is the most amazing middle finger to everyone.” In other words, she’s none too cheerful, recognizing just how many people deserve the middle finger. She also knows that we can still find peace by working on things within our control, like our relationship with ourselves. By grounding her call for change in hard truths, Jamil inspires me to believe that progress is possible. Even better, her I Weigh campaign places life positivity within our reach, giving us a platform where we can take concrete steps to remember our value.
Although participating in I Weigh is powerful, the campaign is but one step on the winding, uphill path towards being okay with yourself. Jamil motivates me to stay on that path, no matter how much it exhausts me, by embodying her movement’s ideals in her own life. Jamil reminds women that we don’t have to look like a “sex-doll, teenage version of Angelina Jolie” to feel proud of ourselves; she models this attitude by refusing to let magazines that profile her publish retouched photos of her body. In an October shoot with Arcadia magazine, Jamil went even further, posing for photos that clearly display the stretch marks on her breasts. By refusing to conceal her humanity, Jamil lives her belief that a woman’s worth has nothing to do with impossible, sexist beauty ideals. Her courage gives me the strength to love myself on days when it feels hard; if Jamil can work through anorexia and vicious tabloid shaming to reach life positivity, I can have faith that I’ll get there soon.
I knew I would love Jamil when I read her response to people who don’t like that she’s outspoken: “The nearest [garbage] bin ― find it, get in it and live there.” In a world of unrepentant predators and intact glass ceilings, we badly need loud, opinionated women to guide us towards a better future. I’m so grateful that she’s decided to be one of them.