Jameela Jamil is no stranger to controversies. The actor, podcast host and activist regularly finds herself in the headlines or at the centre of some Twitter storm.
There was the time she had to defend herself against accusations of Munchausen’s, for example, or the backlash she faced after being named a ‘host’ of a show about ballroom culture. She’s gotten into more than one sparring match with Piers Morgan, but it’s not just people who’ve monetised being an asshole who sometimes have a problem with Jameela. She has as many critics in progressive circles as she does on the media right.
It’s both very easy and very difficult to name why, exactly, Jameela Jamil’s name is almost synonymous with controversy. She’s outspoken, a woman, and a woman of colour, so that certainly has something to do with it. But there’s something more – perhaps because she never backs down from a fight. The barrage of criticism she sometimes faces would send most people sprinting for the hills (or at least, deactivating their Twitter accounts), but Jameela is back at it the next day, doing the work, campaigning for a more inclusive society, and using her privilege for good.
“I think it’s funny that the tabloid media report only on my controversies and never my wins,” Jameela told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
“It looks like I’m always in a controversy, whereas I’d say 10% of my existence is in controversy and 90% is just success, or going to Congress, or changing global policies, but god forbid we ever report those [parts] of a woman’s achievements. It’s much more fun to make a mountain out of a molehill.
“If two people tweet in disagreement with me, they call it a backlash. And then that’s all people see in the headline. There’s two people! No one ever wants to report all of the wins we make over at [Jameela’s activist platform] I Weigh and all of the important work and petitions. So I find that really funny.”
Some of those wins – both personal and through I Weigh – include being instrumental in making Instagram change its policies around harmful ‘detox’ teas.
Jameela spoke to PTV as part of The Body Shop’s global Self Love Uprising project, which found that one in two women worldwide feel more self-love than self-doubt (from more than 22,000 surveys across 21 countries).
While Aussies ranked quite high on the global index (just behind Denmark), it’s the best of a not-so-great situation: Aussies had a self-love score of 62%, which means there’s a solid 38% of us going without. People from minority groups, younger people, LGBTQ+ people and single people all reported lower levels of self-love, and so did heavy users of social media.
It makes sense for The Body Shop to tap Jameela Jamil for a campaign on self-love. Who else is fighting to improve people’s self-esteem, dismantle the systems that threaten to fuck with it, and from such a big platform, every single day?
The thing is – all of her causes make her peak headline / controversy fodder. So what I really wanted to know is: how do you pick yourself up after finding yourself in yet another hurricane?
Jameela says she continues to speak out in part to show other women that it’s okay to also keep speaking up, pointing to a toxic media cycle that builds women up only to have more fun in (profitably) tearing them down.
“I’ve seen it happen to enough women since I was born, I think Princess Diana was the first person in my lifetime who I saw this happen to,” Jameela said.
“Where a woman stands up or speaks out, she is built up, hyperbolised, we talk about how amazing she is, deliberately, over and over and over again, and overexpose her face until people are so sick of her and start to equate all these compliments about her to her own self image as if she is very, very arrogant.
“And they start to think that these women are selling interviews of themselves or selling stories about themselves to the newspapers, which they aren’t. And then they’re just sort of primed for a smear campaign or a takedown. This doesn’t just happen to actresses and models, it happens to politicians, it happens to sports women, it happens to scientists, it happens to girls in school. It’s a mainstream, cultural, long-term, historical pattern and template.”
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She said she felt “vindicated” by both the Britney Spears documentary, Framing Britney Spears, as well as the media treatment (particularly by the UK tabloids) of Meghan Markle.
“Because I understand that pattern, and because I’m a stubborn bastard, when I know that they want to infuriate and harass me into submission, it only makes me want to come back stronger, and fight harder, because I know they’re trying to make an example out of me,” Jameela said.
“I know that they’re trying to shame me every time I speak out about something that might cost them money, so that it won’t encourage other women with platforms or other women in general to speak out.
“And so, because I know that, I have to keep speaking and I have to not disappear, to reassure everyone else that when the world turns on you and disapproves of you for a moment, the world keeps turning, life carries on, and you get everything back. Men know that, they just carry on, women disappear. So I’m just not gonna disappear. Tough shit.”