As we discussed recently on Show Your Work, there are lots of reasons to be fascinated by The Good Place actress Jameela Jamil. Mostly, I’m amazed at how different she is from every other first-time-on-a-surprise-hit-network-show star. Obviously, she’s 5’11 (hence the descriptions of her character, Tahani Al-Jamil, as a ‘sexy giraffe’), British, and of Indian & Pakistani origin – and before we go further, let’s just take a minute to notice that The Good Place has diversity and people of colour baked into its DNA… and is also the breakout network comedy of the last year. Coincidence? I think not.
But the most interesting difference about Jamil is that she… says stuff. Has opinions. In a way that still feels surprising for a newly-famous network star, and which is depressing and refreshing in its rarity. She wrote a whole blog post about what she referred to as the 'Aziz Ansari Clusterf-ck'. (The fact that she maintains a blog at all is amazing). She has no love for Instagram influencers. In an interview with The Cut, she referenced a period of weight loss, and googled 'Jameela Jamil fat' before her interviewer had the chance to.
Those last two points are particularly fascinating when it comes to Jamil’s Instagram activity this weekend. Her stories are usually full of tall-girl awkwardness and self-effacing jokes, but when I saw this, I wasn’t mad at it, as I am always here for some magazine-based rage.
It’s a horrifying image, obviously. Worse than if any one of them had their weight published alone, since the way the picture’s laid out suggests that you compare them to each other, and ostensibly, to yourself – photoshop and hours of makeup notwithstanding. And the cloying comment ‘Does Kim look like 56?’ begs for a ‘who the f*ck cares? What does it matter?’
But Jameela cared. So much so that she published a picture with her ‘weight’ in ‘f-cking KG’ – that is, with a list of all the things that actually make up the way she judges herself.
Which was immediately followed by a storm of women who sent their own images covered in the things that make up who they are, from ‘A medical degree’ and ‘The insatiable hunger of my dreams’ to ‘My own business’ and ‘An entire cheeseboard’.
They’re commemorated in this blog post, where Jameela rages about the body expectations placed on women and the unfair weight (sorry) they’re given when compared to other accomplishments. It’s a compelling and affecting read, and I don’t want to spoil anything, but it involves the word ‘bumholes’.
But when you look at Jameela’s original image of what makes her up, it’s hard to miss the last item on the list: “I like myself in spite of everything I’ve been taught by the media to hate myself about.”
I believe this, and it’s important, and yet… she’s in the media. For years she was a TV presenter and DJ in Britain, and now literally plays a character whose height and beauty are a punchline. She appears on red carpets in gorgeous gowns, dressed by people who value her beauty, which is part of what got her her job, and her platform. The revelation that she used to be heavier is an insightful anecdote, but if the difference in weight had gone the other way, would anyone be as excited to write about it, or to interview her in the first place?
I keep rolling half-formed thoughts around in my brain. “But… beauty privilege! Wealth privilege! You’re inside the machine! Photo shoots!” There’s a conflict there for sure, one I feel in myself every time I stump for the funny but less-than-perfect-looking actress in a casting session – and then notice the shoes I changed three times on my way out the door.
But I’ve decided I don’t care.
Because if I’m being honest, most of us do care. Most of us aren’t only one thing, and are tired of having to pretend we are. We can and do contain multitudes, and what a person does for a living shouldn’t have any effect on whether they’re ‘allowed’ to hold certain opinions. And Jameela’s very clear that she’s not asking anyone to stop using makeup or feeling sexy or any of the above – but she does want transparency on what it takes to get that way, particularly for people in the public eye … which, one assumes, includes herself.
You can want the tyranny of pressure on women to look a certain way (still, in 2018) to stop, and also want to look like your best self when you go out. You can think the question “Does Kim look like 56?” is asinine, offensive, and borderline abusive, and still acknowledge that your expectations for yourself sometimes need to be brought in line with your standards for others. Situations are allowed to be complicated and bullsh-t at the same time, and I’m tired of the constantly moving goalposts. None of us is perfect, in our ideals or bodies or words, and the point is not to be perfect, but to keep getting better. Right?
Which is why we need to be reminded of these lessons in any form they’ll give them to us. So I can appreciate what she’s telling me, and think she looks like a sexy giraffe while she’s doing so.