Actress and activist Jameela Jamil: "Why I'm giving the next generation of game-changers a voice"

The Revolution will be televised
Actress and activist Jameela Jamil: "Why I'm giving the next generation of game-changers a voice"

Jameela Jamil understands how frustrating it feels to be a teen activist. She used to be one. “I’ve been outspoken since I was a teenager; I understand first-hand exactly what a crisis young people are in,” she tells Grazia. The British actress started her career as a model before a traffic accident changed everything.
“I got hit by a car when I was 19, and I broke my back, and realised how ridiculous starving myself and actively trying to hurt the body that I took so horrendously for granted was,” she recalls. “Losing the ability to walk, to move, and losing all of my autonomy made me look at my body and realise it’s an incredible friend of mine that I’ve mistreated deliberately for so long. And for what? For whom? And so that was when I started writing letters to newspapers, exposing the modelling world and calling for the bigger women in the industry – it was a little
bit ahead of my time.”

The star of The Good Place continued to be ahead of the curve when on 16 March 2018, she created an Instagram post demanding women be judged by our achievements rather than by a number on the scales – a radical message which became the I Weigh movement, which as Grazia goes to press has just reached one million followers on the Instagram
 account @i_weigh, and has just launched as a digital platform in its own right.

“I Weigh started as somewhere you would come to reclaim your sense of self, and it’s expanded into mental health, identity, culture, and even as far as international events such as the protests in Hong Kong. There’s nowhere that we don’t feel it is important, and I love how global it’s becoming.” Standout pieces on the new I Weigh platform include: Seven Things You Might Be Feeling When You “Feel Fat” by the anonymous essayist @yrfatfriend; comic, zine artist and writer Kaitlin Chan’s letters To My Young Friends in Hong Kong; and even an article penned by Editor in Chief Alison Tay on her decision to ban the promotion of weight-loss diets in Grazia Middle East. Coming soon is the I Weigh podcast and YouTube channel plus a newsletter from a different activist, writer, or artist every week.

Jameela Jamil on the cover of the February issue of Grazia Middle East

Jameela’s dream guests? “Someone like Rihanna would be incredible because she’s been such an icon for being authentic, marching to the beat of her own drum, and for body positivity and for inclusivity with how many shades she has for Fenty Beauty, and how many sizes she has for Savage. She’s a real icon. Also, can I say Oprah?” She continues, “I think Reese Witherspoon is a really incredible woman who has completely gone against the grain of what the stereotype of an actress is, and has instead become a real heavyweight in Hollywood, telling interesting, nuanced stories about women. Greta Thunberg would also be a dream guest of mine.” She points out, “It’s the next crop of activists that I’m dying to meet. They know more than us, they have more solutions and ideas than any of us, and they’re the ones who deserve to be listened to. They’re the ones who should be on the covers of magazines, not me."

Despite the momentum of I Weigh, Jameela seems to have remained the lone voice spreading this message in Hollywood. “Everyone congratulates me privately but very few people would actually stand by me,” she admits. “That’s why it’s been amazing to have Lizzo and Reese Witherspoon’s support. Also, Taylor Swift has done nothing but highlight my work and the work of I Weigh and I really appreciate her for that. It has taken so long to find allies,” she reflects. “The amount of people who do have the power to change everything, who could really turn the narrative around, are just afraid to because, I suppose, they’re frightened of biting the hand that feeds them.” However, she acknowledges, “My rhetoric forces some people to confront their own inner demons, and that makes people uncomfortable, and I understand that.”

No one would be more surprised by the success of the I Weigh movement than Jameela’s teenage self. “It is really truly insane how privilege can fast-track you in activism and it makes me sad, because back when I was 19, there’s no way I would’ve been able to have pulled this off,” she remarks. “Just like all of the young activists nowadays, they go out trying to make a difference and are not being listened to because they’re marginalised, just like I was. And it’s outrageous that once I became a famous actress suddenly people listened to me as if I’ve never said this stuff before. But it’s on record that I have been saying this for over a decade. That’s why I’m trying to use my platform to build a safe space for young activists while I’m in the position to offer them the limelight – because they’re the ones we need to be listening to.”

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Photos: Sela Shiloni