Unapologetic Jameela Jamil on the photo-editing epidemic and how her ‘I Weigh’ movement has been transformative

What do you weigh? Not in kilos, but in self-worth? It is not a question that is often asked, but 2018 is changing the conversation. Weight is hotly debated today, especially after British actor-presenter Jameela Jamil started her ‘I Weigh’ Instagram movement. On a telephone call from Los Angeles, Jamil shouts a vehement “Yes!” when I say the vernacular needs to change in body image discourses and mental health, referring to her tweet about women following the weight-loss journeys of celebrities. “Think about your wording; let’s not talk about taking up ‘less space.’ There’s something so damaging about the phrase ‘losing weight’,” says the 32-year-old. “I think more people would exercise if it was targeted at their mental health. You’re not looking for results other than the happiness you feel after you work out. I started exercising a couple of weeks ago because I have anxiety. I don’t feel disappointed at the end of a work-out; I just have all these endorphins, and I feel strong and in control of my life.”

Social media storm

Funnily enough, Jamil says she did not mean to kick off the ‘I Weigh’ movement. Her first post was a reaction to a photograph she had seen in February — of the Kardashian-Jenner women, with their weights scrawled across their bodies. She responded, captioning an image of herself: “I weigh: Lovely relationship. Great friends. I laugh every day… I like myself in spite of everything I’ve been taught by the media to hate myself about.” The overwhelming reciprocation it got, with hundreds of posts similar to hers, floored her. Industry folk stepped in, too, including her The Good Place co-star Kristen Bell and Shameless actor Emmy Rossum.

Pulling her weight: Actor Jameela Jamil on her ‘I Weigh’ movement and more

So she created a “museum of self-love”, a pocket of online space that breeds positivity and support. Today, the ‘I Weigh’ Instagram account has over 1,700 posts by women (and a few men) from various corners of the world, and ‘weighs’ 1,53,000 followers. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. “Sometimes I get messages from women saying they can’t make a post because they can’t think of anything to be proud about, which is a sign that we are really messed up,” she says.

Weigh not, do more

The movement goes beyond the surface. Jamil and her team are actively partnering and researching with clinics treating eating disorders. “They have also printed out the ‘I Weigh’ initiative and put them up around their facilities,” she says, adding, “We’ll be going to speak with them soon and at secondary schools, too.” Pointing to the numerous articles coming out, showing cosmetic procedures, body dysmorphic disorder and the like, she says eating disorders and self-harm are at an all-time high.

According to The Purple Heart Project, eating disorders afflict over 25% of young women in India, aged between 14 and 30. Another study, by N Network, shows that body-shaming leads to “higher levels of neuroticism (characterised by depression, anxiety, worry and moodiness),” which affects youngsters’ levels of assertion. Jamil agrees, saying those affected think less about school and work, and more about how they look. “By going to schools, we’ll address young people in an hour of need they don’t necessarily recognise until the harm’s taken effect.”

Living with anxiety herself, Jamil says she deals with it holistically. She has been exercising for two weeks now, and is a protestor of the photo-editing epidemic aggrandised by apps like Facetune. “Photo-editors think they are doing you a favour,” she laughs, while reflecting upon the countless times she’s been made ‘thinner’ or ‘fairer’. “When I see the result, I would feel bad about what I see in the mirror. So on my 30th birthday, I disassociated myself from everyone who makes me feel triggered, and I’ve seen a 200% improvement in self-contentment.”

Keeping things legit

So how has her ethos been implemented in her work on-screen? There’s The Good Place, based on a heaven and hell concept, where her character, Tahani Al-Jamil, lived up to the standards of her family and society. “It’s made me learn so much about empathy. I’ve learned that so many of our damaging characteristics come from the damage other people did to us.” She has just signed on with the TV series, Ducktales and the 2019 Caitlin Moran film, How To Build A Girl, and has plans to write a book and her own television show. Looks like Jamil ‘weighs’ plenty of success and happiness ahead.

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