celebrity

We're only hurting ourselves by saying Jameela Jamil is too beautiful to speak.

Jameela Jamil is a celebrity currently cruising comfortably between two lanes of publicity traffic.

In one lane, she’s a glamorous TV star on a critically acclaimed series, thanks to her role as name-dropping socialite Tahani in The Good Place starring opposite Kristen Bell and Ted Danson.

Then, as the British born star’s international profile began to rise, she swerved into another lane, this time around championing body positivity.

Thanks to her ongoing public campaigns against unrealistic beauty standards for women, the media dance around Jameela’s commentary is now well-rehearsed. She proceeds to call out a celebrity, company or social media trend with either a sharply worded tweet or an attention-grabbing Instagram photo. Her profile allows her actions to cut through all the noise, whether it’s a dishevelled picture of her slumped over a toilet to bemoan the use of Kardashian skinny teas or proclaiming that she hopes “all these celebrities all shit their pants in public” are met with supportive and fist-pumping headlines.

This week, the 32-year-old actress again made headlines when she publicly called out beauty company Avon for their new campaign, with one ad reading, “Dimples are cute on your face (not on your thighs).” Jameela accused Avon of shaming women about “age, gravity and cellulite”, causing the company to apologise, promise to remove the message from all future marketing materials and resulted in Jameela’s name being splashed across social media and headlines in triumph.

However, as with every woman who experiences some sort of public triumph, heightened success or takes a strong stance, the inevitable critique and backlash against her platform and words has been quick to follow.

While there will always be hateful trolls jumping happily onto every backlash bandwagon that appears, some of the critiques aimed at Jameela and her brand of feminism and body positivity are thoughtful and valid, stemming from people who also deserve their time at the microphone.

jameela jamil airbrushing
The Good Place star Jameela Jamil. Source: Getty.
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Jameela Jamil has been criticised for predominately attacking fellow famous women such as Kim Kardashian and Cardi B, for being non-inclusive with her brand of feminism and for calling for her followers to "Say no to airbrushing. Pores and lines and spots and dry lips are something kids need to see so they don’t grow up thinking there is something fucking wrong with them", accompanied by a gorgeous, non-airbrushed but clearly still professionally made-up and shot image of herself where she looks the very epitome of unattainable celebrity beauty.

Many of these criticisms and questions have been raised by women who work tirelessly in this space, although lacking the socially acceptable form of beauty and TV-found fame that Jameela possesses in order to have their voices heard to this extent.

Just this week, following on from the Avon headlines, prominent plus-sized blogger and body image advocate Danielle Vanier accused Jameela of cashing in on the movement just for publicity sake and without having the lived experience to back up her claims. It was a statement that many people within her legion of followers agreed with wholeheartedly.

It is statements such as these that echo the very same criticism of Jameela that I often hear from the women in my life each and every time her name makes headlines thanks to a body positive-fuelled smackdown.

There is criticism that she calls for an end to impossible beauty standards, yet also conforms to them. That she blames the entertainment industry for the impossible standards placed upon women, but still works within it. That she calls for more inclusivity and diverse representation for women, yet still does not lift others up enough with her cause.

But one of the biggest criticisms I continually hear about her is that she is too beautiful, and too thin, to speak on body positivity.

And that is a very dangerous path for us to walk down.

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In my experience, there are often two types of celebrity women when it comes time to look at who speaks out on impossible beauty standards and body image.

There are those who will condemn these expectations in interviews and urge women to love themselves just as they are, but never take any sort of action towards backing up their words or even making concrete claims about what needs to change.

I've sat across from many famous women who have touched on these issues, but only in the context of soundbites and abstract platitudes.

From what I can see, Jameela Jamil is a woman who walks the walk and tangibly backs up her claims and comments. And no matter what her face and body look like, her presence and actions are still very much needed.

Her condemnation of the Kardashian family and their diet lollipops and teas started important discussions about the reality of these substances and the prevalent advertising that takes place around them. Avon removed damaging messaging from their campaigns because of her public call for change and her "I Weigh" Instagram movement - where women post images of themselves and say how much they “weigh” not in kilos, but in the qualities they like about themselves - is also a positive movement stemming from her activism.

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Her "origin story" is also directly linked to brutal public scrutiny around her weight.

After gaining weight due to medication she was taking, Jameela was incessantly fat-shamed by British tabloids, and she has since talked about being broken by the realisation that nothing mattered about her apart from her looks.

"I’d achieved so much in my three or four years in the industry, and I’d worked so hard, and I’d done it without famous parents or without any contacts or any money and I’d done it by myself using my brain - working really hard - and then I realised, 'all I am to them is just fat on bones'," she told Nylon in an interview.

“It broke my heart and really broke my spirit for a minute, because I realised that we’ve not moved on as much as I’d thought we had and, in fact, we’re making a concerted effort and moving backward, and that’s when my activism really started."

Recently, the actress also revealed that she had turned down the role of a deaf woman because she did not want to deprive a disabled actress of a job. Despite being born partially deaf, The Good Place star declined to take the role saying it “wouldn’t be appropriate” for her to have taken the part because she can now hear. She stated that the job offer was a recent one and that it should instead be given to “a brilliant deaf woman”.

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That is an act that matters, no matter what other problematic issues can be found within her brand of activism.

Of course, it must also be taken into consideration that although she may be alienating some brands and fellow entertainment industry peers with her words and campaigns, Jameela is also using them to further build her public profile and platform. And despite appearing on a successful TV show in a supporting role, you also have to stop and ask yourself if she would be scoring all these interview slots and magazine spreads, and have the immense social media following that she does, if she had not built a name for herself on these issues?

The answer is, probably not.

However, once we start down this road, one where every woman who dares to speak up and act out must have their whole life and back-catalogue of experience run over with a fine-tooth comb in order to decide whether or not they are worthy to speak, we are only hurting ourselves by ensuring that we have fewer allies to stand by our side in this fight.

The question should not be whether or not Jameela Jamil is too attractive or too beautiful or too unversed to be a famous body image advocate. The question should be whether or not her actions are having a positive effect on others.

Last year I saw firsthand how Jameela's actions, even when seemingly small, can have a positive impact on someone's mindset and self-esteem.

I had written an article about how the Netflix series Insatiable made me feel body shamed and hurt and Jameela shared it on one of her social media accounts, calling out the series and urging her followers to reconsider giving Netflix money while they were airing such a show.

A small gesture, really, but one that felt vastly supportive to me at that moment, especially taking into account that Netflix distributes her TV show in Australia.

There is no hard and fast way to determine exactly what is the right way to tackle body image and unrealistic beauty standards, an issue so deeply ingrained and embedded in our society, media way of life that it seems impossible to change.

All we can do is look to how women act, not just what they say or how they look, and add all of our voices to the same chorus.

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