Approximately 80% of women and 34% of men in the United States are unhappy with their body. For adolescent girls, this number is already a whopping 53% by the time they reach middle school, and 78% by the end of high school. More than 50% of teenage girls and 30% of teenage boys participate in unhealthy eating habits, such as skipping meals or purging, in an attempt to control their weight. All too many people struggle with negative body image every day.
Jameela Jamil, actress, model, and star of Netflix’s “The Good Place,” is intimately familiar with this battle. As she shared last summer in an interview for the podcast “Ways to Change the World,” Jamil developed an eating disorder at a young age. As a teenager, she went three years without eating a meal, which understandably took a huge toll on her health. She struggled to look past how she felt about her body to see her own self-worth. “I was a smart kid, I was a scholarship child,” she said in her “Ways to Change the World” interview. “I had all these different talents and gifts – none of which I thought were important, none of which I remotely cared about, because I still felt like I would never be good enough unless I weighed six and a half stone [approximately 65 lbs.]”
And the reason for these beliefs? The media. Jamil reported that she felt “bombarded” by images of how the ideal woman should look and act, even during a time where this narrative wasn’t instantly available in the palm of your hand. One additional factor at play was a lack of alternative role models. “There were never any women who were celebrated for their intellect,” she explained. “They’re not given any attention in the press. I wasn’t reading about wonderful astronauts or scientists or great musicians. I was just seeing highly sexualized pop stars, who were very very skinny, on my TV, or I was seeing skeletal actresses, wh[ose] weight was obsessively spoken about.” While she acknowledges that eating disorders can stem from various influences, ranging from genetics to control issues, Jamil genuinely believes that external factors play a significant role in the development of such disorders.
At age 17, Jamil was in a serious accident in which she broke her back. However, this forced her to completely change the way she thought about her body. She gained a new appreciation for her body and the way she’d mistreated it, which she believes “probably saved [her] life, otherwise [she]’d probably still be anorexic now.” Now, she devotes much of her time and energy to changing the toxic narrative that contributed to her own disorder. She is adamantly against the media using airbrushing and photoshop due to the harm these practices can cause both the women being photoshopped and the women viewing it.
A year ago this week, Jamil began the I Weigh movement, “sort of by accident.” After seeing an Instagram post of the Kardashian women with their weights listed across each woman’s body, which was then followed by thousands of self-degrading comments from young girls comparing themselves to the Kardashians, she was immediately unsettled and decided she wanted to do something about it. “I decided to write what I weigh on Instagram,” Jamil explained. And that’s exactly what she did. She posted a selfie to her story, listing what she considers to define her worth, citing things such as “Great friends,” and “I laugh every day.” But then the unexpected happened: people joined in. Now, the I Weigh movement has its own Instagram where Jamil shares body-positive images and I Weigh posts made by men and women around the world.
But she hasn’t stopped there. Last month, Jamil started a petition to end celebrity endorsement of (non-FDA-approved) diet or detox products. In January, she called out an Avon advertisement on Twitter for its toxic messaging, successfully prompting both an apology from Avon and a promise to do better.
At the end of her interview, Jamil shared exactly what she hopes to accomplish with all of her efforts. “I would like to be a part of just informing people because I really believe that information has been the biggest part of my recovery as a human being,” she told “Ways to Change the World” host Krishnan Guru-Murthy. “It feels like everyone’s drowning in misinformation, and we just need a bit of clarity and to just arm people with a little bit more information so they can have more autonomy.”