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As stars hit the beach this summer, paparazzi photos of Hollywood’s finest in their swimsuits become increasingly common, with media outlets often using such images to critique public figures’ weight and other elements of their appearance.
To say The Good Place actress Jameela Jamil detests these photo spreads would be a gross understatement.
“If you look at tabloid culture, women, specifically, are under attack. And it just feels like we’re just kind of allowing it to become hypernormalized,” Jamil tells The Hollywood Reporter. “This is a lie that we have to fight back against.”
Earlier this month, the English actress tweeted an image of photos and body-shaming captions, from an unknown media outlet, of Queen Latifah, Mariah Carey, Rebel Wilson and Lea Michele.
“Which fucking fuck wrote this article? SHOW YOURSELF,” Jamil tweeted. “Put your shit covered hand up in the air and show us your weasel face. We need to respect women more than this. This is crazy.”
It was articles like this one, as well as countless body-shaming social media posts, that inspired the actress, who plays socialite Tahani on the NBC sitcom, to start “I Weigh,” the Instagram campaign Jamil now hopes to turn into a body-and-life positivity movement.
She created the account in March as a platform that encourages women to define themselves by their values rather than their appearances.
Its mission comes in response to the weight-obsessed culture Jamil says she has found both in the United States and United Kingdom. She says photo spreads criticizing actresses’ bodies appear frequently in publications around the globe, many of which have a predominantly female readership.
Dear everyone. It’s #mentalhealthawareness week. And while I have in my life, struggled with severe anxiety. Bad role models in magazines and on the television, and thinspiration accounts on the internet also lead me to a severe eating disorder until I was 18, so bad that my period stopped for three years in my teens. This is why I am so volatile when I see triggering things in media, things that would hurt girls who are as vulnerable as I was back then. Please check out my Instagram account @i_weigh which tells society and it’s sickening emphasis on our size and age to go fuck itself, and allows us all to take a minute to remember all the good shit we are and do, and how we make others feel. Join my community and send your pictures to @i_weigh There is enough hate in this world without us having to hate ourselves for no bloody reason too. Lots of love. Jameela x
A post shared by Jameela Jamil (@jameelajamilofficial) on
“‘I Weigh’ isn’t going to make you feel specifically better about the way you look,” Jamil explains to THR. “It’s going to remind you that you are more than just what you look like and remind you to be grateful for the amazing things that you do and remind you to be proud of yourself as a whole in the way that men are encouraged to.”
On the account, Jamil features women of all backgrounds, with their interests, values and characteristics superimposed over their photos. This, she stresses, is meant to promote a sense of life positivity and female empowerment to counter a cultural obsession with the physique.
The response to “I Weigh” has been overwhelmingly positive so far, she said — surprising to Jamil, given that it lives on a platform that breeds trolling.
A number of public figures have openly supported “I Weigh,” including British model Charli Howard and The Good Place star Kristen Bell, who made her own #IWeigh post on Instagram.
“She is an amazing advocate for women being realistic and being honest about their lives,” Jamil says of Bell. “I think she’s someone who’s kind of like an archetype of what the messaging could be within Hollywood.”
THANK YOU @kristenanniebell FOR SUPPORTING “I WEIGH” head to @i_weigh to see so many of the best posts of women and men taking back the joy and love for their lives and ridding themselves bit by bit, of society’s phenomenally toxic bullshit. #straighttothegoodplace
A post shared by Jameela Jamil (@jameelajamilofficial) on
All too often, female public figures perpetuate body shaming on their personal platforms, Jamil says. The actress hasn’t been shy in calling out her peers on social media, frequently pointing at the Kardashians for their promotion of products like appetite-suppressing lollipops.
Jamil, 32, was a teenager in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when waif-like appearances were all the rage. Around that time, the actress developed severe anorexia.
“I think I didn’t eat a meal between the age of 14 and 17, and I stopped menstruating, which is a very bad sign of poor health for a young woman,” she recalls. “And this was before social media.”
Now, with 274,000 followers on Twitter and 236,000 on Instagram, Jamil is trying to leverage the power that comes from the attention she receives as a star.
“I’m trying to not be part of the problem as someone who now has a position within the media,” she says. “With the platform that I do have, I’m trying to be as responsible as I can.”
She’s also vocal about banning airbrushing and openly admits that she has a number of stretch marks on her “bum” (that, amusingly, resemble a map of London). She doesn’t have visible abs, and never has, and she’s OK with that.
“Celebrities allow themselves to be airbrushed and thinned out in music videos and on magazine covers, and now on Instagram posts,” Jamil tells THR. “I think we all play the part in perpetuating the unrealistic image that even ourselves cannot live up to.”
In broadening the reach of “I Weigh” — the actress is in the process of turning it into a foundation that would bring the movement’s message into schools — she hopes to encourage other public figures to use their platforms to promote positivity.
“We hope to reach more celebrities so they can think more about what they are putting as messaging out online,” Jamil says. “They can help circulate a real, healthy approach to being a woman.”
Jamil is quick to point out that she is not the only person in Hollywood to speak out about body image. Lena Dunham, who follows “I Weigh” on Instagram, frequently comments on body image and recently posted an account of how she’s gained weight and now feels, “happy joyous & free.”
This summer, along with continuing to promote and expand “I Weigh,” Jamil plans to live by a quote she recently saw in a tweet: “I only ask myself one thing every year: Is the beach ready for me?”
“That is my new slogan for the year, I think that’s such a brilliant way of putting exactly how we are supposed to feel in our swimsuits on the beach,” Jamil says. “Just empowered and entitled to be there.”
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Tracee Ellis Ross