Jameela Jamil Talks Body Inclusivity, Beauty Standards

#AerieREAL Role Model Jameela Jamil - Aerie Swim Day, 5.10.19-Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Aerie

The Aerie ambassador gets real about problems in the fashion industry.

Jameela Jamil has become one of the most outspoken actresses about inclusivity on screen and in fashion. She calls herself a "feminist-in-progress" on her personal Instagram page and uses her second account @i_weigh to advocate for the self-love movement (and she's planning to launch it as a body positive media brand with personal essays in the fall).

The Good Place actress' latest role is also all about body inclusivity. She became an #AerieREAL Role Model in January, posing alongside Busy Philipps (I Feel Pretty) and Samira Wiley (The Handmaid's Tale) in un-retouched photos for the lingerie and swimwear brand. As part of the gig, she's working with Aerie to hopefully expand its sizing beyond XXL.

"There's more work for everyone to do, and I think it's fair to say that they are at the forefront of so many brands. It's very rare," Jamil tells The Hollywood Reporter. Others to help the cause include Whoopi Goldberg, who will debut an inclusive fashion line called Dubgee on Wednesday (available at Amazon, Neiman Marcus, Ashley Stewart and Le Tote).

Jamil continues to push for inclusion in Hollywood and the media at every level — for various sizes, ethnicities, abilities and more. "We need to see more on our screen of what we see out in the world. And it pays off every single time. I don't know how much more proof you need than Bridesmaids comedy with women, Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, every show that has gone against the grain has succeeded," she says. "How much more fucking proof do we need that it pays to include? There's a big dollar sign out there. If you're not going to do it because you're a good person, just do it for the money." 

Here, Jamil talks about exploding out of a sample-size Prada dress, Taylor Swift embracing her curves and the real effects of the #MeToo movement, saying, "I haven't heard a lascivious comment in one year." 

Why did Aerie's message resonate with you?

They just align with a lot of what @I weigh is about, which is inclusion. There was more inclusion to be had in their sizing, which I had been super open about, and I had been talking to them about that since I started [as a] Role Model, because the only way I'll ever agree to work for the brand is if they're willing to work with me to be progressive. They were so open and brilliant about those conversations and they really listened to me. I showed them everything that people were saying online [who] felt excluded. It was also nice to walk into their stores and feel like I'm seeing so many women from so many different backgrounds.... Mostly the no retouching thing. They had me at no Photoshop. And it's a really cool campaign that is a bunch of people who actually stand for something and, as a South Asian, I don't normally get to see people who look like me in big American campaigns so that felt super progressive.

How did your interest in body positivity and inclusivity get started?

Because I missed my teens and my 20s worrying about my body. There's so much homework I could have done and so much business that I could've grown and so much more sex that I could've had if I'd just not been worrying about dumb shit that doesn't matter, like cellulite or love handles or these weird names we give to parts of our bodies that are totally normal. I was neurotic about the way that I looked. And a big part of that was because I was told by magazines and by Hollywood that I wasn't worth shit unless I was skinny and perfect and white. And so, because I grew up so messed up, I don't want anyone else to become like me and to grow up how I grew up. I'm just trying to save people from being as backwards and twisted as I was when I was young.

Now in magazines, you have Taylor Swift recognizing your movement and shouting you out in Elle. How did that feel?

I know. So wild. That was madness. I had no idea that was coming, and I woke up to loads of text messages and a million Tweets that Taylor Swift found my work helpful in accepting her own body, because you know she struggled with that for a long time, which none of us knew. And it's really nice that she's speaking out about that, and I think that she's even become a tiny bit curvier and embracing her body as she's getting older.

I've had a lot of people reach out to me. Sam Smith, that was such an amazing way to talk about male body positivity. I've had a lot of support from famous people, although the Taylors and the Sams and the Reeses are very rare. Everyone is congratulating me in private or saying 'I love what you're doing' in direct message or at parties, but they don't then stand up alongside me when I take on the media. Everyone goes very quiet when I'm starting a big fight and when I'm trying to campaign for something or when I'm talking about sample sizes. Like the other day, I did a huge high fashion shoot and I exploded out of a Prada dress in a size 6. Why the fuck is a size 6 exploding? Like, it made a bang. Everyone heard it, when I burst out of the dress. It's like, 'This is not OK. Why aren't we talking about sample sizes?' Make it too big.... Again, all these women who I know have the same feelings about this and we talk about it all the time, everyone went silent.

Why do you think that is?

Because they're afraid. Because we're made to feel afraid as women. We're made to feel like there's only room for one. You're very lucky to be here. We wished we could've replaced you with a man, but we're not allowed to. So therefore, you should be very grateful for your place, so shut up, stay in your lane and don't make any trouble and maybe we'll let you stay here for a while until you age. And then we will have you killed or sent away. Not killed, just sent away. We'll send you to the glue factory. And I understand that fear. But I guess I'm more afraid of my kids — who I might have one day — going through what I went through, so I'm going to try to clean this dirty business up if I can.

Do you feel it's particularly "dirty" in Hollywood?

It's getting cleaner, like safer. I feel so much safer and so much more respected in every room I walk into. Men are not making — I haven't heard a lascivious comment in one year, which is the longest I've ever gone. I normally haven't gone a week without hearing someone talk to me about my breasts or my legs, [who] asked me out for dinner for a meeting that should only take place in office hours. So there's a been a huge difference, and that is credit to Tarana Burke and everything she's done with the #MeToo movement.

What do you think should still be going on in Hollywood in terms of inclusion? Especially about body positivity, in the next year, what would you like to see?

I would like to see more roles that don't tokenize people with disabilities, and I would like those roles to be played by people who have disabilities. Because if we have one or two roles a year for someone disabled, don't give it to an Academy Award winner. Let's find some talent. There's talent out there. And when I was asked to play a deaf woman in a film, even though I was deaf as a child and could relate to the part, I said no, because I was taking that one role about a deaf person away from a deaf woman.

There have been several shows recently about body inclusivity. What did you think of Shrill?

Unbelievable show. So unpatronizing, so un-condescending. I'm so obsessed with Aidy Bryant, and it was a show that I related to so much from my teen years. That scene where she's dancing...

The pool party?

Yeah, I almost cried. Shows like that mean the world to me. She's an incredible force. And there was no weird shitty message like there always is about these films where they have the actress think that she's thinner.

How would you describe your sense of style?

Comfortable, food-proof glamour. As in, I'm not spilling anything. Everything I wear is like, it rolls right off. I don't know if that's because the material is cheap, but I try to buy things that are easy to wipe. Comfortable, easy-wipe glamour. That sounds more pornographic than I meant it to.... I think I was such a wallflower until I was 22, and I thought I had to be camouflage because I wasn't very very thin. I thought no one should ever look at me. Now I've really enjoyed making a statement with my clothing.

What about red carpet style, what's your approach?

Same thing. Comfortable, wipe-able glamour. [Laughs.] But I had such a terrible time in my heels I wore to the Golden Globes that I wore big thick ankle boots — like army boots — to the Critics' Choice. I'm very into making sure that I'm warm and happy, that I can fucking breathe. Because these women cannot breathe on the red carpet. And I wear clothes that fit me, so if designers can't design for me, then I go and buy my own dresses.... Some of the girls from Orange Is the New Black, and Danielle [Brooks], who dress for their size and they feel comfortable and they're tailor-made for them...those are always the people that look best on the red carpet. Someone who is there just trying to show you their clavicles, who you can tell hasn't eaten since like November, doesn't look happy. I want to look happy on a red carpet.

Have you reached out to more forward designers like Christian Siriano or Prabal Gurung?

I love Christian Siriano. I've worn his stuff a couple of times, because he's very open to tailoring to fit everything for you. And he always just makes it seem exciting to make a change to the dress. He never makes you feel like there's anything wrong with you.

Now that I'm lucky [enough] that my profile is rising, I'm being approached by designers, and I'm trying to have conversations with them about maybe expanding sizes in high fashion. Because denying yourself money, like Karl Lagerfeld and people like that...he didn't want his clothing line to go up to a size 16 in the U.K. because he didn't want to see fat women wearing his designs. We need to be done with the old designers. Are you just not talented enough to design for multiple shapes? Do we need more talented designers?... Everyone thinks actresses are all just this skinny naturally. They're not.... That sends a message to all the girls out there that they're all just that size and that's normal.... We have to take more note of the impact that Hollywood and the media has on young people everywhere, and we're really hurting their mental health.

...I didn't like my ethnicity until I was 30, because I thought there was something wrong with my people, because we were never shown in mainstream culture. And when we were, we were just ridiculed and stereotyped. We only played terrorists or buffoons.... The pain of erasure is really severe and it alienates you from your culture or people of your size. It alienates you from yourself. So we have a lot of work to do.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.