As Me with Sinéad — 5: Jameela Jamil
[01:05] Sinéad Burke: Hello from Dublin. I am home for a few days. It’s been so lovely. And one of the best parts of being home is that just a few days ago, I got to meet — but most importantly — see Lizzo on stage perform in all of her glory. I have never seen anything like it. Afterwards, I flippantly said to some friends that it was like mass. Going to church without, well, some of the guilt. It was just this extraordinary celebration. Giving people permission to live in their bodies. How often do we see different types of people celebrate themselves with such pride on stage, narrating their own agency and experience? It’s incredibly rare. And what I would love to know is the children in that audience — how do they view their futures now? Because really, isn’t that what representation is all about? So if you haven’t seen Lizzo perform yet, now is the chance to embrace the religion and church of Lizzo. You’re welcome. On this week’s episode of As Me with Sinéad, I sit down in New York with Jameela Jamil. Yes, that Jameela Jamil. We talked about everything, including how past health scares and traumas, have shaped her advocacy today.
[02:30] Jameela Jamil: The way I see it is that, you know, like I know that I bang on and on and on on social media, and my Twitter and my Instagram can sometimes feel like a lot, but until shame takes a day off, I can’t. And that’s the way that I balance it out. Once we stop hurting people, I won’t have to get in everyone’s face. I can get off everyone’s dick.
[02:47] Sinéad Burke: What’s on my mind this week? Whilst in New York a couple of days before meeting Jameela, I sat and watched Slave Play, which if you’ve listened to this show before, in one of our earlier episodes, my ‘someone you should know’ was Jeremy Harris, the writer of that play. It’s extraordinary and powerful and I will never hear Rihanna’s work in the same way again. But when we talk about intersectionality, as we will in this episode, it’s so important to constantly ask the question — whose voices have we not listened to? Whose narratives have not been exposed or presented or exhibited? How can we change that? Are you ready for this week’s episode? Let’s go!
[03:37] Sinéad Burke: Welcome to As Me with Sinéad. We’re a few episodes in there, but when I started this show there was a list of people that I wanted to speak to. This show is about what it’s like to live as you, in your body, who you are. And if you were thinking of an idyllic guest for the show, I imagine the first name you’d think of is probably the person sitting across from me. The individual has raised questions about industry standards and the way in which we are comfortable being ourselves in such a vocal and vulnerable ways that it has been extraordinary to watch and inspiring to learn from. And that’s just their side gig. Sitting across from me is the extraordinary Jameela Jamil.
[04:23] Jameela Jamil: Hello.
[04:24] Sinéad Burke: Hi.
[04:25] Jameela Jamil: Hi. That’s quite an introduction. I got chills.
[04:27] Sinéad Burke: Oh, wow!
[04:28] Jameela Jamil: About myself.
[04:29] Sinéad Burke: Why not?
[04:31] Jameela Jamil: It’s so nice to be here with you. I really admire your work.
[04:33] Sinéad Burke: Well, thank you. How do you describe yourself personally and professionally?
[04:41] Jameela Jamil: Um, a bit much? I guess that’s how I would describe myself personally and professionally. I’m quite extra. I don’t really operate under a social contract, I guess. I just act very instinctively, almost like an animal, and I don’t filter myself at all. And that is in any relationship — personal or professional. And so, you know, I think that can be quite overwhelming, especially coming from a woman, especially coming from a brown woman, for other people. But the way I see it is that, you know, like I know that I bang on and on and on on social media, and my Twitter and my Instagram could sometimes feel like a lot, but until shame takes a day off, I can’t. And that’s the way that I balance it out. Once we stop hurting people, I won’t have to get in everyone’s face. I can get off everyone’s dick.
[05:25] Sinéad Burke: I don’t think we’ve had that line before in the show.
[05:27] Jameela Jamil: Sorry.
[05:28] Sinéad Burke: I know. I can’t believe it’s taken until talking to you that we’ve had the line. You can get off everybody’s dick.
[05:35] Jameela Jamil: Yeah. I can and I will. But right now, unfortunately, there aren’t enough people on the dick. And so until I’ve got some more allies, I can’t step back. I’m doing a lot of people’s work just by myself. I would say we need more people in power to help me.
[05:52] Sinéad Burke: I really hope this becomes like on a tote bag or something.
[05:27] Jameela Jamil: Great.
[05:55] Sinéad Burke: I think it’s absolutely necessary. How did you come to be this person?
[06:02] Jameela Jamil: Lots of trauma, lots of mental illness. Just being a woman pushed to the fucking edge. Sorry about my language. Do you want me to stop using that language?
[05:55] Sinéad Burke: Fire away. Fire away. I’m Irish.
[06:02] Jameela Jamil: Well, so I, you know, I grew up with a really difficult childhood. We didn’t have any money. I grew up in a very abusive household, surrounded by people who were very, very mentally unwell, who weren’t on medication or being treated. And I was their carer. I was anorexic as a teenager. I was also — I’d been born with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome syndrome, which is an invisible disability that debilitates you in every single way possible. And it means you wake up in pain, and you end every day in pain, and swollen to twice your size. And that is aside from the fact that I was, you know, a girl and Pakistani, which was a really bad race to be in England in the ‘90s. And then I got hit by a bloody car, to round off the first 20 years of my life, which then broke my back and ended up in a wheelchair for a year and a half. And I’ve never really been the same since. So this was alongside being bullied at home and at school and feeling like there was no one I could look to outside in society, or politics, or media who made me feel represented. And so I’ve just been growing increasingly pissed-off and anxious and depressed and coming to an age where I might want to have children one day. And if I do want to have children, I can’t bring them into this shitshow. I refuse to. Because I know how bad it was for me. And so I am doing everything I can at warp speed to clean up as much of this mess as I can before I bring kids into it.
[07:38] Sinéad Burke: What was your safe space when you were younger?
[07:40] Jameela Jamil: Didn’t have one.
[07:41] Sinéad Burke: At all?
[07:42] Jameela Jamil: No. I guess watching American comedy.
[07:45] Sinéad Burke: Oh, tell me more
[07:46] Jameela Jamil: Like Friends, Frasier. All of those sort of things. Cheers. And so, you know, my Ted Danson love was born very early. It’s very wild to find myself 20 years later acting opposite him when I have no acting experience because he’s still my hero. And even during season four, there’s not a time or I don’t have a one-on-one monologue with him — or dialog with him — where I’m not thinking ‘Jesus Christ, that’s Ted Danson. Jesus Christ, that’s Ted Danson.’ I’m still very star struck and my Instagram looks like a stan account for him. But I think comedy is my safe space. And so it makes complete sense to me in a weird way that even though I never intended to be in show business, there’s something wonderfully full circle about ending up in the thing that probably kept me alive. I think people understandably sometimes belittle show business because some people take it a little bit too seriously, but also there’s tremendous value in entertainment because it really does give people a little holiday from their lives.
[08:38] Sinéad Burke: And in terms of this notion of you never intending to work in show business. I first came across you due to the geography in which I live and you being part of television and MTV. And you were broadcast into my home and many others —
[08:54] Jameela Jamil: I was on Channel 4, not MTV.
[08:55] Sinéad Burke: Channel 4.
[08:56] Jameela Jamil: Your lovely Laura Whitmore was on MTV and I was on her Channel 4 counterpart.
[09:02] Sinéad Burke: Oh, well, very nice. A good pairing to have on television. But how did you go from not wanting to be in show business to then land on national television in the U.K.?
[09:12] Jameela Jamil: Well, I was in a pub one day in England, and I was an English teacher at the time. And I think weirdly, being an English teacher was breeding me as a TV host. Because I was teaching English literature to English people. Then I was also teaching English as a foreign language to people from all kinds of different parts of the world. They came to me not speaking a single word of English, and so you would have to teach them for the first couple of weeks almost entirely via the art of mime, how to speak English. And that would just break all of your inhibitions. I remember once sitting in front of a room full of like 70-year-old Polish nuns who didn’t speak a lot of English and having to describe physically via the art only of mime why they shouldn’t pronounce sitting as shitting. So squatting on the floor, turning my fist into a fake poo and demonstrating what it was that they were saying.
[09:59] Sinéad Burke: How did they respond?
[10:00] Jameela Jamil: They were very embarrassed, very upset, I’m going straight to hell, but that’s fine. You know, I’ve saved them some embarrassment in the world. But the point is that, you know, Russell Brand used to teach there. I think there is something about that place that does breed a natural performer in you. So even without you realizing. And I was at a pub one day, I was 22 years old, a man came up to me. We started chatting. He thought I was funny. He asked me if I had ever had an interest in show business. And I said no, because I looked down on show business. And I thought TV hosts and models and actresses were all stupid, because I was an asshole. And then he told me it was a thousand pounds a day. And I said —
[10:35] Sinéad Burke: Excuse me?
[10:37] Jameela Jamil: And I sent an email and an audition tape in and I got it. A week later, I was live on Channel 4. I never having done it before. No idea what I was doing. Sinking, barely swimming. Doggy paddling my way through.
[10:51] Sinéad Burke: More after the break.
[13:01] Sinéad Burke: I’m a teacher, too, and my background’s in primary elementary school teacher, and I think that piece of being a performer — I was teaching twelve-year-old boys in the inner-city in Dublin, and so much of what I was doing was using a very old curriculum and adapting it in a way that was entertaining. And there’s nothing more frightening than standing in front of a room of 26 12-year-old boys, either A, not knowing what you’re doing, or trying to get them to come with you and learn because they see school as useless.
[13:29] Jameela Jamil: Well, you learn how to engage and how to communicate. And that’s why you’re so good at it now.
[13:33] Sinéad Burke: I loved being a teacher. Did you enjoy teaching English lit, too?
[13:37] Jameela Jamil: Yeah, less so because I don’t actually love reading. I love stories, but I need people to read to me because I’m some sort of weird curtain between my brain and literature that I read. So it’s hard for me, but I enjoy breaking down a story and I enjoy the psychology of people. And so I enjoyed getting into that with students. But teaching English as a foreign language as well was something that I found very enjoyable because it’s amazing to watch the fast results of someone being able to suddenly communicate with you. And giving someone like a certain extra level of freedom because they’re in your country and they’re able to actually walk around with some sort of autonomy. I love teaching. I could’ve done that forever. I had no desire to do anything else. I mean, I don’t know how I ended up here.
[14:16] Sinéad Burke: We’re similar in so many ways! And here we are seeing across each other in New York. But I loved giving children in particular a vehicle by which they could write their own narratives. And many of my boys were not diverse in lots of ways, but they were deeply working-class. And all of the books that were in our classroom library never reflected their lived experience. Giving people the tools to give them agency was just a gift.
[14:42] Jameela Jamil: Yeah, it’s very fulfilling. And I guess that’s probably what brought me back to activism, you know, or brought me further into activism. You know, I only got into show business really, partially because of the thousand pounds a day, but also the first thing I ever said to my agent — which she reminded me of recently — is that when she asked me what I wanted to achieve I said, I’m an activist. I just want to use this industry to spread my message as far as I can. And that was 10 years ago. And so I think wanting to communicate and engage and mobilize and activate people is the thing that’s probably led me to where I am now in my career.
[15:13] Sinéad Burke: And how has your activism and message evolved in those ten years?
[15:17] Jameela Jamil: Well, it’s gotten better. You know, I was really ignorant and didn’t know I was ignorant. I thought I was very clever and right about everything 10 years ago. Good thing is I blogged those thoughts. And the Internet lives forever.People are able to bring back my horrendous mistakes constantly. Piers Morgan loves to, I know that. But I have become more intersectional. I have become more pro-sex-worker. I have learned who my target should be. I didn’t really understand the concept of the patriarchy when I was younger. And I think partially that came down to the fact that I was bullied by women most of my life. And so there was a part of me that was a misogynist without realizing it. And I was angry with women when actually I should have been angry with men. You know, I have a history of what I understand is slut-shaming. It wasn’t intended to be slut-shaming — where I used to criticize celebrities and being very hyper-sexualized — women, female celebrities. At the time, I thought slut-shaming was just saying a woman can’t have as much sex as a man, which I was — I’ve always been pro. I was just upset that it felt like women were always the ones taking their clothes off and men were in outdoor winter layers sitting on a chair doing nothing and women were doing all the work. And I found that imbalance in a toxic messaging. But I was also a rape victim, who had been raped — once again, I’ve been in that situation many times in my life, but I was most recently raped I think at 22, shortly before I started writing those blogs. And I think there was a part of me that felt angry with women. I felt betrayed by women who were sexualizing themselves because I felt like that’s why I’d been sexualized since I was five years old by men. And actually, really, it’s the patriarchy’s fault, and the mens’ fault. It’s the system. It’s not those women’s fault. We’re all just a product of our environment. And those women are doing whatever they want to do with their bodies. And that’s fine. But I didn’t understand at the time. So I was just misfiring. And I’ve learned that over the years. I’m very good at publicly apologizing and owning up to my bullshit. And my activism has become more about listening than speaking, and learning from other people, and shutting up and being willing to take the ‘L’ very publicly.
[17:13] Sinéad Burke: But I think you’re absolutely right. We live in this era where so many different types of voices — and it’s wonderful — have come to the fore and we’re being educated on how different people live. But even as a disability advocate, I find myself saying things like ‘blind spot.’ Or I find myself hysterically saying things like ‘this is my tribe,’
[17:36] Jameela Jamil: Right. Or people say ‘spirit animal.’ Very bad.
[17:13] Sinéad Burke: Right? And how do we both create the space where people can make mistakes? Because at the end of the day, we’re human, but also not allowing people to be using that as a vehicle by which they can be complacent.
[17:46] Jameela Jamil: Yeah, I think it’s a right to reprimand people. I think it’s vital that we reprimand people. I just think cancel culture is really stupid and get misused. You know, it’s a really effective tool to get rid of people who are not safe to be in our society. But we’ve taken it and we use it for everything. It’s like you make one single mistake, we find out that you made a mistake twelve years ago. It has nothing to do with your behavior now. And it’s like that’s it, you’re out. You’re gone forever. It’s like, who do we think we are? What position of strength do the marginalized think we’re in that we could just cut, like, all of our potential allies off? If someone hasn’t done irrevocable harm and that person’s got power and privilege, we need their help. Let’s educate them and bring them on our side and get them to use all their money and power to help us. Look what would happen if I’d been canceled because of all the bullshit that I said 10 years ago, I wouldn’t now be fighting for so many different groups, changing laws, changing global policies and raising awareness. People can get better. If I could get better, anyone would get better.
[18:37] Sinéad Burke: And I think it’s exactly that. It’s about creating a space where people can be educated. And that shouldn’t be my job. I should be allowed to exist and be valid as my whole self because I’m valid as my whole self. But unfortunately, that’s not the world we’re living in. And it’s the responsibility then of people who wish to choose to, or feel like they have no choice but to step forward and share the most vulnerable parts of themselves in order to educate and change the world. But if we don’t do those things exactly as you said, are we just complacent living in a world that’s unequitable to most?
[19:10] Jameela Jamil: It’s really frustrating to have to do the emotional labor and do the extra work of having to explain your marginalization to someone who is in the role of the privileged or they are the oppressor, even. But unfortunately, it’s our only way forward. It’s the only hope that we’ve got. It’s the only chance. They’re not going to go and educate themselves. As you look back through history, that’s never how it’s worked. You know, it’s been us. If you look back through history, unfortunately, the oppressed have had to fight and rally and riot in order to get the attention of the oppressor. And then we rely ultimately upon the mercy of the oppressor. It shows how much people don’t know about history, the way that they’re behaving now, as if we don’t need men as allies, as if we don’t need able bodied people as allies. If we don’t need white people as allies. We do, because unfortunately, it’s going to be them who are going to have to make space for us and give up a seat for us. And that’s going to happen via empathy, via humanity and via us doing that labor. Speaking of all of this, I’m actually launching a company. It’s an allyship platform for exactly what you’re talking about. So are you familiar with my I Weigh movement?
[20:12] Sinéad Burke: I am.
[20:13] Jameela Jamil: It’s this movement on Instagram. It’s at I_ WEIGH. And it sounds like it’s about bodies, but it’s actually the exact opposite. It’s about what’s inside of you. What do you really weigh? I weigh the sum of all of my parts. You cannot measure my worth on a weighing scale. And it’s for people who are trans, or non-binary, or fat, or skinny, or brown, or black, or white, wherever you’re from, or able-bodied or, you know, wherever, whatever background or experience you come from, you can find someone like you on our Instagram page. But I realized that via my activism, activism has become such a toxic space where everyone is just beating each other over the head with this kind of search for moral purity. And you know, there’s a lot of superiority going on within the activism space. And I think it stops a lot of people who could help people like you and me from joining because they feel like if they stick their neck out, their head’s are gonna get chopped off. So I’m building an allyship platform in the shape of a website with video content and written content from amazing people all over the world, where I’m going to call people in where this is your safe space. This is your starter pack into getting engaged with communities that you don’t belong to. So that you can support them and learn about them. Where you’re not going to be made to feel like an idiot. Or you’re allowed to put your hand up and ask questions. We welcome anyone who’s looking to be helpful in this world, and we don’t punish them for not having done it already, or for not knowing all of the answers. And so that’s what I’ll be launching in the New Year.
[21:37] Sinéad Burke: What does success look like with that platform?
[21:40] Jameela Jamil: Success would look like us being able to mobilize all of our followers to continue to do what they did with the, you know, the way they helped me with Facebook and Instagram. I got 250,000 signatures in under three days and was able to use that to pressure Instagram into listening to this desperate need we have to get these goddamn flat-tummy tea products and like diet products off of these huge platforms for minors. And now if you’re a minor, you can no longer find detox diet products or search cosmetic surgery procedures, which is a huge win to get globally to giant corporations to do that. I did that with the help of my community. So imagine what we could do if we expand this into a full platform and build an army of actual activists, who don’t just click and retweet and like. They actually act on their instinct to protect other people. We could change the world. We’ll be moving into changing laws. We’re going to move into lobbying. It is a full space for change. It’s a proper movement against shame. And so that’s what success would look like is having more and more names to sign petitions, and more and more change happening and people coming together, building a community.
[22:41] Sinéad Burke: As an Irish person, I’m very familiar with the notion of shame. It’s kind of embedded within our DNA makeup. But I think it’s also when we talk about activism from a disabled person, I think it’s really important that we, as you said, look at how activism can also be a space in which ableism exists. And often when we talk about protest, when we talk about march, there is an assumption that in order for activism to be real, it has to be physical. And that idea that lots of — Alice Wong is one of the most transformative activists that I’ve ever been exposed to. And her work exists within her space of her home. So how do we, as you said, create this world where everybody gets to do what it is they can and wish to do within the safety of their own space? But I have a question for you. When you wake up every morning. What’s the monologue that’s in your head?
[23:29] Jameela Jamil: I’m not doing enough. I’m failing everyone. This is all gonna blow up in my face. I’m spending so much money because I myself own this company and I only hire women at the moment. And so I’m currently — those just happen to be the best candidates for this company. And I’m paying everyone’s salaries and I’m freaking out that I’m going to fail those women, or fail the community, or not be enough. And so I wake up having frequent panic attacks at about 3 a.m. every single day. I slept two-and-a-half hours last night. This is not great for my mental health right now, but I know that we’re going to win and we’re going to succeed. So that drives me forward. Regarding what you said about activism not being physical — because of my bone disease, I can’t get up. I can’t go and walk for ages during a march. I can’t stand on my feet for very long because my ankle starts to give way. I also can’t be around loud noises and I’m afraid of crowds. So my activism is all about phoning senators or getting petitions signed. You know, it’s just more than the like and retweet. But everything you need to do you can do from your school desk. You can do it from your bed. A lot of my activism takes place from my house and it’s really effective.
[24:32] Sinéad Burke: It is. And it’s just about, I think, giving an awareness to people of their own potential and giving people permission to participate, because even though it seems ridiculous that people need that, but so often people are fearful about the monologue that you’ve just talked about. The idea, well, what if it’s not good enough? What if I’m not good enough? What if I cannot do enough? And instead of I think worrying about that —
[24:53] Jameela Jamil: Doing it all. You just have to do a little bit, do what you can. And that’s what I remind myself of to in order to start breathing again is like, you know what? Doing something is better than doing nothing. And progress, not perfection. That’s something that I preach all the time. Progress, not perfection. That’s how we have to approach life I think.
[25:09] Sinéad Burke: I had a conversation with a friend of mine recently, somebody I really trust and admire. And it was a low moment. It was a difficult moment, where particularly working in fashion and design, I kind of was like, will this ever change? Will my work ever produce tangible physical solutions? And I said to him, like, what’s the point? If it’s not going to transform? And he took some time to think about it and he came back to me, he said, at the end of the year, or at the end of a month, has there been something That has moved the pendulum even slightly? Because without you doing this work, the pendulum wouldn’t have shifted. And isn’t it good that at least there’s some sort of movement and progress for it, as you said?
[25:58] Jameela Jamil: To only a tiny bit of change. You know, you’re only on the cover of Vogue, it’s only a tiny little bit.
[26:03] Sinéad Burke: We both were!
[26:04] Jameela Jamil: You’re inching forward.
[26:03] Sinéad Burke: Inching. All three-and-a-half feet of me. Inching forward.
[26:09] Jameela Jamil: Yeah. You made world history. And, you know, may you start to pick up some goddamn speed, Sinéad.
[26:17] Sinéad Burke: We’ll be back just after this break.
[28:33] Sinéad Burke: What are the moments, particularly the recent ones, that have changed you?
[26:09] Jameela Jamil: Well, some of the moments have changed me, I guess, speaking at the U.N. really changed me. God, I almost got shot on the way in, like genuinely almost got shot on the way in. I’m really afraid of bees. And as I was crossing the road over to the U.N. and Donald Trump was in the building, so there was security everywhere, all these bees randomly started crossing at the crossing as if they were humans, like they’d waited until everyone was walking and they walked over. Yeah. Polite American bees. I freaked out and started running and screaming and flailing my arms. And one of my colleagues had to scream at me to stop me in my tracks. She was like, ‘Jameela, stop running! You’re Pakistani!’ And I immediately stopped because unfortunately, Pakistani people dressed all in black running at the U.N. — not a great look in New York. Understandably, they’d be paranoid. People start to pick up their guns.
[29:27] Sinéad Burke: They’d have questions.
[29:28] Jameela Jamil: Yeah, well, they’d have gunshots in my face. So I almost got killed on the way into the U.N., I was very shaken up, fell down the stairs right into the U.N. Got picked up by the Nobel Peace Prize winner and then had to get onstage, told everyone in the room to shut up, which was a very powerful moment for me — where it was the SDG convention — that’s the Sustainable Development Goals — and they were honoring exceptional women. And I was one of the early speakers. I wasn’t being honored, obviously, it’s the bloody U.N.
[29:57] Sinéad Burke: How rude. Next year.
[30:01] Jameela Jamil: For all my Instagram work! And you had these incredible women and like world leaders and like the head of bloody MasterCard, who was a woman, and all these incredible people. And no one was listening to them in the crowd. It was this event honoring women. And there were a lot of men at the back. And the men were at the bar just talking over the women to the point where women on stage couldn’t hear themselves think. And it’s as if they’d turned up there just for their badge of honor. Just like I got the little pin and I was at the women’s event at the U.N., but I talked over every single one of them. So I got up on stage and I told everyone to shut up. I was like, women have been talked over long enough. So either listen to these incredible women that you are missing, or basically go out. I was shaking while I was doing it. But having the sense of self and the sense of self-empowerment to get up there and tell diplomats and world leaders and huge tech billionaires to be quiet while women are speaking, felt like a defining moment in my life. And everyone was quiet for the rest of the night because they didn’t want the big, scary brown women to — I literally, I was basically like I’m going to come back there and scream all of you.
[31:07] Sinéad Burke: That’s the teacher in you. Wagging your finger.
[30:09] Jameela Jamil: That’s what I said on stage. I was like, I used to be a teacher. I’m sorry, but it’s just this is how I was —
[31:13] Sinéad Burke: Here comes the teacher voice.
[31:15] Jameela Jamil: And then I got to make a speech in complete pin-drop silence, which was terrifying. But that was a big defining moment for me. Like finally standing up for myself, standing up for women properly face-to-face with men. Not doing it on the Internet. Face-to-face with very powerful men. And having them listen to me was amazing. So that was one of them. The Vogue thing was a big moment because I fight against a lot of what the fashion industry perpetuates. And I wrote an essay in that issue criticizing the fashion industry very heavily. So to have them feature my essay unchanged — I think I said something about bleaching an anus and they took that out because, you know, the Duchess of Sussex is editing it and like, that’s just not appropriate. It was very on-brand for me. But having an essay criticizing the fashion industry in Vogue — the epicenter of fashion and culture — and then also being on the cover. I don’t know if they’ve ever had a Pakistani woman on the cover of Vogue before, but definitely not British Vogue that I’ve ever seen. And so just to have these steps forward and to be recognized by the same industry that I’m attacking was incredible. It felt like an incredible moment of change.
[32:18] Sinéad Burke: But it’s that idea as well, you know, for me, one of the most powerful things that have come from Vogue is not necessary me physically being on the cover, but someone like me. And the number of parents who have babies who look like me sending me photographs of their three-year-old holding the cover of the Forces for Change —
[32:35] Jameela Jamil: Incredible.
[32:36] Sinéad Burke: Like, what can they now dream of that I didn’t get to, or I had to push for in order to even think might be possible. And I think it’s the same for you. It’s extraordinary.
[32:48] Jameela Jamil: It was that if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. And, you know, we have to be that representation that we didn’t have. I mean, you didn’t have any representation growing up. I had barely any — mine was just more we would ridicule Pakistani people on television or we’d get them to ridicule themselves, or get white people to brown up and play us ridiculing us.
[33:03] Sinéad Burke: Mine was you get to be in film, but you’ve got to be the court jester or the joke. You’re never the protagonist. And in many ways, particularly for women — and I’m white, straight, cisgendered — there hasn’t been much fluctuation even within what I look like. But in terms of what I look like, what’s it like to live in your body?
[33:23] Jameela Jamil: To live in my body has been a weird journey. It felt terrible for the first 20 years of my life. And then weirdly brown people are in now, I guess? So suddenly it’s kind of cool and I’m kind of getting extra opportunities. And suddenly white women are allowing themselves to look browner and they’re injecting their lips to get bigger lips like us exotic girls, and they want bigger thighs and boobs and bums. It’s bizarre to suddenly be in after a very long time of being out. And I’ve lived as a person with a physical disability who was made fun of or ignored or unable to access any venue. And I feel very fortunate to now be allowed to do those things, but very passionate about making sure the little girl who is in a wheelchair — the young me — can still now participate in the world exactly like I can as a now able-bodied person. Being in my body is it’s a strange and ongoing scary experience just because I’m a woman, so feels quite sexually threatening sometimes to be out in the world. I’m sure you can identify with that. But it’s an ongoing journey. Getting old is great. Being in my thirties feels bloody brilliant and I just don’t engage with my physical appearance as much anymore. Like I don’t look in the mirror — only mirrors from the waist up because I’ve got severe body dysmorphia and I can’t ever get rid of that from my eating disorder. And I just don’t think about my body now. So I could have a giant dick on my face — not actual dick, a drawn penis on my face — and I wouldn’t know until the end of the day because I don’t engage my reflection.
[34:52] Sinéad Burke: Well, my experience is pretty similar, but because most mirrors are out of — so I just don’t see. Someone’s like ‘you have something in your teeth’ and I’m like, oh, that’s probably been there, I don’t know what, three weeks?
[35:02] Jameela Jamil: Yeah, but it’s great. It’s just — I’ve decided to engage with the things that I’m gonna want to remember on my deathbed. And I didn’t think to do that when I was younger because we’re taught not to. Because we are 80 percent of consumers. And so we are the most-targeted and the most doubled-down on when it comes to marketing. And so they try to make us as unhappy with our appearance as humanly possible.
[35:22] Sinéad Burke: Because it’s profitable.
[35:23] Jameela Jamil: Yeah, but now I just don’t really engage. I’m just happy in my skin.
[35:26] Sinéad Burke: As two people who were historically excluded from the system, and are now not only part of it, but shaping it — one of the things that keeps me up at night is making sure that the solution is not complacency, or is not me being satisfied by the fact that I am part of it. And you you’ve mentioned this amazing phrase that ‘if you can see it, you can be it.’ And one of the things that I’m continuously thinking of as well is the phrase ‘nothing about us without us.’ So within your work, how do you make sure that you’re not just creating space for yourself, but continuously providing opportunities?
[36:05] Jameela Jamil: So that’s what I_WEIGH is, and that’s what the company is going to be, is me utilizing my platform to uplift the voices of other people. I will feature on the website sometimes, but it’s mostly the stories of young activists that you haven’t heard of, or that you might not have heard enough from. I want to pass the mic. And I think a lot of people thought I was trying to take up space in the body positivity area, even though for two years I’ve been saying that I’m not an advocate for fuckin’ body positivity — I think it’s an important movement and one that needs to exist, but it’s not my movement because I’m not societally persecuted because of my size. But the media wants to call me the face of body positivity because they want me on the cover their magazines rather than an actual fat woman who is being discriminated against. The person that that movement is actually designed to protect. And that’s the media is bad, because the media love glamorous, privileged people and they’ll listen to us in a way that they won’t listen to the marginalized. I know that because I used to be marginalized. And when I was a marginalized activist, I was victim-shamed. And I was blamed for my circumstances and ignored. But now the same girl is privileged and suddenly everyone is listening to me like I’ve never said the same shit that I’ve been saying for ten years. There’s video footage of me 14 years ago saying the same stuff that I’m saying now. I’m so unoriginal. But I never wanted to take up space, but I keep being given all this space. And so what I knew I had to do, it was almost like a vacuum, just hoover up any space I could take so that I could gain enough power and privilege to now bust the doors open for other people. And so, as of next year, I will be launching the voices of people who are much smarter and much more informed than I am.
[37:37] Sinéad Burke: What gives you hope?
[37:39] Jameela Jamil: What gives me hope? People like you. People who relentlessly fight against a system that keeps pushing us back, or keeps treating us like a prop. People who recognize that they aren’t a prop and they continue on the fight. You know, even with MeToo, I feel like for a lot of people who got involved when it was trendy, they’ve sort of stopped. But people like Tarana Burke — who got tremendously under-credited for that movement, she was the person who started it — she’s still out there every single day going to colleges and universities and schools and writing, and going to panels around the world talking about this. It’s the people who carry on the work beyond it being trendy. Those are the people that give me hope. Kids give me hope. They’re so intelligent. This generation who grew up on the Internet — while it’s awful to grow up on the Internet because the Internet is so toxic — it’s also amazing because they’re gifted with this emotional intelligence and dialogue and vocabulary that we never had. They understand trauma and PTSD and and parental boundaries like we never did. So they’re so much more clued up than ask. They’re so much more active than us in creating change. And they seem to be so much more emboldened than we ever could have been. The youth give me hope.
[38:41] Sinéad Burke: Jameela, this has been such a treat. And I am so admiring of the trajectory that you have propelled forward, not just for yourself, but for so many others. And I hope you take consistent moments where you reflect back on who you were as a kid and all that you have achieved not just for yourself, but for so many others, and really find a moment to revel in your success and the opportunities that you’ve forged for others.
[39:09] Jameela Jamil: I don’t think it’s in my nature, unfortunately. I think I might be too emotionally damaged to do that. But what I am is constantly driven by the experience of the little girl to make sure that my pain and my trauma didn’t happen to me for nothing. I have to recycle it into something good for other people. Otherwise then I was just someone who won a terrible lottery. And so that’s I think that’s yours and my journey in this world is to take our pain and roll it into something beautiful and give it to the world.
[39:34] Sinéad Burke: I mean, we did it.
[39:36] Jameela Jamil: Yeah, we’re doing it now.
[39:37] Sinéad Burke: Thank you, Jameela.
[39:39] Jameela Jamil: Thanks.
[39:42] Sinéad Burke: I absolutely loved that conversation. I love the space that we’re creating in social media and art, generally, for people to show their true colors, be their whole selves, speak truth. And I just really love the honest conversation that we had about learning in public. As a teacher, I understand the importance of making mistakes and finding the space in order to make those mistakes and learn to do and be better. Check out Jameela on NBC’s the Good Place and follow her online at @JameelaJamilofficial. And @I_WEIGH on Instagram. This week’s person you should know is Bethany Rutter. Bethany describes herself as an author and a fat activist. She has an amazing book called ‘No Big Deal.’ And if you haven’t read it, or if you don’t follow Bethany on Instagram, I’d recommend you do both immediately. You’ll find her on Instagram @BethanyRutter. See you next week.
[40:55] Sinéad Burke: As Me with Sinéad is a Lemonada Media original and is executive produced by Jessica Cordova Cramer and edited by Ivan Kuraev. Music is by Jerome Rankin. Our sales and distribution partner is Westwood One. We’ll be releasing one new episode every Thursday this fall and in the New Year. If you’ve liked what you’ve heard, don’t be shy. Tell your friends to listen and subscribe on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you like to listen. Please do rate and review us as well. To continue the conversation, find me on Instagram and Twitter @thesineadburke. And find Lemonada Media on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @lemonadamedia.