Celebrity Culture: Jameela Jamil and the Importance of Activism

November 8, 2019

With the prominence of social media in this day and age, it feels like we see celebrities everywhere we go, and we always know what they’re up to. This is just something we’re used to, and a lot of us don’t really think about. It’s pretty fun to live vicariously through celebrities taking lavish vacations, to judge dresses on the Oscars red carpet, or to laugh at a Keeping Up With the Kardashians clip you see on Twitter. In America, it’s commonplace to admire and know a lot about famous people. But often, these celebrities have huge impacts on regular people, especially teenagers, that we don’t even realize. These impacts can be small and seemingly inconsequential, like basing your style off of Zendaya’s recently released Tommy Hilfiger collection, or they can be bigger and even dangerous, like the Kardashian’s famously promoted Flat Tummy detox teas and shakes. This tea supposedly flattens your stomach in a healthy way, and the Kardashian sisters are paid to promote it all over their social medias. However, many doctors have stated how dangerous and bad for you these teas are, with side effects like cramping, stomach pains, diarrhea, and dehydration-- even though the company claims the tea cleanse is “100% natural and doesn’t have any nasties in it”. As stated above, however, the Kardashian sisters swear by it, implying that the tea alone is how they got their bodies to look the way they do. By posting things like this on social media, these celebrities greatly impact their audience, which, in the Kardashians’ case, is largely made up of young girls. Things like these detox teas warp girls’ perceptions of body image and self esteem. However, other celebrities have spoken out against things like this, one of the most notable of which being actress Jameela Jamil.

Jameela Jamil is an Indian-Pakistani British actress made famous recently for her role on the NBC sitcom The Good Place. She had a rough childhood as an insecure, poor kid at an elite all-girls school. She suffered from anorexia and extreme body dysmorphia as a teenager, admitting at a Makers conference in 2019 that she “didn’t eat really a meal between the age of maybe fourteen and seventeen.” But at the age of seventeen, Jamil was in a devastating car accident in which she broke her back, had to re-learn how to walk, and consequently reexamined her relationship with her body. The accident “Made me realize I’d really abused (my body) and taken it for granted for a really long time,” Jamil continued. Jamil carried this newfound love for herself and her body into her career years later, and continues to use her platform to spread these ideas of body positivity -- or, in her words, body liberation -- to the young girls in her audience that she knows she influences every day.

Jameela Jamil is breaking down barriers every day in her career, and encouraging others with similar platforms as her to do so as well. She is largely critical of celebrities that don’t use their fame and privilege in the right way. “What I’m trying to be is someone in the public eye who’s owning up to my mistakes, owning up to my ignorance and willfully educating, showing people that I’m educating myself and educating them alongside me,” Jamil stated. The activist is aware of her privilege as a thin, conventionally attractive woman, and knows that certain aspects of the body positivity and liberation movements aren’t for women like her. She is a proud supporter of “passing the mic” -- that is, using her platform to give people without her privileges a chance to speak out and be heard.

Activism and feminism like this is so important to everyone, and one particular group that Jamil is supporting, as stated before, is young girls. It’s no secret that adolescent girls take the brunt of a lot of hatred in society today. Criticized for everything from their bodies and appearance, makeup or lack thereof, interests, skills, you name it, being a teenage girl can be horrible. This is not helped by the fact that often, female representation in the media is limited to skinny white women.  “The ‘Representation Matters’ movement covers race and body types. If all we see is happy skinny people on TV, in magazines, movies, music videos, essentially all media and even down to character descriptions in books, all we will ever want to be is skinny, or tall, or whatever beauty standard that is currently set in place by society,” Lydia Burke (11) said. “Whether we think it consciously or subconsciously it’s always there.” A celebrity speaking out against the lack of representation in media can mean so much to so many people. “It’s up to those with platforms to change it. There’s only so much positive self-talk in the mirror can do when everything else you see puts you down,” Burke continued.

In a day when the actions of celebrities take center stage in a lot of our lives, it’s so important to pay attention to the ones who, like Jameela Jamil, are taking their platform and using it for activism, and to put more good into the world.

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