Speak on It: Jameela Jamil
That’s all I could say when I saw the controversy this week about Jameela Jamil, a woman whose work and personality I greatly admire, spoke out about influencers and fake health products. There is so much to unpack here and I’ll try to keep it kind of brief. If you aren’t familiar with Jamil, please watch The Good Place or see the instagram feed I Weigh. She is amazing and a vocal advocate for women. She also calls people out and this is where she gets controversial. There is a lot of debate in the feminist movement about call out culture. No one is a perfect feminist. However, what she did this week was incredible from a lot of perspectives. If you haven’t been following the story here it is. She basically saw celebrities selling a laxative tea and called them out on it. She didn’t just say “it’s bad for you.” She said it wasn’t FDA approved. She said if you want to lose weight eat healthier, talk to a trainer or doctor, and don’t take laxatives. Then made a promotional video as if she was really taking the product. The word “savage” is used all too often these days, this is savage. For people who aren’t familiar with eating disorders (mostly men because even this article doesn’t quite get it) you don’t know a. The devastating motivation to stay thin and b. The unhealthy ways you achieve it. I’m a driven strong woman which means I know a lot of highly motivated other women. I am no stranger to eating disorders. I have two friends who have been to rehab for eating disorders and I had to bang on a bathroom stall in high school to keep a friend from binging and purging. I went through a stage where I ate 800 calories a day, passed out in a shower, and knocked my tooth in and broke my thumb. This year my dentist was like “we can cosmetically fix that” referring the the gap in my teeth. No thanks. Aesthetics got me into this mess and I don’t mind it. No, I’m not spending money I don’t have to fix it. To hear someone be so blunt about this is beyond refreshing.
Jamil and I are about the same age. There was literally no body diversity anywhere growing up. Plus size sections were woeful. I could not fit into most of the clothes for girls my age. If you have never been in a dressing room and ripped something- it’s a weird experience to share. It is humiliating because it is literally stuffing your physical self into society’s expectations of femininity. We are supposed to be delicate tiny things. If you have never read a celebrity weight loss story where someone’s highest weight is still incredibly low and you are 30 pounds heavier than that weight- it’s hard to explain. Casey Wilson, an actress I would have play me in the story of my life, told this horrific story on Bitch Sesh about when she got fired from SNL. She had to make a public statement about it not being about her being fat. She was so upset, her sound bite was “It wasn’t because I was fat, it was because I was phat.” She had to say she wasn’t funny enough to be SNL. I can’t imagine. She had no idea what to say and she is so embarrassed about that time. Jamil herself struggled with anorexia and said she didn’t eat a full meal from the time she was 14-17. For me, since I was a teen I’ve struggled with my weight. I’ve never been happy with the way I looked and if I was 18 and someone suggested weight loss tea I would consider it. For example:
Age 18, a boy with a crush on me is all kind but gently lets me know “I’m not that skinny.”
Age 20, making out with my then boyfriend and having him point out that I was so “skinny everywhere but the stomach.” He asked if I had ever noticed that? Answer: Yes. I didn’t dump him.
Age 21, I was crying on a park bench after drinking too much, sharing too much, and feeling like a mess. A random dude comes up to me, points at my stomach and says “cover that up.” I cry harder.
Age 22, a guy is trying to chat me up and is a mutual friend. I’m a little tipsy and instead of a flirty drunk girl he gets “music historian Ali.” Hawt. As we walk to the same party, I discuss my love of Lou Reed. He loses interest. At the party, which was at a friend’s parents house I mention “this is just like high school.” Except to be fair, I didn’t drink in high school, went to theater parties, and mostly watched zombie/horror films with my friends. Anyway, later in the evening I hear said boy say “and then she says it’s just like high school. Ha! She was the weird girl who just sat in the corner eating cupcakes by herself.” His whole circle laughs and I know they are laughing at me. Dude, I only binge ate cupcakes once at a party and it was a bad day! This is embarrassing but there are tears in my eyes and I go off by myself. I later tell a friend who was at that party and thinks I’m overreacting because they were clearly talking about her. She gets upset too. Such is the power of words and writing off “fat women.”
Age 33, I have had a baby and I have stretch marks and my body is completely different. My husband still loves me but I don’t feel sexy at all. My body is a mom bod. While dad bods are considered sexy, mom bods are seen as giving up. I’m more exhausted than I have ever been and it takes time windows to exercise and even put on makeup.
These are my stories. I have friends with horrific stories of body shaming, again, not my stories to share. But the takeaway is, people are aware of diets and that their bodies aren’t what is seen as the “ideal beauty.” If you feel confident and someone goes out of their way to tell you that you aren’t where they think you need to be, it can be devastating. Even if it is a stranger because then it ignites this paranoia of “is this what people think of me and people who love me are too scared to tell me?” We’re conditioned to hate ourselves so we buy more stuff. It’s a vicious cycle. A lot of the body positivity movement comes with the baggage of “love yourself, buy my product!” Which is why what Jamil did was so revolutionary.
The truth about weight loss and the ideal body type is a lot of it is an illusion. A lot of celebrities that we see are people who have the means to have a nutritionist, trainer, and the best hair and makeup teams money can buy. They also have the time to work out for hours on end. If you are like me, a working mother, you are lucky if you can squeeze in a half hour to work out. The images we see are photoshopped and airbrushed. On top of which, you are supposed to look a certain way. I remember watching Margaret Cho talk about her show “All American Girl” and how she had to diet like crazy. In interviews for PR she would say things like “I eat a lot of fish and rice.” Meanwhile, her kidneys were shutting down and she was peeing blood. I went to a lecture this week about weight loss and how to discuss it. I work in medical education and there is so much research that proves there is no easy way to lose weight. We’ve been prescribed diet and exercise but that isn’t enough for some people. There are a myriad of factors that go into losing weight including social standing, economics, environment, and genetics. They talked about a study with Biggest Loser contestants and how to lose that amount of weight they were eating about 1200 calories and working about 3.5 hours a day. Is that sustainable? Well their resting metabolism went down after that so they would have had to work out even more to keep the weight off. Their bodies were out of whack. How many people do you know who have the energy and time to work out for five hours a day? It’s far more complicated than will power. Is it easy to say “Hey guys, you can do your best, spend a ton of money, and you are going to look different but most likely not be what society thinks is the ideal body type?” Money please! It doesn’t work that way. There are a million factors that go into this and you could write a doctoral thesis- which one of my best friends did- on these things and only scratch the surface. It’s an intersection of medicine, sociology, psychology, and economics.
Sidenote- I’m an Amazon Associate so I might get a small fee if you purchase things from certain links on my page.
As a 33 year old woman, I’m just now learning about influencer culture. I like to think I’m not susceptible to it however if my favorite podcasters suggest something I will buy it. Karen Kilgariff, Georgia Hardstark, Casey Wilson, and Danielle Schneider have rarely steered me wrong. Casey introduced me to Whispering Angel rose. Georgia introduced me to “The Tale”, an amazing movie that broke my heart and I’m glad she talked about it. I feel like I know them and they are my friends so why would they steer me towards something that would hurt myself? Influencer culture is a real thing and you can make money doing it. Social media has allowed us to be influencers so how do we use these things for good? We all have friends with side hustles and MLM. One of my favorite Reductress articles is “Wow! This woman is reaching out to all the girls she bullied in high school to sell them skincare products!” I’m now seeing ads for things like “if you saw Titanic in theaters you should get an anti-aging serum!” There’s a power in controlling your image and we are all vulnerable to it. I, myself, am an affiliate for a few companies. Did you know about VYNL? Or the athleisure brand Seeing Thngs? If you use the code ALISONG you can get 10% off and I get a slight commission. I was curious about being a brand ambassador and I actually really like their cropped hoodie. I am trying to find brands I feel comfortable advertising and I do feel a sense responsibility. In come these bullshit laxative teas. Here’s where it is different, to get a national campaign you are getting a ton of money. If you have a discount code, you get a commission from that product. I understand the need to hustle. I have a few side hustles myself. But if you are an influencer in that you want people to emulate your lifestyle and you are selling them a product you don’t use that hurts them? It’s crossing an ethical line. Jamil did an excellent job calling them out. None of these women are hurting for money, they have millions of followers and lots of products they work with. Most of them have day jobs they make money from. There was this argument about “D-List reality show stars.” It doesn’t matter if traditional marketing metrics say what makes someone famous- it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s about your reach. Think of the people the Kardashians reach via instagram and the highest rated TV shows? Now picture that every day instead of once a week. Who reads magazines? How is print doing? So you can’t write people off like that. I don’t know YouTube stars because I’m 33. However, my younger relatives pretty much only watch that. I will never begrudge people getting money to support themselves. I don’t like wealth hoarding and I don’t like people who make money hurting people and the environment.
Regulations and Your Health
We don’t really live in a science literate society. It’s a fact. No one is expecting you to know rocket science but there is a LOT of misinformation out there about science. Especially medical science and weight loss. There is a lot of skepticism about medicine and lots of people will talk about “toxins” in things. However, did you know if a product is marketed as “alternative” or “natural” it’s not regulated by the FDA? A lot of these companies lobby just as hard as the pharmaceutical companies (not defending them) and the products have less oversight. You can buy supplements that have no nutritional value or literally 3,000% more of the vitamin than you need. This is dangerous because it’s not the poison it’s the dose. It goes both ways. You can get really high snorting cinnamon. When I was pregnant I wasn’t advised not to drink herbal teas because it could induce labor. What you ingest has power and it isn’t just natural good and processed bad. It’s a whole complicated thing. I read this amazing book that I think everyone should read called “Do You Believe in Magic?” and it talks about these misconceptions. Everything is nuanced. I’m assuming these products that Jamil was calling out were marketed as natural so they weren’t regulated by the FDA. These could really really hurt you. They are obviously laxatives and like Jamil said it’s not sustainable weight loss. It’s encouraging you to hurt yourself to lose weight. It’s reckless. We joke about snake oil salesmen from the nineteenth century or how you could buy cocaine from a pharmacist in the early 20th century. This is the same thing. Do I think most of the people marketing wanted to actively hurt people? No. But do I think they should be aware that this is now part of their brand? Yes. I think about people like Jenny McCarthy and how little respect I have for her. Her brand is pseudoscience. Don’t jump on that bandwagon. Please. Like it or not, you do influence people and none of the factors of people’s weight is social influences.
Disclaimer not a doctor. Always talk to your physician about what is best for you.
This is why Jameela Jamil’s campaign I Weigh is amazing. Because we are more than numbers on a scale and we should celebrate it. Getting my masters degree, being a mama, being a good wife, daughter, sister and friend takes more energy and quite frankly is more rewarding than obsessively losing weight. She’s asking us to put energy in things that reward us and help us be happier people. It’s amazing. As someone who gets really focused on things, it is important to see the bigger picture. I was being really self deprecating about my weight while getting a meal with some dear friends. One of my friends just told me to “stop it” and she was genuinely hurt and that’s when I found about her eating disorder and rehab for it. Much like the #metoo movement, these are stories that femmes have shared among ourselves and I think it’s important we speak out about it. I have a long way to go and I’m still learning. But it’s liberating to be in a community where you can stuff your beauty standards and we celebrate people for being their best selves. I told you I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
If you feel comfortable sharing a story, please do. If you don’t, I get it. All my love to all of my readers and feel free to share what you “weigh” in the comments. Thanks Jameela Jamil. I would like to shake your hand.