In comedy sitcom “The Good Place,” Jameela Jamil plays Tahani Al-Jamil, a lavish, spoiled rich woman who is constantly seeking affirmation of her worth.
It’s ironic that Jamil plays this role because, in her day-to-day life, the 33-year-old actor is advocating for the opposite. Since founding the body-positive Instagram account, “I Weigh” last year, Jamil has been calling for more inclusive and considerate media representations of women’s bodies.
Jamil has oriented herself and her activism around the crucial fact that, in America, what is deemed an “acceptable body” is often bought — through personal trainers, gym memberships, expensive food products and much more. Yet, at the same time, it is expected and largely perpetuated by mainstream media that all women must strive for this body. This discrepancy represents an acute injustice that Jamil, a self-proclaimed feminist, is fighting against.
Jamil’s advocacy fell under the limelight last month, after she called Khloé Kardashian out for an Instagram post advertising detox drink Flat Tummy Tea.
“If you’re too irresponsible to: a) own up to the fact that you have a personal trainer, nutritionist, probable chef and a surgeon to achieve your aesthetic rather than this laxative product… And b) tell (followers) the side effects of this NON-FDA approved product….Then I guess I have to,” Jamil wrote in the comments section. “It’s incredibly awful that this industry bullied you until you became this fixated on your appearance. That’s the media’s fault. But now please don’t put that back into the world, and hurt other girls, the way you have been hurt. You’re a smart woman. Be smarter than this.”
Kardashian has since deleted the post, explaining that these sorts of advertisements represented viable job opportunities for her. Jamil — who didn’t buy Kardashian’s excuse — responded strongly to this on Twitter, standing by her initial sentiment that the advertisement was creating harm.
Actions like this represent Jamil’s overarching goals of reforming how the media impacts women and young girls’ body images. We, the audience, must appreciate Jamil beyond her hilarious role in “The Good Place.” We must applaud her activism — especially considering the rarity of commercially successful celebrities immediately taking it upon themselves to use their privilege for activism after making it big.
Even though Jamil now has a celebrity status in the U.S., her life was far from easy when she was growing up in England. Born with a congenital hearing loss, she went through several operations, but still has impaired hearing in both ears. At the age of 17, she was hit by a car and broke her back, which left her bedridden for a year and a half. These experiences motivated her to not only make the most out of her life, but also to make sure she’s having fun while doing so.
Jamil started off as an English teacher and slowly made her way into television as a presenter on T4, the UK’s leading youth entertainment show. She also worked at BBC Radio 1 as a DJ, running her own show.
Despite all this experience, Jamil experienced quite a few barriers in becoming an actor. In an interview with CNBC, she attributed this difficulty largely to unhealthy expectations for women’s bodies.
“I’d been told I was too old, too fat and too ethnic to try and make it into America(n media) at (age) 28. I feel like they don’t say that to men,” Jamil said. “But they said it to me.”
Jamil knows that she made it because Michael Schur, writer of “The Good Place,” took a chance on her, as she explained in the CNBC interview. Despite her success, she knows that barriers for women continue to exist.
Thus, her movement I Weigh is tackling these inequalities. Jamil has started this platform for people of all body types to express pride in themselves and their bodies, and the results are beautiful:
Season 4 of “The Good Place” is set to release later this year, and when we once again get to see Tahani in all her opulence, we can appreciate the hilarious irony of this character and the down-to-earth presence of Jamil. As the activist is fighting to point out, there’s always more going on than what appears on the screen.