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Jameela Jamil on the red carpet

Jameela Jamil’s Fight Against Fatphobia Continues... to be Problematic

Gettyimages | Rich Polk
By Robin Zabiegalski

The Good Place actress Jameela Jamil has joined forces with the nonprofit organization Women of Color Unite to fight against sizeism in the entertainment industry. Jamil has been an outspoken activist for the body positive community since 2018 when she started her “I Weigh” campaign.

She’s spoken out against everything fatphobic from photoshopping to detox teas. Jamil has made a brand out of being body positive and has positioned herself as a champion against fatphobia.

Unfortunately, to the people Jamil claims to be fighting for - actual fat people - her activism falls far short.

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Ignoring the History of the Movement

Two plus sized women and one straight sized woman in bathing suits in the water at the beach
Gettyimages | Rawpixel

The topics and concepts that Jamil is talking about are nothing new. Fat activists have been talking about fatphobia and sizeism for decades. Third-wave feminist literature tackled diet culture, the beauty myth, and the connection to eating disorders in the 90s.

And more importantly, actual fat people within the fat activism movement are talking about these things right now. But Jamil rarely acknowledges the long history of fat activism. She rarely credits the activists who have been fighting this fight for years. And as a result, the mainstream media doesn’t either.

Using her Platform to Lift Up Activists

A plus sized woman wearing a t-shirt that says "Born to be real not perfect"
Gettyimages | Agostina Valle

Early on in her body positive crusade, Jamil was criticized for trying to be the face of the body positive movement as a thin person. Jamil responded that she wasn’t trying to be the face of the movement, she was trying to use her platform to boost the voices of fat activists. Which is the perfect approach for an ally to take.

Unfortunately, Jamil rarely follows through on her promise to signal boost fat activists. Instead of stepping aside to let fat activists speak for themselves, Jamil continues to do most of the talking.

Acknowledging and Understanding Privilege

Black and white photo of Jameela Jamil on the street
Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jameela_jamil.jpg

An important part of being an ally is acknowledging and understanding your privilege - how you benefit from the systems of oppression you’re fighting. Though Jamil regularly acknowledges her privilege, she rarely dives into the nuances.

She’s in a unique position to educate thin, traditionally beautiful women about how they benefit from diet culture and fatphobia. But her discussion on her privilege is usually limited to saying that she knows as a thin person that she doesn’t experience the discrimination of being in a fat body. She rarely examines how her body has afforded her access to a world few can live in and a voice that many don’t have.

The Capitalism of Body Positivity

Pile of $20 bills
Unsplash | Jorge Salvador

Capitalism is intrinsically linked to diet culture and fatphobia. The weight loss industry generates billions in revenue every year, as does the wellness industry. Truly fighting fatphobia and diet culture also requires fighting capitalism.

But Jamil’s body-positive crusade is entwined with capitalism. She has built a brand out of her body positivity that has gained her lots of attention, which all results in dollars in her pocket. She transformed her “I Weigh” campaign into a company, Though the company’s goal is admirable - to work on policy changes - it further cements her work within the capitalist system instead of acknowledging it as part of the problem.

Good Intentions Executed Poorly

Jameela Jamil speaking
Gettyimages | Rachel Luna

There’s no doubt that Jamil’s intentions are good. She’s an eating disorder survivor. She sees people being discriminated against and she’s trying to use her privilege and platform to help. In theory, her efforts are admirable.

In practice, her activism needs a lot of work. To be a truly effective ally, she could be using her platform to truly lift up the voices and work of real fat activists. She could be using her platform to examine the nuances of thin and beauty privilege. And she could be working to truly dismantle the systems of oppression that she actively benefits from.

Until she does the work involved in being a good ally, her work will remain good intentions executed poorly.

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