After her portrayal of heiress Tahani Al-Jamil on NBC’s “The Good Place,” British actress Jameela Jamil might be known most for her active participation in the online crusade for body positivity. This often leads to public takedowns of major celebrities, such as the Kardashian sisters, who make extra cash promoting questionable appetite suppressants, meal replacements and the like on social media.
“You are selling us something that doesn’t make us feel good,” Jamil once said of the Kardashians in a podcast interview. “You’re selling us self-consciousness. The same poison that made you clearly develop some sort of body dysmorphic or facial dysmorphic, you are now pouring back into the world."
The Kardashians kept mum regarding her consistent criticism of their #ads until late last week, when the New York Times published an all-encompassing feature ahead of their E! reality show’s latest season. Matriarch Kris Jenner simply avoids “that negative energy space,” she said, whereas Kim Kardashian-West and sister Khloé Kardashian defended their endorsements.
And so the beef persists, as it has for almost a year now. The Kardashians post controversially, and Jamil responds firmly. Many of those paying attention to such things applaud Jamil for her willingness to go up against larger public figures for an important cause, though some have qualms about her methods (which we will revisit later on). Then it all dies down, until the Kardashians post again.
This first occurred last May, when Kim posed with Flat Tummy Co.'s appetite suppressant lollipops on Instagram. Jamil called Kim a “terrible and toxic influence on young girls,” adding that, despite Kris’s business skills, the family’s behavior makes her feel “actual despair.” She followed up with another tweet urging Kim to “eat enough to fuel your BRAIN and work hard and be successful.”
Jamil’s tweets went viral, as did the contents of an Instagram story circulated by a Kardashian fan account on Twitter a few months later. In it, Kendall Jenner tells Kim that she’s “really concerned” about her not eating enough: “Like, you look so skinny,” the model says to her older sister, who responds, “Oh my god, thank you!” Khloé then tells Kim that she’s “never seen a human being look as good.”
Several celebrities, including actresses Emmy Rossum and Stephanie Beatriz, reacted negatively to the exchange, pointing out that Kim and Khloé's comments seemed to praise anorexia. Jamil shared an Instagram post saying that the weights of influential women such as Florence Nightingale, Rosa Parks and Malala Yousafzai haven’t been discussed because “it doesn’t matter.”
Jamil also went on Channel 4′s aforementioned “Ways to Change the World” podcast in August and accused the Kardashians of, maybe unknowingly, acting as “double agents” for the patriarchy: “The double agent for the patriarchy is basically just a woman who perhaps unknowingly is still putting the patriarchal narrative out into the world, is still benefiting off, profiting off and selling a patriarchal narrative to other women,” she said in a snippet widely circulated on Twitter.
Though the bulk of her viral comments have regarded the Kardashians, Jamil’s messaging extends beyond that realm. She has called out other celebrities, such as Cardi B, for promoting potentially dangerous products. The actress also runs @i_weigh, a popular Instagram account created a couple of months before Kim’s lollipop post. The account, described in its bio as a “movement,” has more than a half-million followers and shares inspirational messages such as, “You are so much more than a body” and “Make vulnerability viral.”
But, as the Canadian magazine Flare stated in reference to Jamil in December, “even our feminist idols can falter.” The actress attracted backlash that month for a personal essay published by the BBC that criticized airbrushing but, surprisingly, also called for it to be illegal: “I think it’s a disgusting tool that has been weaponised, predominantly against women, and is responsible for so many more problems than we realise because we are blinded by the media, our culture and our society,” she stated. “I suffered from eating disorders as a teenager and so I know how damaging ‘perfect’ images in magazines can be.”
That same day, she shared a stunning, non-airbrushed photo of herself on Instagram.
While acknowledging that the actress is “correct in noting that magazines have historically retouched women’s photos beyond recognition,” the Atlantic’s Hannah Giorgis argued that Jamil generally neglects the fact that she “herself is not a candidate for the most extreme forms of visual alteration.” A similar conversation ensued more recently after Jamil called her Aerie campaign “inclusive of everyone,” though critics felt it didn’t represent a wide enough range of body types.
“An unblurred stretch mark might ruffle a magazine editor’s feathers, but it’s not going to keep Jamil from accessing the many benefits that beautiful women enjoy,” Giorgis wrote, later adding that “Jamil seems unwilling to separate her activism from an odd investment in judging women’s behavior according to a rubric she herself is not evaluated by.”
Jamil values transparency, after all, as she expressed in a comment left last month on Khloé Kardashian’s Instagram post promoting meal-replacement shakes: “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 them the side effects … Then I guess I have to,” Jamil wrote.
Khloé told the Times that she has never had a chef and that she is aware of the fact that many of her followers can’t afford the personal training sessions she documents on Snapchat. “Well, listen, I am showing you what to do, silly person, 15 repetitions, three times, here’s the move,” she said.
Jamil tweeted a straightforward response to the comment: “Thank you, next.” Thumbs-down emoji.