In over 10 years interviewing celebrities, I’m not sure I’ve bookended one talking about boobs. But this is exactly what happened during my conversation with Jameela Jamil. First, she told me that her knees, which she had drawn up to her chest, weren’t boobs (an easy mistake to make over Zoom), and last, she told me how she had to ask to get her back fat put back in a picture in the group shots of the cast of The Good Place. “Everyone else is airbrushed, and I’m not. They removed my fat roll, but that’s what happens to women when they wear strapless. They get a little extra tit on the back. Put some respect on my back tit!”
Contrary to our above chat, we didn't spend the entire time focused on boobs. I talked to Jamil about her new campaign with The Body Shop on self-love, which is a perfect alliance in many ways, as Jamil is so outspoken about topics such as not airbrushing (see the aforementioned back-tit comment), and she often rails against the beauty industry's constantly shifting goalposts of what is deemed desirable.
The Body Shop recently commissioned a worldwide survey on how women currently feel about themselves. The study, titled the Self Love Index and created with market research firm Ipsos, ran between November and December 2020 with over 22,000 people in 21 different countries. It comprises a number of academic measures of self-worth, well-being and happiness and reveals how age, gender, country and living standards impact how people feel about themselves. One startling revelation is that 72% of women in the UK often wish their body was different.
Of course, I'm not here to ask Jamil to provide all the answers, nor do I expect them, but she's definitely a leading light when it comes to highlighting that our worth isn't purely based on aesthetics and often talks about not buying into the fads that certain celebrities push ("Hair gummies don't work!") and how to prevent yourself from striving to achieve unobtainable beauty standards. The TV star launched her I Weigh campaign in 2018 after seeing an Instagram post about how much all the Kardashian sisters weigh. The movement initially started with people sharing Instagram selfies featuring the other aspects about themselves that had nothing to do with their weight ("dreamer," "runner," "creative," "artist"). Now, it boasts a website, a podcast, and an Instagram account with over one million followers.
"I’m aware that I’m someone who’s deemed as 'societally' attractive," says Jamil, "so it’s easier to fob me off. ‘Well, it’s easy for you to say.’ But I’m still not the beauty standard. I’m not cellulite-free. I’m not skinny skinny. I don’t have a tiny little European nose. I don’t have perfect skin all the time. I’m still someone who magazines desperately want to edit. For the longest time, I wasn’t a beauty standard because I’m Indian and Pakistani. You know, brown girls, brown features, big lips, these things weren’t in all the time. So I had to learn how to accept myself."
So then, what's the real secret to enhancing self-love? Jamil makes it pretty clear it's down to one word: boundaries. "The first thing to do is curate your space. Who are you following online? What companies do you follow online? Do they edit [the] shit out of their photographs? If so, unfollow them. Stop bankrolling bad behaviour. Who are you talking to? Do your friends make you feel bad about the way you look? Are your family toxic about the way that you look? Do you need to start setting some boundaries with the people around you? I think it’s really important to first look at this protectively. We need to practice self-defense of the mind, and a lot of that comes from creating boundaries for ourselves."
That said, Jamil is always quick to ensure she doesn't come across as judgemental. "I’m not here to shit on anyone who’s had Botox. There are a lot of trans people in the world who rely on surgery or Botox to live a safe life. But I think we need to be more transparent about it and shift our goalposts to what we think is important. Those of us with big platforms have a duty to remind people that they are not just what they look like."
This perhaps is the key point Jamil is making. While plenty of celebrities, actresses and A-listers might look a certain way when dressed up with their hair and makeup done, when it's off, they don't look like that. Despite her desire to be transparent, that doesn't mean Jamil hates clothes and makeup—far from it. She's a big fan, often sharing pictures and videos of herself in red carpet gowns and bold makeup looks.
What's the line, then, between enjoying makeup and clothes and that taking over your life? "I think if you feel like you can’t leave the house without it or you apologise when you don’t have it on,that’s a problem. I think there’s a way to be celebratory with makeup, but I think you have to spend as much time without it on, so you’re not repulsed by that image. I think it’s really important to not edit your photographs too, as the detriment it does to you is so little explained. One of the things that really drew me to The Body Shop when I was a kid is that they didn’t edit their photographs. It was one of the only places I'd see goosebumps or pores or body hair."
The good news is that the pressure on many of us to dress up or look a certain way has definitely reduced over the past year due to the pandemic, and Jamil wants to keep it that way. I asked her what her utopian version of a post-pandemic world looks like.
"I would like for us to not feel like we have to do anything. If we choose to wear makeup, we do it in a fun, celebratory way that highlights the bits that we do like rather than covering up everything that we hate. I don’t want to paint a new face on top of our faces. I would like us to have comfortable nights out. I don’t want our feet to be bleeding at the end of the night. How are we even going to wear heels after this is over? I want us to be more individual. I want more diversity in magazines and media so that we can see people who are diverse in their appearance walk with confidence. And I don’t want people to wear clothes that are trying to make them look thinner that they can’t eat or breathe in. I want us to make all our decisions from a place of fun rather than a place of fear."
Jameela Jamil is one of the leading lights supporting The Body Shop's global self-love campaign. The activist beauty company believes self-love is the next frontier in creating positive change in the world and hopes to inspire one million acts of self-love in one year.