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Jameela Jamil: leading the charge toward self-worth

When Jameela Jamil posted an Instagram picture of herself detailing her internal — rather than external — values, she began an online phenomenon promoting self-worth and body positivity.

Jameela Jamil is angry. You can hear it in her voice. A year or so ago she saw a picture of the Kardashians on Instagram with numbers written across their bodies, which turned out to be their weight in kilograms. She was outraged. “I thought: ‘This has got to stop,’” says Jameela. “Because this can’t be how we measure people’s worth: by their body weight.”

We’re in an era where for the first time, probably ever in history, parents are behind their kids.

As a response, Jameela posted a picture of herself on Instagram, which highlighted her internal values rather than her external ones. “I decided to show everybody what I weigh — but by my achievements, relationships and my contribution to society,” she says.

People joined in, posting similar pictures of themselves. So many, in fact, that Jameela started an Instagram account called I Weigh, which has become a body positive internet phenomenon with over 400,000 followers. “I was surprised that something so simple could catch on in the way that it did,” she admits. “But what’s really amazing is how long it’s gone on for. We’re a year in now and it still has such momentum and interest. Women come up to me — and I mean really famous women — and say how much they love I Weigh and how much it’s helping them.”

Young people are vulnerable to body shaming

Jameela, an activist, presenter, model and actress, calls I Weigh “a revolution against shame” and “a museum of self-love.” She has been inspired and moved by the people — women and men — who post pictures of themselves on it. “There are cancer survivors, sexual assault survivors and people with disabilities. It’s really motivated me and reminded me how amazing human beings are and how embarrassing it is that we are made to feel like crap for no reason.”

Her message is that we all have to stop worrying about what we look like on the outside by chasing unattainable, unrealistic expectations of weight and beauty — otherwise our mental health can suffer. Young people are particularly vulnerable to such pressures. “The figures are worse than they have ever been for teen suicides, teen self-harm, teen cosmetic surgery and eating disorders,” she says. “That’s (no surprise) when mobile phones and apps bring toxic information into your periphery, sometimes without you even looking for it.”

Airbrushing images makes a bad situation worse

In fact, there’s a disturbing lack of education about the dangers of social media, she insists. “The internet is like the Wild West — and kids have access to it. We’re in an era where for the first time, probably ever in history, parents are behind their kids. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. We were always supposed to be ahead of the kids and guiding them.”

Jameela blames photo editing apps for spreading feelings of body image inadequacy, which is why she now has a rule: she’ll appear on and in magazines, but won’t allow her pictures to be airbrushed. “At least when celebrities were airbrushed you thought: ‘That’s OK: they look like that because they’re famous.’ But now everyone has access to these apps — the lady in the supermarket, the girl in your class — so that, online, everyone looks like a Victoria’s Secret model. No-one has flaws anymore. How are young people supposed to have any vague sense of reality in that situation?”

Celebrities need to be honest about their looks

She also believes that other celebrities should follow her lead. “If you have surgery, say something,” she challenges. “If you’re on a crazy diet and have a personal chef, a dietician, a personal trainer and a cosmetic surgeon, say something. Lift the curtain back and don’t make people feel inferior because they don’t look like you. Because even you don’t look like you.”

I Weigh will be changing — hopefully in the summer — into something even bigger and better. “We’re turning it into a company and a multi-media platform to try to create a safe space where you can find more than just people’s I Weigh pages,” says Jameela. “We want to diversify and bring in more activists’ voices and interesting content. It won’t patronise women and tell them to look thinner and younger. It will tell everyone to be smarter and happier.”

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