Series 12: For the Love of TV | Episode 02
The Good Place’s Jameela Jamil: Loving Yourself For Who You Are, No Filter Required
It’s not every day that you find a hilarious TV show that features moral philosophers and tries to answer “What does it mean to be a good person?” But then again, not every show is NBC’s The Good Place. And today on For the Love, we’re over-the-top thrilled to have Tahani herself, actor Jameela Jamil! Just like the show she works on, Jameela is kind and smart, brilliant and inquisitive. You’ll love Jameela’s humor and wisdom as she traces her journey from growing up in London to working in TV and radio in the UK, then moving to LA and accidentally landing a job on one of the kindest and most forward-thinking sets in Hollywood. One of our favorite things about Jameela is the way she advocates for body positivity, born from years of struggle in her teens and a traumatic event that changed the way she looked at herself forever. Along with her no-airbrush policy, Jameela has started @i_weigh, a body-positive movement on social media that encourages people to define themselves by their character instead of a number on a scale.
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Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people, every week, on this podcast. Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey, everybody. Jen Hatmaker here, your host of the For the Love Podcast. Welcome back to our lovely podcast community. You are so beloved here, and I am so happy to have you.
Now listen, you guys, you are in for it today in the best way. We are forging ahead in our very exciting series For the Love of TV. It is fall, and TV is hitting us with full force and new and old favorites. And we have some of the best guests on in this series.
Today, I’m beside myself because our guest is one of the most hilarious characters on one of the smartest TV shows out right now. I am tickled to have Jameela Jamil on For the Love today. And you might know her as the well-to-do socialite Tahani from the NBC comedy The Good Place. The Good Place!
You guys, I hope you are watching The Good Place. The Hatmakers are all into The Good Place. And if you haven’t, it is time for you to get your binge on. This show is ridiculously smart and so good. I cannot believe how lucky we are to have it.
The Good Place was created by Mike Schur, and you’ve got to know who he is, right? The showrunner of Parks and Rec, and a writer for The Office. I mean, this is the kind of brain and thinker that is bringing us The Good Place. This show is his whole brainchild. It’s all about ethics and philosophy, and essentially answers the question, What does it mean to be a good person?
I perhaps made that sound heavy. It’s hilarious. It’s a comedy, and Jameela is so good in this, so, so good in this. And of course, she plays with none other than Kristen Bell and Ted Danson.
The Good Place was just nominated, you guys, for two EMMYs: Ted Danson as lead actor—awesome—and Maya Rudolph, guest actress. It’s worth all their nominations. It is worth all of its hype.
Jameela Jamil does this fabulous job of playing Tahani, and we’re going to talk about her character, how she got there, what she has learned from playing Tahani for the last couple of years. She is so, so good at it. And you guys, this is her very first acting job. Wait until you hear about her story, how she found her way onto this fabulous set. It’s just so interesting.
But here is the thing, you are going to love Jameela today. At a hundred points in our conversation today, I was like, She is so smart. She is so good. I love the way she is thinking. I love the way she is leading. This girl has got the goods, you guys. This conversation is really strong. I want every one of you to sit down and listen to it and really dial into some of the messages that she is giving us right now. It’s important and it’s needed and it’s necessary.
So Jameela—you will pick this up really quickly as soon as you hear her talk—she is from the UK. And she worked in radio there and then moved to the US a few years ago and literally fell into acting. And now she is on one of the top shows on television. It’s crazy.
I’m excited to introduce her to you, and her heart and her brains and her work for women. This is a good one. We got a good egg on today, you guys. A bundle of talent and a wonderful heart. You are going to love this conversation. So without any further ado, let’s welcome actress Jameela Jamil to the show.
Okay, it is just my greatest joy to welcome you to the For the Love Podcast, Jameela. Thank you so much for being here.
Jameela: Thank you so much for having me. How exciting!
Jen: Oh my goodness. I just told you this before we started recording, but I mean, the Hatmaker family is huge, huge Good Place fans. We love you, we love your show, we love your character. So these are huge, huge points that I’m getting to score today. Thanks for being on our TV series. I’m just tickled about it.
So listen, I have told our listeners a little bit about you and who you are and what you do. But if you will indulge us, just first things first, I would love to hear a little bit more about your growing up years. You’re from London. What kind of a kid were you? What did you love? What were your hobbies? Was there just anything in your childhood that pointed toward a future career in performing and media for you?
Jameela: Oh no, definitely not. I mean, I was in school plays and stuff because I think that was just a really fun outlet for a child, but I never had an aspiration toward acting. I always wanted to be a doctor. I loved biology. And so, I was a very studious child. I was a scholarship child because I came from no money.
I loved school. I was a big nerd. I was a teacher’s pet. I had zero friends.
Jen: Is that right?
Jameela: Yeah, I really didn’t have any friends. I was just such a loser. I was really socially inept as a child. I think, if anything, that’s the thing that probably most led me to comedy. I think pain normally is the thing that leads people to comedy.
Jen: That’s a great point. Some of our very best comedians have stories of suffering and overcoming. That’s such a common thread.
Jameela: Yeah. And I was deaf as a child, so I had to have constant operations as a little kid. I think that also made me more socially inept because I would go through periods of not being able to literally hear anything. I would take loads of time out of school to have operations to try and get my hearing back, and it really wasn’t until I was 12 that I had steady-ish hearing. I still don’t have great hearing, but it’s well enough for me to work in radio and television and do podcasts with people like you.
And so, yeah, I had a very challenging upbringing, I would say. But it’s all worked out okay in the end, which is the biggest takeaway I hope anyone ever gets from listening to shirty my youth was is that it does get better.
Jen: It does. And you’ve built this beautiful life, and it’s so interesting that you were hearing impaired. Were you born with a hearing impairment, or did you lose your hearing?
Jameela: I mean, I don’t know. I know that I was about one year old when they realized that there was really something wrong with me, because I wouldn’t respond when other people would call my name. I think they probably just thought I was very aloof until then.
Jen: Just a snobby little baby.
Jameela: Just a snotty baby. Only talks back to celebrities.
Jameela: But yeah, I was deaf. I just couldn’t hear anything. I have very, very weak eardrum skin, I guess, or something like that. Something equally sexy to talk about on your podcast.
Jen: So sexy. I mean, those are the building blocks of fame right there.
Jameela: I know, I know. I can’t wait to talk about that in GQ or something.
Jen: Right. So you were 12 when you fully developed your hearing. Wow. That’s a big deal. That must have really affected your development as a kid socially—kind of in every way, honestly.
Jameela: Yeah. I’m still really starey. I’m still a starey person. I stare at people.
Jen: Oh sure.
Jameela: Because you have to look at people to be able to lip read. And you can’t really rely on your hearing, so you become hyper vigilant as a person. Normally when one of your senses, your vital senses, comes down, the other ones accelerate. So I’m basically Spider-Man is what I’m trying to tell you.
Jen: It’s not a terrible skill at a party. Are you fluent in sign language still?
Jameela: No, I’m not. It’s been a hundred years. And also, I used to try to rely on mostly just either being in silence or lip reading. I was never big on sign language. I think as stupidly as a child—and I really regret this—I think that I thought that would mean I would be deaf forever. I was in a lot of denial about my hearing, so I’d try and just cling to it as much as I could.
But [losing my hearing] shaped me, and it made me a much stronger person for this ridiculous business that I’m in. I just don’t get stressed about the same things that other people get stressed about, because I think you lose perspective in this weird bubble. And I’ve been lucky enough that I think those years shaped me into not taking anything for granted, which is why I’m such a staunch advocate for not taking our bodies for granted. I’ve been someone who’s experienced so much of my body suddenly turning its back on me.
Jen: I love that you’re saying that, and I find a lot of truth in it. I’ve got a whole bunch of kids and almost all of them are teenagers and young adults.
Jen: And what I notice in their peer group is that some of their lives have been so comfortable and so charmed, and the parents put the bumpers up on the bowling alley their entire life to have just avoidance of any kind of struggle, pain, loss, failure, anything. We just cushioned it so much that they are rolling into young adulthood like fragile hothouse plants. They just wilt in the sun. And I think there’s something to be said for letting our kids struggle and even suffer through something. It creates more resilient adults and grown ups who can handle their life. I see that absolutely played out.
I want to go back to what you just said, because this is one of my favorite things about you and about your work and the way you move in the world is your work around women and our bodies. I read that you’ve written about weight issues that you struggled with when you were a teenager, and you described this terrible car wreck when you were 17. You broke your back. I mean, really monumental physical things.
I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about that, about the accident, about your physical and mental recovery, about what you were learning about your body in those really formative years and what it’s meant for you.
Jameela: When I was 14, I grew up in the ’90s where it was all heroin chic. And everyone was quoting Kate Moss that, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
Jen: I’ll never forget it.
Jameela: So much toxic messaging all around me. And so, I stopped eating at about 14 and didn’t really eat another meal again until I was 17.
I became emaciated. I didn’t have a period, hated myself. Still thought I was fat, even when I was [100 pounds]. I had terrible body dysmorphia, which has only just started to go away this year, I’d say. And I’m 32, so that’s a huge chunk of my life that I’ve spent with an actual mental inability to see my own physique in the mirror. And it really does mess you up.
So I really didn’t respect my body. All I wanted my body to be was thinner and smaller and take up less space because then I would be enough as a human being. And then, the car accident happened.
I broke my back. I got hit by one car into another car because I was running away from a bee. And when I see a bee, I naturally run into traffic. That is a problem of mine. I’ve done it twice in my life and been hit by a car twice because of bees, which is really bizarre.
Jameela: I know. My life is just Final Destination.
Jen: That is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.
Jameela: It’s so dumb. And I gained a bunch of weight on steroids. Everything just happened to me and I realized, Oh, I’m not in control of this body. And actually, I’ve taken it for granted so badly. And it just knocked the anorexia out of me in a way that I don’t think anything else could have. Because once it gets you, it just gets you. You can live with anorexia for 40 years sometimes, and I was severely anorexic.
And so, it just was this huge life-altering shock that made me respect myself in a way that I was really lucky to find at 17, because nobody respects themselves at 17.
Jen: That’s right.
Jameela: We’re trained not to so that we’ll hate ourselves by the time we’re old enough to buy stuff that we don’t need. Conspiracy theory.
Jen: That’s a word. That is a word. There is a lot of money to be made on our insecurities. That is a billion-dollar industry, and you work really hard on that. And we’re going to talk about that in a little bit too because I am buying what you’re selling. I am picking up what you are laying down.
Let’s go back a little bit. You started your career teaching English to non-native speakers. So what is the curious path from being and English teacher to a career in radio, which was next for you?
Jameela: It was television that was next for me. I met a man in a pub who told me that he thought I was funny and that I should go out for this huge audition to replace this broadcaster called Alexa Chung. I don’t know if you ever heard of her. She’s a fashionista who was a host for a while. I think now she’s a model. They were replacing her because she was moving to America, and I said, “No, thank you. I don’t want to be in show business.” And then, he said it was a thousand pounds a day and I was like, “Cool, what’s the email?”
And I went to the audition with no idea what I was doing, no expectations. I hoped there would be free sandwiches, and I would see someone handsome and famous there. And I went to the audition, and somehow I was what they were looking for. It was pure luck and chance. And I became a TV host on that network for the following four years, and after that I found radio.
So it just all found me. I didn’t go looking for this industry. And again, that’s given me so much power because I never angled my whole life towards success in this business. It means I’ve never had to be willing to die for it, you know what I mean?
Jen: That’s really good.
Jameela: I feel like sometimes people are willing to risk their whole lives for it, their relationships, their families, their happiness for fame and success. And I think because I’ve never been chasing that particular dragon, I’ve always been able to do jobs that feel good to me, which has helped me follow my instincts. And following our instincts as human beings is really the only way forward in life.
Jen: That’s pretty strong. I wonder who that guy is. I’m just so curious if he knows he set your career in motion. It feels so random, but it was so right and true.
I heard that a lot of people told you as you were approaching 30—which is just so young—that you’re “too old,” “too fat”—and my favorite—”too ethnic” for Hollywood. I would love to hear you talk about that. When did you decide to come to the US, and why? You obviously didn’t listen to the haters, so bravo on you.
And how gross is this culture? I read that, and I knew that it was true. I’m positive that voice and that perspective is just so pervasive, and the message is aimed specifically at women because men get a free pass here. But at women, this is the cocktail that we get to drink.
So I would love to hear that bit of your journey, and what you are hearing, and why you came anyway, and how you plowed through all of that.
Jameela: I was 28. I wasn’t even 30.
Jen: Oh gosh.
Jameela: I was 28, and I had done everything that I had wanted to do in the United Kingdom. I felt like I was going through the motions, and 28 just felt too young to be going through the motions. There were too many things that I wanted to do still. And some of those things were like traveling and seeing the world and living in another place. I think any industry, especially when you’re young, you have this fear of going on holiday or taking time out because you miss the boat and then someone else takes your spot.
Jameela: I hadn’t taken a break in seven years, and I had so much that I wanted to see. And so, I had another little health scare. I think every 10 years, a huge health scare happens that stops me from taking my life for granted. And so, this was a little lump in my breast that the doctor found. It turned out not to be cancerous, but the fact that it wasn’t cancerous and so many of my friends do have cancer and have had cancer and I’ve lost friends to cancer so young—it made me realize how lucky I was and gave me that new jolt that I needed to be like, Okay, kick it up a gear again. It’s time to move.
Maybe in the next health scare in 10 years time, I’ll become a rapper. I don’t know. I have no idea.
Jen: You don’t know. You don’t know your future.
Jameela: Yeah. I found out after a week of waiting for the biopsy results, which is an agonizing amount of time to wait.
Jen: Oh totally. There’s got to be a better way.
Jameela: But I had the all clear. I just needed the lump removed. I booked a one-way ticket six weeks from the date of the lumpectomy, and I moved on my own to Los Angeles with no visa, with no contacts, with no idea what I was doing, with no friends. I left the relationship I was in. I quit my job. And I was met with six weeks of doubt, mass doubt, and really people imposing their fear for themselves on me, really.
Jen: Oh I’m sure. Like your family, your friends.
Jameela: It was so scary. Yeah, but mostly colleagues. Everyone was just like, “What are you doing? You’ve built up this whole career here. You’re too old to go and start again at 28.”
Jen: Oh gosh.
Jameela: But this is our industry, where we’re like you’re almost at the end of the road at 28. You’re almost washed up. You’re lucky to still be here when you’re so old and haggard.
Jen: I don’t even know how to receive it.
Jameela: I was so mad.
Jen: And men are somewhat evergreen in the industry.
Jameela: We shoot men in HD. We want to see as much as their wrinkles and gray hairs as possible. We call it “salt-and-pepper.”
Jen: It makes me so angry.
Jameela: Whereas with a woman, we call it “over the hill.”
Jen: Of course.
Jameela: It’s so bizarre how much more receptive we are to men aging. We think men age well and women just wither away. That’s not true. All the women I know have only improved with age.
Jen: I completely agree.
Jameela: In mind, and in spirit, and in body. The way that everyone loves themselves so much more when they get older, and they appreciate themselves so much more and it makes them stronger because they’re spending less time thinking about their looks and more time thinking about growing their lives and their families. People just become better with age, and we just seem to kill women off after the age of 25.
Jen: This is what everybody’s saying to you. You are hitting discouragement on every side. You don’t have people in Hollywood. You’re there by yourself. I mean, this just feels like you are at the bottom of quite a mountain to climb.
So what happened? What happened next? I heard that you got an audition for The Good Place when it was basically a state secret.
Jen: And we would love to hear about how that audition came about? And sort of that process into the space you’re in now.
Jameela: Well, I was signed to [production company and talent agency] Three Arts [Entertainment] as a writer because I had been writing comedy columns for eight years. I had an idea for a show, and so I was writing that and working with them.
And then this audition came along, and it was for an annoying, overly tall English woman who was from Pakistan but had a posh English accent. They were like, “Well, she’s annoying. It’s you.” And they insisted I just go and try for it.
There was a big tug-of-war between us because I just didn’t feel like . . . I respect acting as a craft and I’m a huge TV and film fan, and so I just didn’t feel like I had the right to just roll on up and even dare to try for something like this. But they really, really heavily pressured me into going and giving it a shot.
Jameela: And so, I went with the idea that, At least I’ll meet Mike Schur. And then, that will be like a bucket list thing ticked off.
Jameela: And I went, and somehow again, somehow I was what they were looking for. I was in the right place at the right time.
Mike knew that I really didn’t know what I was doing and just decided on me. And he basically only submitted my tape to the network.
Jen: Is that right? And this is your first acting job, by the way.
Jameela: It was my first, yeah.
Jen: That’s just crazy. How did you even know how to prepare? Did you have anybody helping you?
Jameela: No, I didn’t know what I was doing. I just memorized the lines on my own and just went in and did whatever I was told.
And 10 years of TV experience [will tell you] how to take direction from someone and look down a barrel and perform somewhat. But this was different, because this wasn’t me being myself. This was being this complete caricature of a human being. And thankfully, I had a really annoying friend in England, who I probably am no longer friends with, who I based the whole of Tahani off of.
Jen: That’s hilarious.
Jameela: I read to the character and I’m like, Oh my God, this reminds me so much of this person. And so, I just stole her personality and went in and performed it in the room, and it was exactly what they were looking for, weirdly.
But Mike was so supportive of me. He was so kind and so supportive and the producers were so great with me. I guess Aubrey Plaza hadn’t had that much acting experience when she started on Parks and Rec, and I think Mike can spot something in people that they can’t spot in themselves. He just knows how to nurture people’s confidence and skill set. And he’s like he’s the dad of our dreams, do you know what I mean?
Jen: I love hearing this so much. This is giving my TV loving heart so much joy.
Jen: I want to talk about your character, Tahani, because she’s a real piece of work.
Jen: And we love her. In our family, we love her. She just cracks us up. And actually, we get to know her a little bit better in season two, see a little bit more depth to her character, and why she is the way she is.
Jen: I’d love to hear you talk about Tahani a little bit more. And what has The Good Place in general taught you about the way we view the world with our own lenses, through the lens of our own experiences and measure what is actually good? What has playing Tahani for a couple of years taught you about yourself and about this life?
Jameela: Playing Tahani has taught me, first of all, to make sure that my motivations aren’t corrupt when I’m doing nice things. Mike calls is “moral dessert.” You know, that moment when you wait until the barista has turned back around before you tip the jar. So avoiding moral dessert and recognizing that that makes me still a slightly shady person. I’m definitely thinking about the point system because of Tahani.
But also, mostly what Tahani has done is helped me understand all the just really unbalanced and insecure, neurotic people in this business that I come across all the time. I’m surrounded by Tahanis, both male and female, all the time in this business.
Jen: I bet you are.
Jameela: And so it’s helped me understand and realize that they are so desperate for everyone’s attention and approval because someone took them away from them when they were young.
I think a lot of people end up in this business because they want to be noticed by everyone. I think that they felt ignored when they were younger. I don’t think it’s always just a passion for acting. I think especially the people that go for the big fame, from meeting these people and spending time with them, you really get a sense that they weren’t loved by someone fundamental and so now they need to be loved by the world. I think that there’s a lot of that in Tahani. Not to get too deep, but I do believe that. And I think I’ve developed more empathy for those people, rather than just having disdain for them for being attention seeking in the first place.
Jen: That’s really compassionate and wise.
Jameela: Yeah, but I learned that from Mike Schur. You know?
Jen: Is that the kind of set he creates? Is that what the work environment is like? Because now you’re in TV world. This is a completely different environment than what you were accustomed to. What do you think of it? What’s your assessment? What’s your assessment of being on set? What’s your assessment of being a part of a cast and the pace of it all? You’re just in a new world.
Jameela: I’d say that it’s being on set, the world that he has created really does feel like, honestly, like what heaven would be in a work environment.
Jen: Oh, that’s so nice.
Jameela: I have heard horror stories, especially with the #metoo movement. I’ve heard horror stories at the way people, and especially women, are treated. And I could not have experienced more the polar opposite of that. He’s a real die-hard, thoughtful feminist. He really just doesn’t understand inequality. It just doesn’t compute with Mike in any way.
And so you really feel that on set. Everyone is treated like an equal. No matter what job they do, everyone is respected the same. Everyone is treated the same. And the first thing he ever said to me when he hired me was, “We have two rules on set, and that’s it. One of them is the best idea wins. So whether the janitor came up with it or the writer or the actor, we go for funny, so everyone has to feel like they can speak up.”
And he said, “Anyone who behaves badly will be immediately fired.”
Jen: Wow. I love this.
Jameela: So it’s the exact opposite. Because people get away with murder on set in this town.
Jen: I can only imagine.
Jameela: And it really woke up us to the fact that, Wow, we’re so lucky to be here. And so therefore, no one brings their bad day to work. No one is ever badly behaved. And you know what? Good dad, good kids. Good dad, good kids. I think if the dad is, or if the showrunner and the creator of the show is a good person, it trickles down. And I think if the creator of the show is a toxic person, that trickles down as well.
Jen: 100%. And we can even just look at Mike’s body of work and observationally see these are the roles he creates for women. This is the environment he creates for them to thrive and to lead and to take the front position, and that tells me a lot. That communicates so much to me, the sorts of women that he works with and helps write for and creates space for. I’m impressed and I’m moved by the worlds that he makes.
Jen: So I’m so happy to hear you say that, that that is your lived experience under his leadership.
Jameela: Yes. He’s got loads of female friends, and we have a really equal writing team, agenda wise. And we have a really equal directing roster, which never happens.
Jen: So true.
Jameela: He makes it his goal every year to try and get it as close to 50/50 of male and female directors as possible. And he moves mountains to do that because there just aren’t that many female directors working because of just discrimination against women in Hollywood.
Jen: Of course.
Jameela: So Mike goes out of his way to make sure everything’s 50/50. Megan Amram and Jen Statsky are two of his top writers, two very young women, and he’s married to this really successful, powerhouse, amazing woman. He just is . . . he’s the example of what progressive behavior can bring to the world. Look at how successful he is. Look at how happy he is. He’s a great example of how inclusivity actually enriches the soul and enriches your life and enriches your bank account. He’s so rich.
Jen: Would you ever want to take your hand at directing? Are you interested in that at all?
Jameela: No, no. Definitely not. I barely remember to brush my teeth every day. I have zero attention to detail, and I think it’s important to know your strengths and your weaknesses equally. And so, I don’t have that. I’m not that guy. I never will be that guy. I think it’s a really amazing job to have, and I think we need so many more women to do that job. But I don’t think I’m the person for it.
Jen: I’m not either. I’m one with big ideas and big dreams, but then I need a very robust team to pull any of it off.
Jen: Because the details are where, for me, the train just leaves the tracks.
Jen: I’m not exactly sure how to get there, I just think I know what the end looks like. So I’m with you entirely. We’re not good at everything, my gosh.
Jen: So let me tell you this. I have to tell you that, as a woman and somebody who serves women, my whole life’s work is serving women. And I’ve got daughters. I really love, love, love, love and I applaud you for the @i_weigh movement that you have started—and listeners, we’ll have this all linked so don’t worry. We’ll get all this in your hands—but how much of a really fierce advocate you are for body and life positivity and mental health. Your voice is really strong in this.
Jameela: Thank you.
Jen: Very decisively clear. Dead-on correct. And so, I would love for you to talk a little bit about why you started this, what this is. I think this is crucial for women to hear about right now and to hear from strong women that they love and admire and respect like you.
And of course, like all things do, this began with the Kardashians, right?
Jen: Could you talk a little bit about it?
Jameela: Oh, the irony of it starting with the Kardashians.
So it’s called @i_weigh, and it was an accidental movement that began. It was so organic. It really was with no intention of going anything further than me putting one post on Twitter. But basically, I saw a picture of the Kardashians. They are a very successful group of women. They are businesswomen. They have built an empire. It’s one of the most spectacular empires in the history of the Industrial Age. Kris Jenner is a marketing genius, and she is an unrivaled businessperson, in my opinion.
But I saw these pictures of this family of businesswomen, and then there were numbers written across their bodies. And rather than that number being net worth, which is what it would be if there was a picture of men next to numbers, it was how much they weighed. And the post was saying, Who do you think looks like they weigh the least? What do you weigh? And this was an account followed by hundreds of thousands of young girls, all of whom were then panicking because they were the same height as Kendall but they weighed more and this, that, and the other. And I just thought, Oh my God, it’s 2018. How are we still unable to write a woman’s net worth in anything other than pounds and kilos?
And once I’d clicked on it to see it, because of the algorithms of social media, hundreds of these posts started coming up. And it was like, Selena Gomez, 52 kilos. Taylor Swift, and this, that, and the other. And all these women who were nearly billionaires are being reduced to nothing more than a number on a scale that is being made up by someone who doesn’t know them. No one knows what these people weigh. No one knows anything about weight. Weight isn’t important.
So I just wrote what I weigh on the internet over a picture of myself, and I was like, I weigh financially independence. I weigh my relationship, my friendships, the eating disorder I overcame, the anxiety I have suffered and still am working on now, but all the different things that I think make me a person, how I would describe my worth to somebody else.
And without asking anyone to do it back, thousands of women started to respond with theirs—and men. And after a while, there was so many great ones that I didn’t want them to all disappear into ether, so I started an Instagram account for them and it just grew. And now, we have, like, 152,000 followers just in a couple of months. And this is with no nudity and no real celebrity endorsement.
Jen: Just grassroots.
Jameela: Yeah, that’s it.
Jen: People claiming their worth and their value, and putting it online.
Jameela: And supporting each other.
Jen: Yes. Oh, I bet that’s a strong community.
Jameela: Yes. And men and women come up to me all the time to tell me that it brightens up their day just seeing these posts, that it’s really uplifting and reminds them every time they see a post to think about themselves as a human individual, rather than just a sack of aesthetic failures, which is what we all think about ourselves as. Men and women constantly stop me about how following that Instagram account gives them almost like a shot of dopamine as to watching someone else love themselves is inspiring. It reminds you to love yourself. And it’s accessible. They’re loving themselves because of what they’ve survived or who they are or because of the choices that they’ve made. It’s so human, and there’s no trolling on it, which is really amazing.
Jen: Amazing and shocking.
Jen: And as you well know because it’s your own history as well, this is more than just feel-good. It’s more than just well, This will give you five minutes of a good mood in this dumpster fire of a world right now. It’s important our girls are . . . We’re losing them in record numbers to eating disorders and to self-harm and to body dysmorphia. This is a real problem. And I can just be incandescent with rage when I see these things leveled at our daughters and our own selves as grown women. And then, you can add in all the anti-aging stuff to go with it too, where it’s just our very own presence in the world is like an assault and there’s just we’ve got to fix it. We’ve got to fix getting old or we’ve got to fix the shape of our bodies. To me, this is necessary, this message that you are bringing out.
And obviously you’ve thought about this for a long time and how the media that we consume affects the way that we view ourselves. I read that you are also an advocate—and I just love this—for no airbrushing in this world with filters and photo correctors. And I am guilty, guilty as charged.
I wonder if this is a fight we can win. How do you think each of us in our regular, ordinary lives can change the media that we consume and then put out into the world in such a way that is positively affecting change, and how we see ourselves and how our daughters see themselves? Do you think we can do this?
Jameela: Yes, I believe we can do this. I think it starts with women in my position taking responsibility for what we put out into the world. And then, I think it’s about the women that follow us following suit.
We need to stop photoshopping our images. It’s such a crazy thing to do that just doesn’t benefit anyone in any way, apart from the second that you put it out and you get some likes. Then you have to look in the mirror when you go to the bathroom and see that is not what your actual face looks like. It’s only detrimental.
And that’s what happens is you get used to seeing your nose looking that on your phone, and then you look in the mirror and it doesn’t look like that. Your lips aren’t as big or your skin isn’t as clear. Women I know are spending hundreds or thousands of dollars a year on their looks for things that were fine to begin with, because they’re trying to match what they see on Photoshop.
It’s the death of our self-worth and our self-respect, and I just think it is honestly one of the most toxic things in the world.
I’ve never used it. All my images used to be Photoshopped without my consent on magazine covers when I was younger in this business, and I just didn’t have enough clout. I didn’t know that I was allowed to not do it.
I also used to see the photographs on the computer straight after they’d been taken and assumed that not that much needed to be changed because I looked like me, and it was a nice picture, and I had a talented makeup artist and a talented hairstylist and loads of lighting. It takes an army to make us look the way that we do on the front cover, anyway. So I didn’t presume that my nose shape would be changed and my skin color would be lightened, and I would be made to look thinner and longer and my stretch marks would be removed.
And I used to feel sick when I would see these magazine covers with me on them. I never felt like they’d done me a favor. I felt like they’d really insulted me by changing the way that I looked, and it hurt my feelings.
And also, I felt like I was complicit in the lie. They’d made me complicit in the lie about what I look like, which, on top of the fact, then sends a message to young women that they’re supposed to also look like something that I don’t myself look like.
On top of that, it also encourages tabloid culture. We would have no tabloid culture if celebrities and magazines hadn’t lied to people in the first place. Paparazzi first really came into play in the ’90s around within a couple of years of Photoshop being so prevalently used, where they were trying to call out what celebrities do in real life because it was so obvious that everyone was lying.
Jen: That’s a great point.
Jameela: Even though it wasn’t in my control, I was complicit in a lie and I wouldn’t say anything afterwards because I’d just feel so embarrassed. And now I’m older and I’m in my 30s, and I just feel like I have enough power and I have enough responsibility. And I might have kids in a couple of years, so I owe this to them to not be part of this chain of toxicity.
Jen: This is good. We do this, even outside of celebrity culture, this is, as you mentioned, very pervasive in ordinary person culture too. We all do this.
Jameela: Yes, I’m only saying it starts with us.
Jen: This is a thing that we’re doing.
Jameela: Yeah, it starts with us. It needs to be taken over. And your kids are listening to every time you talk about your weight, every time you post a picture of yourself that doesn’t look like you, every time they see you editing your photos or complaining about yourself in the mirror, or saying that you have nothing to wear. It all goes in. I definitely got that from my mother and my mother’s friends, the way that they would speak about their bodies and themselves. I internalized all of that and then, on top of everything else, from the magazines and everywhere.
So we really have to think about the fact that if you are not okay with the way that you look, there’s no way that your child is likely to be. It’s all going in. You have a responsibility to make it right with yourself, to become friends with yourself so that your child has a chance at becoming friends with themselves, because there’s enough external pressures coming.
Jen: That’s right. This is great leadership.
Who do you like in this? Who are you paying attention to? Who do you think is also side-by-side with you leading well in this work?
Jameela: I think that Ashley Graham is an amazing advocate for women’s rights and being strong and being fit and being healthy and being outspoken and feisty and so confident. You just don’t see that kind of confidence when it’s not on a man as you do her. She’s a lioness. So I find her very inspiring, and she just makes me want to push myself as a human being.
I find creators like Amy Poehler, I find her very inspiring. I think she’s amazing. I love the fact she’s got that Instagram account of Smart Girls, where she gives a platform to women who don’t normally get one in this industry because they haven’t got their tits out or whatever.
Jen: Smart Girls has been on this podcast. We believe in that too.
Jameela: So amazing. But it’s so unfair that we only give this kind of platform to people who are in this industry, and only if they are considered appealing to men.
Jen: Of course.
Jameela: It’s so unfair because there are so many incredible women. I meet incredible women all the time who don’t get a platform because of the way that they look, and we just need to shift that narrative. We need to become okay with normal looks. It’s just an ongoing thing. But yeah, I love Amy Poehler.
You know what? As far as the teeny boppers go, it’s very hard to find nontoxic pop stars, but I’m really down for Selena Gomez.
Jen: I am too.
Jameela: I’m very into her whole vibe. I love that she posts without makeup on all the time. I love that she talks about her health struggles really publicly and published a photograph of her a second after her kidney transplant with her best friend.
Jen: That’s right.
Jameela: I love that when her weight fluctuates, she talks about and addresses it and talks about how much she loves her new curves and never talks about how to lose weight. I think she’s a great example for young female pop stars.
Jen: I agree. I like watching her, and I believe her. I just get a sense that, I think you’re telling us the truth and I think you’re being genuine, and I like it.
Jameela: And she doesn’t dumb herself down, which I really like, because I think so many women in media dumb themselves down in order to cater to men.
Jen: Oh, say that louder.
Jameela: And Selena Gomez doesn’t mind being a bit scary and she doesn’t mind being outspoken and she doesn’t mind being really, really blunt in interviews. And I think that’s very important, very empowering. But until we respect ourselves, we’re not going to be able to win the respect of the oppressed. We can’t just ask for it. We’re going to have to take it.
Jen: That’s so true. And I also wonder if we will see the needle move forward on this specific conversation, just women’s empowerment in general, once we begin to see more women in charge, more women writing, more women directing, more women in charge of the layouts, more women in charge of the storytelling. There’s such a gap in representation. And so, even when women are the face of this, that, or the other, there’s male sensibilities behind the camera, behind the production of the whole thing. And in some cases, like yours, like with Mike for example, it’s a glorious environment. But that’s not always true.
And so, I look forward to this next generation of girls to rise up strong and true and smart. They’re so capable. I think the paths available in front of them are unprecedented, honestly. This is going to be exciting to watch. I have a lot of hope for what’s next. And I think you and I are sort of, we’re in this in between where the things that we say and do matter and they’re watching. They’re going to catch it. They are going to catch what we are laying down.
Jameela: Yes, and also we have an African American lady, Pearlina Igbokwe, she’s the president of Universal Television. So therefore, she is in control of a lot of the programming and a lot of the diversity. She’s smart and she’s strong and she’s fierce, and she makes really important cultural decisions. This is what happens when you put a woman of color high up in this huge network. It trickles down. And look at how successful NBC is at the moment. It’s the top network on American television. What she’s doing isn’t turning people away. It’s making people feel more included.
Jen: That’s so good. Back to your earlier point about Mike, this is also a bonafide path to success.
Jen: This isn’t some concession that you have to settle for a lesser version of what it could have been. It’s successful.
Jameela: Imagine if we could include more people with disabilities on camera. Imagine how many more people with disabilities would root for that show or root for that brand or buy from that brand. If we would just be more inclusive, more people would buy stuff. It’s business. You don’t have to be a good person. Think of the business.
Jen: And speaking of another business, I hear that you’re writing a book, and this delights me because I really like your voice, and I really like your brain.
I heard you say that this is why you’re writing it. You said, “I was not given the information that I needed as a young person to survive this tumultuous life. And all I want is to be the voice that I didn’t have in the hopes that I might reach some people and remind them that we are exceptional, rounded creatures.”
First of all, bravo. Second of all, can you talk about this a little bit? What have you written so far? What’s going into this book? How is this going for you? How are you finding the writing process? I would just love to hear more.
Jameela: The book is it’s basically just a way to navigate around the trials and tribulations and shame of being a young person in this world, especially a young woman, especially a young woman of color. But it’s a book for everyone. But of course, I have a bigger female following than I do men, and also right now I speak for those who don’t have enough of a voice, and I believe that is still currently women, unfortunately, even in 2018.
I was a columnist for Cosmopolitan Magazine for like eight years in England. And so, because of that, my format is probably I’m an essay writer. I always have been an essay writer. I wrote a blog earlier this year about consent and one about @i_weigh and one about airbrushing. I write blogs that go out on the Huffington Post or on my own blog.
I find writing quite easy because I’ve got such an essay mentality. And now that I’ve finally got time, now that the show’s finished [filming], I’m still working on the book. I’ll hopefully finalize on a deal soon and bring the book out next year, and it will be the book that I will have all of the awkward conversations that I don’t want to have with my teenage girl when I have her one day. I’ll just give her the book and tell her not to talk to me about any of it.
Jen: You’ve already done the work, sorry.
Jameela: It will be like a manifesto that avoids all awkward conversations because I think it’s awkward conversations that stop parents from giving children really needed information. And so, this does the work for you.
Jen: Oh, that’s so great. I love it.
Jameela: It’s not just for teenagers. It’s for everyone, but it’s just one of those . . . It’s just we’re seeing real stuff. Their innocence is dead, man. You can’t protect anyone anymore because of the internet, so there’s no point pretending things are the way that they used to be. It’s just chaos. It’s absolute chaos. There’s so much misinformation out there. They’re worried about visible panty lines. They’re worried about their weight from the age of six onward. The apocalypse is upon us.
Jameela: We have to do something about it. You’ve got to arm the kids, so arm the children with information.
Jen: It’s so interesting to parent this next generation because we’re the first generation of parents to have to navigate this new culture, this new world, this internet world.
Jameela: And we’re behind our kids.
Jen: Oh my gosh. I would say we’re profoundly behind.
Jen: And so many of us are just clutching all of our pearls, and we’re panicked and thinking, If we don’t look it in the eye, it doesn’t exist. The fact is, the data is telling us everything to the contrary. That our kids are struggling, and their online culture is making them terrified and lonely and giving them destructive habits and ideas. Yeah, somebody’s going to have to just show up and start talking straight. That’s just a fact.
This is also what the Smart Girls movement does, back to your earlier reference. They do a really good job of just dialing it in tight, saying, “This is where you’re at, we see you. Let’s find a healthy path forward.”
And so, when you get that book out there, I will sing it from the rooftops.
Jameela: That’s so kind.
Jen: Does it have a title yet or are you still fleshing that out?
Jameela: I don’t want to tell anyone yet.
Jen: I can’t wait.
Jameela: It’s a whole thing.
Jen: It’s just so exciting for you.
All right listen, let’s wrap this up. These are three questions that we are asking all of our guests in the TV series and just whatever pops to mind.
Here’s the first one: what was your favorite TV show when you were a kid?
Jameela: My favorite TV show was Friends. It was Friends. Because I didn’t have any friends of my own, really, they were my friends. And so, I still talk about them as if I grew up with them, which I think really creeps out my boyfriend. I refer to them all by their character names, and I’m like, “This reminds me of that time Chandler did this.” I do it on a daily basis.
So yeah, everything I know, I learned from Friends.
Jen: That’s so good. I’ve seen every episode of Friends at least six times a piece. All of it, every one of them.
So here’s the next one. Before you came to Hollywood, who was your, This is the person I have to work with someday, person? Who’s your that’s your gold star? I want to be a part of a cast with this person?
Jameela: Will Smith.
Jen: Nice. That’s a good goal. Have you met him?
Jameela: I have met him, yeah. I almost died of just . . . I didn’t know I could love someone so much who I didn’t know. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was also another huge part of my . . .
Jameela: Will Smith and Jennifer Aniston, I’d say, in equal parts, are the two people that I would most just die if I got to work opposite and spend time with, because I think they’re just both fabulous inside and out.
I’ve only met Jennifer briefly, but Will Smith I met. I sat next to him once at dinner and had a very long and personal conversation with him. And I won’t divulge anything about that, but I will say that he is truly the greatest individual inside and out. The man is made of just solid gold, and I’ve never met someone who deserves their success more than he does because he’s such a good person. Even still, even after all of this success and megafandom, he could be so jaded, but he’s not. He’s such a gentleman and he’s such a good egg.
Jen: What a nice thing to say. I love that you’re saying that.
Okay, here’s the last one. This is a twist on the question we ask every single guest in every single series. What TV show is saving your life right now?
Jameela: What TV show is saving my life right now? Oh, Killing Eve. I can’t wait . . .
Jen: I have that cued up and ready to start. It’s good?
Jameela: It’s so good. It’s so good. It’s such a different show, and Jodie Comer’s performance in it, who plays a sort of villain, just to have a female villain like that is so extraordinary. She’s so strong, and you’ve never seen a performance like that before. I think she might be the next Meryl Streep, honestly. That show is amazing.
Jen: Okay, all right. Well, you just pushed me over the edge on that. I’ve seen the hype. I love the cast. The writing looks amazing. Okay, I’m jumping it too.
Jameela, you are so smart and so delightful.
Jameela: Thank you.
Jen: And I’m thrilled that your voice is being heard right now. I’m so happy for your success. I cannot wait to watch this roll out in front of you continuously, I just hope your path is laid smooth, and we see more of you, we hear more from you, that your star continues to rise. It is really a pleasure to meet you.
Can you just tell everybody where they can find you and all that good stuff?
Jameela: You can find me on The Good Place on NBC. You can also find me on Instagram @JameelaJamilOfficial. You can find me @JameelaJamil on Twitter. And most importantly, you can find my @i_weigh movement at @i_weigh, which is just a museum of love where I guarantee that whether you contribute or not, and I hope you do, you will feel better about the world after going on that Instagram page.
Jen: Beautiful. Thank you for creating it. We need it. We’re hungry for it. We need some good news in the world right now and that is such a bright spot, such a bright spot.
Jameela: Thank you.
Jen: And we’re thankful. Thank you for your time today. I’m just delighted to have met you, absolutely delighted.
Jameela: Oh my, thank you.
Jen: I’m cheering you on in every way, sister.
Jameela: Thank you for having me.
Jen: Fabulous, fabulous girl, right? I’m so into her, and I loved that conversation. My brain is buzzing, and she really challenged me on a few things. I feel challenged by her work and very committed to her.
So everything she mentioned, we will have linked over at jenhatmaker.com under the Podcast tab. So we will have all of her social medias. We will have links to The Good Place, which if you haven’t started it, today is your day. We will have it all. Anything she said, definitely the @i_weigh community, which is just such a delight. So you guys are going to want to follow her. She is so funny and saucy. I just enjoyed that so very much.
The TV series is so fun, you guys. We have so many more amazing guests coming your way. Just this conversation is so fun and interesting and vibrant, so I can’t wait for you to come back every single week and see who we have next. You’re going to be tickled, tickled, tickled, tickled.
You guys, thank you for tuning in every week. This podcast community is just beyond. You are my best thing. Thank you for being such smart, engaged listeners and for sharing this podcast and telling your friends and subscribing and rating it and reviewing it and all the wonderful things that you do for us. We are just grateful, your little podcast team here—Laura, Amanda, all the crew. We are so glad to bring this to you week in and week out.
So everybody, I hope you enjoyed today’s talk. I can’t wait to hear what you thought about it online, so pop in there and give some feedback. And I will see you next week.
Have a great one, and until next time!
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!