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Jameela Jamil responds to backlash over her “disappointing” fashion campaign

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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“Please don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s also so cool to have blind, disabled, black, Asian, gay and sexual assault survivors repped too”.

Jameela Jamil has a new gig: as one of the faces for body positive American lingerie and activewear brand Aerie.

The campaign, which features unretouched images, stars Jamil alongside Busy Philipps, The Handmaid’s Tale star Samira Wiley, artist Cleo Wade, sportswomen Brenna Huckaby and Aly Raisman, YouTuber Molly Burke and model Iskra Lawrence. The women featured come from a diverse range of backgrounds, sizes and abilities. Some of them are sexual assault survivors. All of them are outspoken and vocal advocates for the issues important to women.

This is part of Aerie’s brand identity. Their campaign faces are known as “role models”, and have included women like Yara Shahidi and Rachel Platten. The brand prides itself on not using photoshop in its campaign images and promoting a message of empowerment, inclusivity and inspiration. Last year, sales at the business grew by 38% off the back of this brand identity. 

Jamil was inspired to join the campaign precisely because of Aerie’s mission of inclusivity. “I’ve never seen a campaign like this before that represents so many minorities, and I’m proud to be in it,” Jamil tweeted.

But not everyone was happy. When news of the campaign was released, fans reached out to Jamil to voice their concerns that this body positive brand’s credentials were not good enough, especially considering the largest size on offer at Aerie is an XXL.

“Except fat people can be all of those things, too? I’m disabled and gay, and having those groups represented by a brand that doesn’t carry my size but uses body positivity to make sales does literally nothing for me,” one tweet from Catherine Bouris read. 

Abigail White added: “This is a bit disappointing. Maybe you could use this platform to encourage them to offer plus sizes. You can just use ‘body positivity’ in your brand but not offer sizes for all bodies.” 

“No honey, this is you benefiting from your privilege,” Clodagh Ní Maonaigh wrote on Twitter. “This brand goes as far as 2XL - do you think that is good enough for the body positive community? You’re so blind to your own privilege and you won’t listen to the fat women who are trying to be part of the conversation.”

The critics made a very good point: for a brand that expressly markets itself using the messaging of the body positive movement, its size range leaves a lot to be desired. It is more inclusive than other lingerie and activewear brands, yes, but the largest size is still XXL, with DDD the biggest cup size on offer.

XXL is the equivalent of a size 18. The average dress size in the US is a 16-18 and in the UK it is 16. In the US, 68% of women wear a dress size of 14 or above. Which means that there’s a portion of that 68% whose dress size is bigger than a US 18, effectively barring them from shopping at Aerie. 

Need we remind you that America’s plus size fashion industry generated $20.4 billion (£15.6 billion) in sales in 2016. By 2020, the market is set to grow to $26 billion (£19.9 billion). Beyond the importance of inclusivity, making and selling plus sizes is simply a good business decision. So why aren’t brands doing it?

Jamil hears the criticism of Aerie, and she’s doing something about it. After she saw the tweets about women not being able to shop at the brand because it doesn’t offer products in their sizes, Jamil opened a line of dialogue with the company about its restrictive sizes. 

“Just sat down with some of the bosses at Aerie who assured me they are already working on becoming more and more inclusive in sizing,” she tweeted. “But please don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s also so cool to have blind, disabled, black, Asian, gay and sexual assault survivors repped too.”

White reacted to the news by thanking Jamil for bringing about real change. “Thank you for using your platform to effect change,” she said. “We’re all continuing to grow and learn together. Thanks for listening to your community.” 

“Thank you all for educating me,” Jamil responded. “I appreciate you lot. I will continue to learn how to serve everyone. Sometimes it’s hard to make absolutely everyone happy all the time but it’s so worth trying. Just gotta try harder, eh?” 

In a later tweet, Jamil reiterated the message that she had for those who criticised her involvement in the body positivity movement as a conventionally beautiful woman.

“I’m not a bopo activist,” she wrote. “I’m a life positive activitist who just fights all shame, be that detox teas, diet products, photoshop, ethnic erasure, gay erasure, disability erasure AND fat phobia. I stand with you not in front of you.” 

Jamil also shared a lengthy post on Instagram in which she addressed the backlash she received over the campaign not being for a size inclusive brand. 

“I’m really sorry if that hurt you, and it does need to change across the entire industry, and I’m glad you spoke out,” Jamil wrote.

As a young girl growing up south Asian with a disability, Jamil never saw herself represented in mainstream fashion campaigns, which was a major reason why she wanted to partner with Aerie. 

“It’s hard to combat all erasure all at the same time,” she said. “I hope all brands become more size inclusive. I will continue to push for this. But I also hope to see all the energy I got about size yesterday, also to be put out towards disability, LGBTQ and ethnic representation. To my teenage disabled, unrepresented south Asian self, this campaign was for you, and I am proud it happened.” 

“I still want change and more sizes for all,” Jamil added. “I just c an’t make everything happen all at once, but it doesn’t mean I’m not trying. And I hope you try for us too. Because south Asians and disabled people also have feelings and deserve to be seen more. So it’s cool to also celebrate that with us a bit.”

Image: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer, podcaster and recent Australian transplant in London. You can find her on the internet talking about pop culture, food and travel.

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