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The big problem with the Jameela Jamil backlash

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Responding to recent criticism that she is a bad advocate for body positivity, Jamil explained that activists who are women of colour have to work twice as hard to get their voices heard.

In recent weeks, Jameela Jamil has faced harsh criticism on social media from those who find her activism disingenuous.

Jamil has listened patiently and responded, even more patiently, as people have criticised her involvement in the body positivity and anti-airbrushing movement as a woman who is conventionally attractive.

When she fronted a campaign for lingerie brand Aerie last week, she faced a backlash from plus size women who felt unrepresented by the brand and its messaging, which doesn’t stock sizes beyond an XXL. Jamil responded, saying that she had spoken to Aerie about expanding its sizes, but entreated fans not to lose sight of the importance of the brand’s campaign featuring women of colour, disabled people and sexual assault survivors.

“It’s hard to combat all erasure all at the same time,” Jamil wrote in an Instagram post. “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… 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.” 

In a new Twitter thread today, Jamil has revisited this messaging, reminding her critics that it is twice as difficult for a woman of colour like herself to make change and have her voice heard.

“Watching able-bodied white women come for brown/black activists, that we aren’t doing enough when it was twice as hard for us to even get our foot in the door to be heard in the first place, is becoming really problematic within activism. We are trying. Give us a minute please.”

Jamil added that “cancel culture is trash”, because it frightens and shames activists – particularly women – into staying silent. 

“You just go after activist upon activist, with energy better spent upon those who aren’t even trying to help at all. Some of my favourite activists want to just quit because of you, and you scare off so many powerful potential allies from even trying.” 

When someone responded to the tweet by saying that activists who are “scared off” are not real allies in the first place, Jamil clarified her stance. 

“Not criticised. That’s fine,” she wrote. “But the stan culture of abuse and trolling and harassment is officially out of control. One small mistake and we see amazing work thrown down the toilet and the person dismissed forever. Especially for black women. It’s wild. I’m so mad about it.”

For Jamil, criticism that is constructive serves a purpose. So does support. The point, she said, is to recognise the vast hurdles faced by women of colour who are marginalised before they even get involved. 

“It isn’t being directed at any one other than the brown woman who is already fighting her own fight,” Jamil explained. “A fight that isn’t recognised. It’s a problem that I’m seeing consistently in activism.” 

Jameela Jamil has a message for critics

Jamil concluded: “I’m out here also fighting for people of colour, people with disabilities, dismantling eating disorder culture and the use of photoshop in advertising. I can’t fight everything all at once my dear. I’m only one human brown woman.”

“I could just be sitting on my arse enjoying this privilege that I earned in spite of being a brown woman who was disabled as a teenager,” she wrote. “But I spend every single day fighting for others with less. Speaking out and risking my job. I actually care and I’m making progress.” 

Images: Getty, Martin Schoeller

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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. Follow her on Twitter

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