Jameela Jamil just made an important point about exercising for your mental health

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What do you do when narrow beauty standards dictate that women exercise to lose weight? You defy them by going at your own pace, as Jameela Jamil expertly demonstrated this week.

Of all the pervasive stereotypes about body image in 2019, the idea that women exercise to lose weight has got to rank with the best of them. For so long, toxic beauty norms have helped cement the narrative that exercise is purely for our physical fitness, even though, when we apply a shred of logic, we know this patently isn’t true.

Unpicking those unrealistic beauty standards is hard work though, especially when we’re confronted with a surfeit of images of physical perfection on our social media feeds every day, and a slew of heavily Photoshopped celebrities for our daily consumption in the mainstream media. These images, it must be noted, usually subscribe to Western beauty ideals - women that are thin, white, and cisgendered. 

Creating a healthier counter-narrative can, to a certain extent, be achieved through filtering our Instagram feeds and following body-positive advocates, but our fixation on our appearance still persists. That’s why it’s vitally important that celebrities and influencers step up with providing a more accurate and diverse representation of women’s bodies. And not just that, but demonstrating that women have (surprise!) other priorities than constant self-improvement.

One of those celebrities leading the way is Jameela Jamil, who launched her I Weigh campaign to enable her followers to reject the culture of body-shaming and instead celebrate their values and achievements. The Good Place star is no stranger to speaking out about toxic beauty standards either, whether in the form of fat-phobic diet plates, poor representation in Hollywood, or sample designer dresses that cause women to starve themselves

This time around, the actress is railing against the deeply ingrained assumption that women exercise to lose weight. Taking to Instagram, Jamil reassured her followers that exercise doesn’t belong to fitness aficionados, or those with a serious investment in physically altering their body. 

“Doesn’t matter if you’re not athletic. Doesn’t matter if you can’t do the whole thing. Doesn’t matter if you don’t look cool doing it. Doesn’t matter if you don’t have any muscles. Doesn’t matter if you are so unfit that you want to throw up on the slightest incline,” she captioned alongside a photo of herself lying sprawled on the ground after a run.

Exercise, Jamil continued, can be undertaken for the benefit of your mental health. And not only that, but no qualifications are needed to take up sport, just a positive attitude and willingness to have a go.

“This is for your mental health. Not for vanity. Just try. Trying is winning,” she wrote.

Jamil is spot on, of course, and her I Weigh movement has teamed up with London fitness studio Frame to launch three empowering weekly dance classes.

Pip Black, co- founder of Frame says: “We feel very excited to be partnering I Weigh to deliver classes to ANYONE who wants to benefit from the way that dancing (and moving) can have a positive impact on your mental health.”

Exercise has been proven to create positive outcomes for those suffering with a range of mental symptoms such as anxiety or depression, as well as helping to combat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), stress and sleep deprivation.

Even if we’re not exercising with a view to improving our mental health, it’s still an important form of self-care, encouraging us to cultivate time to treat ourselves with kindness, find community, enjoy the outdoors, boost our energy, unwind from the day, find an emotional lift, and simply have fun. But remember, you don’t need a solid reason to exercise at all. Just do it on your own terms.

Image: Getty

Stylist Strong is a fitness brand specialising in strength training specifically tailored for women. Our classes are designed to build both physical and mental strength in a smart and informed way.

So, whether you’re a beginner or already have strength-training experience, Stylist Strong has a class to suit you. Come and try our strength-based classes at our own purpose-built studio at The AllBright Mayfair. 

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.