Jameela Jamil

Jameela Jamil on facing down Twitter abuse: “You can decide whether or not to ‘cancel’ yourself”

Speaking at Stylist Live, actor and presenter Jameela Jamil talks about what it’s like being at the eye of a social media storm – and how to emerge stronger on the other side.

From politicians to broadcasters and activists, it’s a depressing reality that women in the public eye often find themselves in the crosshairs of horrifying online abuse. 

It’s an experience that Jameela Jamil is only too familiar with, as The Good Place actor faced down a storm of online anger, including thousands of death threats, after finding herself at the centre of a social media backlash earlier this year.

Speaking at Stylist Live @ Home this weekend, Jamil says the February incident taught her a powerful lesson: that you can decide whether or not you listen to so-called ‘cancel culture’ – even (or especially) if you’re right at the  very centre of it. 

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In a candid and lively chat with Stylist’s Susan Riley, the presenter spoke openly about how she moved on from the social media furore, which began when she was announced as a judge on an HBO voguing competition called Legendary

Amid criticism that she wasn’t part of the ballroom and LGBT+ community from which the dance genre of voguing originates, Jamil released a statement saying that she identified as queer – a coming-out moment that was itself attacked by some, who claimed it was self-serving (she later admitted in an Instagram post, below, that her “timing was bad”). 

Looking back at the controversy now, Jamil reveals that the abuse she faced quickly became very personal and disturbing. “Genuinely people were telling me to kill myself in February,” she tells Stylist Live. “I had thousands of messages from strangers telling me to kill myself. I was like, ‘God… people do really kind of want death from a woman they dislike.’

“There were so many lies circulating about me, and there’s nothing you can do,” she continues. “Lies are taken as truths on the internet.”

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Ultimately, though, Jamil drew strength from the experience: it’s taught her that she can pick herself up and continue – a message she is keen for other women to internalise, too. 

In what was surely a major understatement, Jamil says that it was “a little bit tricky” to deal with “internet rumours taking over my entire life for about a month”, adding: “I think it’s made me inherently a stronger person – coming out of that backlash and realising that the world doesn’t stop turning.”

Flagging the stark differences in the way that men and women are treated after making mistakes, she went on: “You can decide whether or not to ‘cancel’ yourself. You can decide whether or not to keep going. And decide whether or not you deserve the same opportunities as a man, who will make a mistake, go away, come back, explain […] and then be applauded for it.”

In a scenario that will ring true for anyone who’s seen a controversy play out in public, men – as Jamil points out – are typically told, “well done for being so brave and coming back!”

“Whereas with a woman we’re like, you’ve made a mistake, that’s it, get in the closet and f**king live there for the rest of your life,” she notes drily. “So realising that I could step back out, and keep going, was so amazing and liberating.

“Things really do go back to normal if you just keep going and you know your end goal,” she says. 

In an session filled with Jamil’s trademark humour and honesty, the presenter also outlines three ideas women can take with them as we navigate this era of uncertainty – as follows: 

It’s OK to be difficult or annoying or unlikeable

As women, we’ve been conditioned to be society’s peacemakers. Centuries of relentless sexism have taught us to be diplomatic, to put up and shut up, to smile when we don’t really mean it. 

But Jamil, for one, is done with living by this deeply misogynist and outdated trope. “When it comes to the monster of misogyny and the patriarchy, remember that it’s because we’re so powerful that they try so hard to destroy us,” she says. “You only try to imprison and get rid of something that you are petrified of.”

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“[…] That’s why they [the patriarchy] are so threatened by us, they are terrified by us,” she goes on. “So take that power, step into it, do not feel apologetic about it, do not worry that people will find you difficult or annoying or unlikeable. Be difficult or annoying or unlikeable in order to get what you want and what you deserve. This world is ours and we make the whole f**king thing turn. Without us, they have nothing.” 

Don’t believe *anything* about lockdown dieting 

As she’s said before, Jamil is really not here for any chat about “getting into shape” during the Covid-19 crisis; let alone talk of “Covid kilos”. 

“Do not succumb to that, that is pure patriarchy,” she warns. “It’s men, who run that [dieting and weight loss] industry, trying to scare us… they target us all the time with bulls**t to make us feel better about ourselves, so that we will buy to fix what was never broken. So the greatest act of rebellion is learning how to embrace yourself.”

 Follow the women-you-love rule

“Anything that you say to yourself that is too mean to be said to a woman that you love, you’re not allowed to say it to you,” Jamil explained. “Catch yourself.” 

This includes any of the usual suspects: that you’re too old /everyone else is smarter than you/ you’re unlovable / you’ll never nail that interview. All of it falls under the category of damaging, false and limiting self-beliefs. Instead of listening in, banish it for good.

Want to see Jameela Jamil’s talk in full, along with many other inspirational speakers? Stylist Live @ Home tickets are still available from just £15 and give you full access to the weekend’s events. Don’t worry if you can’t make it this weekend: you’ll also have two weeks to watch the sessions on demand on catch-up, available until November 29,  via this link. Stylist Live @ Home guests will also get first access to discounts across our curated shopping collections courtesy of The Drop. All tickets include a £1 donation to Women for Women International.


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