Maya Jama is living the dream. Not only has she landed her first acting role (something which the presenter has been dreaming about since her schooldays), but she’s also managed to escape the wind and rain of the UK, too.
That’s right: as Jama’s 1.4 million Instagram followers will already be aware, she’s currently enjoying a sun-soaked holiday in the Maldives with her BFF. And, after setting up base at Heritance Aarah, they’ve spent much of their time doing what we all do best on vacation: eating, drinking and lounging by the pool.
Naturally, there was one video that caught the eye of salivating tabloid journalists. Because, posted in Jama’s Instagram Stories, it featured the presenter in a yellow bikini.
“Morning from paradise, oh darling,” she says in the clip. “We’ve woken up to see the sunrise.”
Ever so predictably, tabloids ran this footage as headline news, focusing on the tried-and-tested-and-boringly-dated “celebrity woman flaunts figure in bikini” angle.
The curveball, though, was that tabloids somehow managed to turn this non-story into one about Jama’s ex-boyfriend.
“Maya Jama shows off hourglass curves in skimpy bikini after Stormzy snub,” read one such headline.
Underneath, for added flavour, came the line: “Maya Jama risked an awkward run-in with her ex Stormzy at last week’s BRIT Awards but seemed unbothered after jetting off to the Maldives for a luxury getaway.”
And, yes, your suspicions are 100% correct: almost all of their information about the ‘awkward run-in’ came from one of those dubious unnamed sources tabloids so love to cite.
It’s no secret that the tabloids are flooded with photos of women in their swimwear – many of which are lifted from their Instagram feeds, the remainder of which are taken with long lenses and without permission.
Regularly, these women are accused of “flaunting” or “showing off” their “bikini body” – which implies that they’re dressing or behaving in a provocative way. That their aim is to conjure lust. That they are purposefully setting out to tease the world with something the world can’t have, won’t ever have. That literally everything women do is sexual in nature. Which, it should go without saying, isn’t just reductive and untrue: it’s toxic, too.
This story about Jama, though, goes one step further. Because, in linking her bikini selfies to an ex-boyfriend, these headlines suggest that women will forever be defined by the men in their lives: the men they’re dating, the men they’re seen talking to, the men they’ve been accused of ‘flirting with’ – even the men they have since moved on from. That literally every photo we post, every outfit we wear, every word we say, is chosen solely to provoke a reaction from these men.
That we are, basically, nothing if a man doesn’t dictate our narrative.
It’s worth noting that, for literally years, Jama put up with being called “Stormzy’s girlfriend”.
As she explained in 2018: “It happened to me once at the National Television Awards – some girl came over to me and said ‘Stormzy’s girlfriend’ and I said, ‘My name is Maya’.”
And those four little words – so simple, so powerful – still ring true now. Yes, “Stormzy’s ex” is good for headlines. But, by treating Jama like she’s forever hung up on her one-time boyfriend, we’re suggesting she’s failed in some deeply important way. That every major achievement she’s celebrated in her life is somehow negated by the fact she doesn’t have a boyfriend. That the only relationship worth talking about is the one a woman shares with a man. That the only way a woman can truly prove her worth is by finding the right guy, getting him to marry her, settling down into a life of cosy domesticity and, oh yes, popping out a couple of sprogs before her ovaries dry up.
Considering the fact that marriage rates are on the decline, this all feels… well, it feels tired. And lazy. And boring. And dumb. So, so overwhelmingly dumb. Particularly as Jama – when you consider ‘Jama the Brilliant Woman and TV Personality’, that is, and not ‘Jama, Stormzy’s ex-girlfriend’ – is the complete opposite of a failure, by anyone’s standards.
At just 16, she moved to London, where she set up her own YouTube channel and caught the attention of MTV. Since then, Jama has gone on to host the MOBO Awards, scored her own popular Saturday-night TV game show, Cannonball, and landed her first American modelling job. She’s an ambassador for Savera UK, which operate across the UK to tackle “culturally-specific abuse, including forced marriage and female genital mutilation”. She opened and hosted the 2020 EE BAFTA red carpet. She presents her BBC Radio One show in two plummy timeslots. She recently bought her first house (“I’m trying to make it into MTV Cribs,” she said proudly).
And, as we mentioned earlier, she just landed her first acting gig. She’s literally making her childhood dreams come true.
There’s no doubt about it: Jama is a woman on the up. She’s loving her life. And we’re sick and tired of seeing her shoehorned into the role of “Stormzy’s ex” at every given opportunity.
With that in mind, we have a message for the tabloids: if you really must spin a bikini photo into a news story (and, really, must you?), can you at least do it without single-shaming the woman in question? Thanks.