My goodness. I’m late to write an article about a pop-culture happening by one week, and the subject of my article can’t seem to keep her name out of the news. It’s almost as if celebrities like to stay in the spotlight because their labor-power commodity is based on their ability to get eyes on them.
Jameela Jamil. You’ve all heard of her. You’ve all likely watched her on the hit TV show the Good Place. And, depending on the type of person that you are, you probably have a pretty well-sourced love or hate for this person that you don’t know at all. It’s okay, I’m not judging you. It’s what we do as people– we were put on this heavenly planet to judge others for their actions, as our Lord and Savior fully intended.
Now that that (ironic) blasphemy is out of the way, let’s talk about Jamil. Literally anytime I google her name, yet another piece of dramatic news comes out with headlines like these:
“Jamil has Munchhausen’s!”
“Jamil is queer-baiting!”
“Jamil is actually a secret misogynist in disguise and just wants to ‘do feminism’ for the sake of popularity!”
Jamil is supposedly vapid. She is too pretty and skinny to talk about body image, and she is way too healthy-looking to tell you that she has had health problems in the past. There is no such thing as healing, of course.
If you can sense the seething tone of my writing here, it’s because I’m seething. Look, no one is claiming that Jamil is not a drama queen. Her Tahani-esque twittering is considerably irritating, and no one doubts that she has a deeply problematic past. Her feminism has been put under a microscope and critiqued into absolute oblivion, and while I agree with most of this writer’s stances– as with the absolute menaces of Twitter– I disagree that we should be constantly making Jamil’s body our battleground.
I’m not going to comment on her queerness– it isn’t okay, fair, or even remotely feminist to call someone out for when and where they choose to come out of the closet. Jamil stands correct in this battle– the South Asian community, much less the South Asian diaspora community– is pretty terrible at accepting this label. I stand by Jamil and her coming out, and beyond that, it isn’t mine to write up some commentary on her sexuality or gender identification. And it isn’t yours either. What also isn’t yours is to do is comment on her health. I’m not sure in what universe it was ever acceptable to look at critiquing another person’s relationship to their health or how that could be considered a critical feminist approach to Jamil’s problematic nature, but we have arrived at that now, I suppose, folks.
None of that is even particularly interesting to me, though. I’m not interested in the people who have made it their absolute personal mission to come for Jamil’s neck. I’m not even entirely sure what makes her hated so much, but what I am interested in and think is far more important, is the question of why we even give this kind of importance to a celebrity.
Jamil is championed as “breaking a glass ceiling” for South Asian women. And though that is technically true, I don’t really see why that’s important. Representation matters, but surely, when it comes to activism and awareness work (as she claims to do), it takes more than a hit TV show and appearing as a judge on a reality TV show where you really shouldn’t be a judge. It takes more than tweeting about airbrushing and doing interviews on body image issues. Perhaps this sounds like a complaint coming from someone who has really never lived without diversity in the media she consumed, and perhaps it is. You’re entitled to your opinion, but I don’t think representation cuts it.
Jamil can’t lead these movements, not because she is too pretty, skinny, or obsessed with fame, but because the movement doesn’t live within the notion of getting a second of the limelight. Your body doesn’t need to be viewed by a camera for it to matter. Your health doesn’t need to be put under a microscope for thousands of people to see it for it to be real and valid and concerning. Representation for the sake of pulling in an audience who then pulls out their wallet is not enough for me.
I personally love Jameela Jamil. I think she’s as real as you’re actually going to get out of a celebrity. She is messy and problematic, and she probably lies and exaggerates about a lot of things. But she is who she is: the diverse product of a media land built for white bodies and money-making. And if you judge her in any other lens, that’s on you, not her.