Jameela Jamil: "I'm A Victim of a System Designed to Make Women Feel Like Shit"

Jameela Jamil is here to help you take back your power and create a new relationship with your body and movement.

Erin Fisher Author Image
Erin Fisher

May 24, 2024 - Updated May 24, 2024

Jameela Jamil profile

Content warning: This article discusses body image, disordered eating and trauma.

There’s one relationship you will carry with you your entire life, and that’s the relationship you have with yourself. As a woman, your relationship with your mind and your body is one that will continuously evolve through different stages of your life, but so much power sits with each of us to make that relationship as strong and positive as we can.

Jameela Jamil, activist, actress, podcaster and founder of the incredible iWeigh movement, was recently on Sweat Daily, talking to Kayla Itsines about her relationship with food and exercise, society’s ever-changing expectations of women and her favourite ways to reframe movement.

You’re worth more than your weight

Despite having an incredibly positive, healthy relationship with her body as a young girl and fondly recalling how proud she was of her belly, that pride wasn’t enough to shield Jameela from the pressures of the outside world. At the age of 11, a single incident transformed how Jameela felt about her body. She was in a school classroom when she and her classmates were weighed by the teacher and realised she was one of the tallest and heaviest of her peers.

“I realised overnight that there is societally something ‘wrong’ with being heavy and that my job is to take up less space in the world,” she says.

From that moment on a pattern of disordered eating set in as she started on a long trajectory of starving herself and moving between seeing food as either the enemy or a way to rebel against her self-inflicted hunger. To this day, she can quickly recall the exact number of calories in a certain ice cream thanks to the countless times she walked to hit that very target on the treadmill. It was a destructive relationship that consumed her life, identity and personality for two decades.

Now she talks about these experiences from the other side, having transformed her relationship with her body and food, and starting iWeigh - an anti-diet culture, pro-mental health podcast and movement.

“I'm done with women being weighed and our value being estimated on a weighing scale,” she says. “The lesson I got when I was 11 is that I don't have any value because I weigh too much. So instead I was like, I weigh my business and my talent and my mistakes and my orgasms and my relationships. I weigh the sum of my parts. When I said that, it went very viral and stayed viral for about two years.”

It was her work in anti-diet culture that made Jameela realise with such clarity, “I'm a victim of a system that is designed to specifically make women feel like shit.”

Advocate for yourself

In a high-pressure world of constantly shifting trends and beauty standards, Jameela wants women to pay close attention to the way they speak to themselves and remind them that they have the power to challenge the script.

Her advice to her younger self? “I would tell her that the way you would never tolerate someone you love being spoken to, you're not allowed to say those things to yourself.”

“I would teach her to advocate for herself the way she would advocate for the women she loved. She would never let a woman be told she's not worthy of love or success or friendship if she's not a certain weight. So how do we say these things to ourselves? How do we decimate ourselves in the mirror?”

“I don't think I'd let a stranger be spoken to in the way I have spoken to myself in the past and the standards I set for myself have been so preposterous.”

Now, when Jameela hears that voice in her head speaking harsh words of criticism or shame about her body, she often tells it to shut up out loud to stop it in its tracks, knowing she doesn’t have to let it call the shots anymore.

Say thank you to your body

A significant part of rewiring how you feel about your body is looking for the good - what there is to be grateful for. What makes you unique and different isn’t something you should shy away from, it’s something to be celebrated, and saying thank you to your body is a simple way to start injecting positivity into the relationship you have with your body.

“We're so hard on our bodies but your body is the best friend you will ever have. It's your ultimate ride or die,” Jameela says. “Yet all we do is tell these bodies they’re not good enough. Why don't you do this? Why don't you look like this? It’s insane that we never just say thank you. Thank you for helping me repair after that operation or after giving birth. Thank you for taking me through my twenties when I didn't sleep for five years because I was partying. Thank you for all the sex we were able to have. Thanks for being there. Thanks for always being there.”

Move for your mental health

So where does exercise fit into Jameela’s philosophy? It’s all about feeling good and supporting your mental health. For those who feel intimidated by any part of fitness culture or feel that exercise is something you have to do for how you look, Jameela’s work is all about finding a new way to frame exercise. And this new frame is no longer about burning anything off, punishing yourself or having a no pain, no gain attitude.

“It is just about the mental health benefits you get from exercising. It is about the endorphins, the feeling of autonomy, stress reduction and improved sleep. We're doing it all for the brain. If it happens to change your fitness level or make your heart work better or do anything else, that's fine, but we are doing this just for the brain.”

Seeing exercise this way takes the pressure off how it looks and makes it all about how it feels. Move how you want. Wear what you want. Exercise for however long you want. Do it alone or in the company of who you want.

“It doesn't matter how well you move, how flexible you are, how fast you are, what you look like, how old or young you are, whether you're pregnant or postpartum or whether you have a disability, there's hopefully a way you can move that is going to improve your mental health and your brain chemistry.”

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Take the pressure off to find the joy

“There are so many other ways you can approach exercise without feeling like you're already supposed to have aced an exam,” Jameela explains, and we couldn’t agree more.

Exercise doesn’t have to feel like a chore, a grind, a test or punishment. If you haven’t found your groove yet, don’t be afraid to experiment with a variety of training styles, moving your body at different times of the day or in a new location, or recruiting a loved one to join you on your journey. Find a way to love movement and it will love you right back.

Erin Fisher Author Image
Erin Fisher

Erin is a writer and editor at Sweat with years of experience in women's publishing, media and tech. She's passionate about the power of movement, and you can often find her on a yoga mat, a hike, a dance floor, in the ocean or the gym.

Body Image
Healthy Habits
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* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.


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