The problem with Jameela Jamil’s ‘body neutrality’ message

Jameela Jamil is continuing on her mission to defeat diet culture. In her guest edit for this week’s issue of Stylist, The Good Place star appears on the cover as ‘The Diet Destroyer’, wielding a sledgehammer with several pairs of scales smashed at her feet.

On the surface it sends a powerful message. The issue features content on everything from plus-size underwear to transgender rights and white privilege, from writers including Munroe Bergdorf and Scarlett Curtis. However, one reader was quick to point out the irony of the cover shoot’s finer details.

Amy Bottrill wrote on Twitter: “In her cover shoot titled ‘The Diet Destroyer’ she wears seven different clothing brands. ONE item is available to women over size 18 – it’s a unisex pair of £180 dungarees.”

Jamil was quick to defend the shoot in a statement on Twitter. She explained that the fashion choices were decided by the magazine and she was sorry if readers were disappointed with the overall result, adding how she understood why these clothing choices may seem hypocritical to the overall piece.

“The point of the issue was to let people tell their own stories from their point of view,’” she tweeted. “This wasn’t a body positivity issue. It was about difficult conversations, and eating disorder rhetoric is my biggest personal axe to grind, based on my suffering.”

She went on to address that she is not a body positivity activist due to being a thin woman in the public eye, but instead a promoter of body neutrality and ambivalence. This, she explains, “involves not loving or hating your body, just accepting and kind of ignoring it.”

Jamil’s intentions are valid, especially given her own personal experiences with eating disorders. However, this whole debacle only further indicates she has once again been unable to stick the landing. More often than not her activism is remembered not for its message, but for the backlash it creates, and this is another prime example.

She sees the way the industry feeds toxic ideals to young women and girls and rightly calls them out, but the decision to distance herself from the body positivity movement doesn’t make any sense. She claims this is because she’s slim, and feels she has no right to represent a movement that is principally aimed at larger women. But body neutrality does not sound like the right alternative.

For many women, acceptance of one’s body is incredibly difficult; ignoring it, almost impossible. As Guardian journalist Laura Snapes points out on Twitter: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to change how you look/feel better about yourself, if that’s what you want. Suppressing these conversations isn’t progress; it’s isolating.”

Being an advocate for body positivity should not correlate to a certain size, and you’re allowed to change and improve yourself without feeling like a Bad Feminist™. What Jamil has missed is that the message of not defining ourselves by a number on the scales goes perfectly hand in hand with loving our bodies and being proud of what we have. In fact, it’s probably the best kind of happy medium.

I wrote this for a job application last month and although I didn’t get the job, I got a lovely email about this piece so decided rather than keep it to myself, I’d pop it somewhere it can actually be read. Hope you enjoy.

Image credit: Grazia Daily

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