Jameela Jamil: “It feels good to centre myself for the first time in years”

Stylist talks to Jameela Jamil about her new podcast series I Weigh how social media is changing, and of course, life in lockdown.

“My shirt has got curry stains down it, can you see?”Jameela Jamil asks over WhatsApp video chat in LA. “I haven’t had a shower today I don’t think I had one yesterday either. I do have lip stain on and some eyeliner, but I didn’t wash my face. Just put it on top.” Jamil is many of us lucky enough to be in our homes during lockdown; half video conference ready, half enjoying the experience of being an utter slob.

We’re online together to talk about her brilliant new podcast I Weigh. The series which launched on April 3, sees her in truly candid conversation with a variety of guests and has so far featured Booksmart actor Beanie Feldstein and Vivek Murthy, the former US Surgeon General, talking about loneliness. It’s a podcast designed to celebrate progress not perfection.

Her latest guest is Reese Witherspoon and the actor and entrepreneur opens up about  anxiety, therapy, post-partum depression, a director who told her at 15 that she needed to lose weight and her ongoing mission to tell women’s stories. There’s tears, there’s laughter, and there’s Jamil using the phrase: “a sea of sausage”. We’d expect nothing less…

Congratulations on your new podcast Jameela, I’ve enjoyed hearing you asking the questions for once…

I’m really scared; I hope people like it. I’m so fucking polarizing on Twitter I think it’s hard to ever get a gauge of what I’m actually like, I just seem like this aggressive, wild zoo animal. I seem like I’m something out of Tiger King sometimes on social media. It’s nice to have more than 280 characters to have a proper conversation.

How did you get Reese Witherspoon to agree to come on the show?

I am so fucking privileged that she was willing to come and share with me like that. She was my first interview ever on Channel Four about 11 years ago – and she was lovely to me. I bumped into her last year and asked her if she would appear on the podcast and she said yes. Reese is incredibly open and encouraging and been vocal about supporting me. She’s been a hero of mine for a really long time; I was definitely the creepiest I’ve ever been.

She talks so openly about mental health, what’s the benefit of having someone like her talk candidly?

It’s so important to hear from people who so many look up to admit that they require assistance and topping up over the years. It destigmatizes therapy and medication. You look at someone like Reese Witherspoon and think: I bet your life is perfect and you have no issues whatsoever and I bet you were the perfect mother. Which is not the truth. 

Did you learn anything yourself speaking to her?

There’s a moment when she started to cry talking about how, when you are fighting for women’s rights, it’s a constant uphill battle. It’s a relief to know that other people are also still frustrated and that no matter how much you achieve there’s more to go. If this is one of the more privileged people in the world: a straight, slim white, beautiful cisgendered actress who’s still frustrated and still struggling – it reminded me that there’s a long road ahead, and it made me feel less alone in the days where I just want to bang my head against the table.

She’s also very careful and she’s really worked very hard to educate herself before she speaks out which is something that I need to work on. I’ve worked out where the root of that came from [for me], because I’ve had a pause to think: it’s so rare that especially a female celebrity speaks out about anything. When you do it people start asking you about everything, and to weigh in on everything.

I was worried that if I didn’t give my opinion – my often half-baked opinion – on something then people would think I didn’t care or didn’t think that cause was important. I would on the spot be doorstepped or say something instinctively because I thought I should, because I want to be helpful to people. I speak out before I’m ready and I get involved in shit that I shouldn’t until I’ve gone away to educate myself. Reese is a really good example of someone who has continued to grow and evolve and done it in a very gracious and thoughtful way that I thought about a lot after our time together.

Has this enforced time at home been good for you in any way?

I was really traumatized after what happened in February [Jamil came out as queer and was accused of having Munchausen syndrome]. It really hurt my heart; I never ever take criticism to heart; I’m fine with criticism. But being accused of gaslighting really stressed me out. This moment has presented an opportunity for me to stop. I’ve been moving for three years, I was filming 18 hours a day, speaking to senators in the evening, being this social media warrior. I was in chaos. And that is not an ideal time to speak thoughtfully. I haven’t had the time to be as thoughtful as I should have been. That’s going to change. I’m not going to stop saying how I feel and being honest and I’m not going to demand absolute perfection and saintliness of myself at all times, because I’m always going to have more to learn but I will definitely go forward being more thoughtful and stop speaking before I feel safe because I feel like I have an obligation to weigh in on stuff. It feels good to centre myself finally, for the first time in years.

Are the trolls still out in force on social media or are we moving into something kinder?

I think two different things are happening. On one hand an amazing outcome is that we are finally beginning to recognise people like scientists and doctors and nurses. These are the people that we should be centering and entertainment can exist within that. The value has been flipped on its head and celebrities could not seem more fucking useless. There have been a few who’ve been exceptional like Rihanna and Lady Gaga, but one beautiful side of what’s coming out humanity is that the true legends and heroes have emerged as the people that were once most taken for granted.

The flipside is I think social media is going to become a much angrier place. You can see it already and it’s justified because tens of millions of people are completely fucked and are continuing to be, with no real guidance as to what the plan is when we come out. They’ve just been left in limbo. I would recommend everyone just tread with a bit more care and remember that this is a very sensitive moment. People are very in their feelings right now. Just be mindful on social media, maybe take more breaks from it than usual. And don’t take anything too personally.

How are you managing your social media usage?

I’m on a text service and nine or ten thousand people have now texted me directly – no one has sent me a dick pic thank god.Some people ask me for advice. Some people ask me for money. Some people ask me to tell them something funny about The Good Place. The thing I’m really gathering is that people feel very alone.And there’s an unbelievable amount of women who are pregnant who have just been left during quarantine. I don’t know what it is; sometimes it’s just easier to text a character from the TV or a complete stranger than it is to talk to the people that you know.

How are you protecting your own mental health, especially when everyone globally feels so anxious?

Oh, I’m bloody fine.I’m living in the safest and most privileged situation. I’m constantly trying to figure out ways that we can be the most helpful. I’m at the end of a couple of years of recovery from a lot of my mental health stuff. And so I’m fine. I don’t follow anyone who triggers me in any way or anyone perpetuating a narrative that I find reductive or offensive or upsetting. I’ve muted everyone.

What else are you doing?

I’m watching comedy for six hours a night. I’ve watched the whole of Sex and the City again. I’ve just watched Girls for the first time. I tend to always get on everything very late– I only watched The Sopranos last year. And I just watched Feel Good with Mae Martin. It’s amazing. I’m so obsessed with her.

Have you read anything good recently?

I want to tell you that I have, but I’ve just been reading the news, and then I need to stop looking at words. I’m not feeling super creative right now because I just feel anxious. There’s a lot of cuddling, an unbelievable amount of snacking. I’ve been bloated for five weeks. I need to work on my personal hygiene.  I am happy as a pig in shit literally. I don’t know how I’m ever going to walk in heels again. That will be interesting. I’m excited for body hair to make a comeback. Excited to hear about the pubes. For me, the goal is just to try to be helpful. [And for anyone else] Don’t try and look younger. Don’t try and be thin.  Don’t try to force yourself to do anything that isn’t going to serve your mental health right now, this is all about what you need for day-to-day survival.

Listen to IWEIGH here

Images: Ramona Rosales, Getty, Instagram 

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