As part of Jameela Jamil's guest editorship for HuffPost UK Lifestyle's International Women's Day 2015 coverage, here is her passionate, outspoken feature about what's fuelling body image and a call to arms for reclaiming our self worth.
Some awful woman called Heidi Parker for the Mail Online has written an article this week, appearance shaming a heavily pregnant Jessica Biel. All of this was accompanied by about 12 photos of her looking rightfully larger, and then a final photo of her looking thinner before she was carrying a growing human being inside her.
The title genuinely includes the words: “Puffy face.”
This kind of reporting is nothing new, but with statistics that Britain has the highest levels of eating disorders in Europe in 2015, and that body image plays a key role in fuelling them, we just cannot stand idly by.
It's time to start calling people up on this kind of thing.
What kind of woman tries to fat-shame a heavily pregnant woman? What does this Heidi Parker look like pregnant? What does she look like first thing in the morning? Or bending over? What do any of these bloody “journalists” look like that makes them find the normal appearance of celebrities so offensive?
Kim Kardashian was the first time I’ve seen a woman tormented about her weight gain while having a baby. But at least she asks for that attention by voluntarily obsessing over her weight publicly on her social media. But now nobody is safe.
We are genuinely in a world that criticises women even when they are going through the biggest physical challenge of their life: pregnancy.
How did we get here?
Over the past few hundred years, with a particular kick since the explosion of media and press. Once the war was over and entertainment took over, women were screwed. I think male studio executives in Hollywood worked out the value of objectifying a woman; we as a race were put on the market, with our value being measured in direct ratio to our bodily proportions.
And as the generations have passed, once women have met the body 'ideals' set by the media industry, the bars have been pushed further and further in order to make it harder to achieve.
So that the diet companies, cosmetic surgery companies and cosmetics companies who fund the glossy magazines, can keep pushing their product. The game is to sell a generation, ultimate dissatisfaction. I’ve never met a woman who is totally happy with how she looks. Not once. (And bear in mind I have worked with some of the most “aesthetically gifted” women in the world.)
This makes me sad. This all makes me sad. I feel as though we are being distracted with self-loathing, as if it were a ball of string to a kitten.
Spending unhealthy portions of our lives worrying about appearance, berating ourselves, depriving ourselves, planning meals, comparing ourselves, having arse injections, saving up money for arse injections, reading articles about arse injections - even saying the words arse injections.
It’s a waste of our valuable time. Who are we even doing this for? It can’t be our own happiness, because I’ve never seen a generation of women so miserable with their appearances.
At the moment, I’m in LA. The mothership of all this evil. Women look so stressed here when they eat. The take-careful-bites strategy, as if any bite of food is a potential grenade that will give them the love handles they spend their lives evading.
Taking my friends here to a buffet was one of the most painful experiences of my life. Every bite was washed down with guilt and pledges to go the gym three times the next day to make up for the sin of indulging.
(Bangs head repeatedly on table.)
I wonder if women spent less time “fixing” their appearances, and more so thinking about their appearances and physical short-comings what we would achieve instead?
Is it possible we were fed this lie to distract us from the things that matter, in order to stop us from fulfilling our potential?
I mean, we are still paid less for the same job (so we are still a few miles behind) but seriously, women being valued purely upon their exterior was birthed in a time when women weren’t allowed to vote.
It was almost like we were given looking after our appearance as a job, because we had bugger all else to do or show for ourselves. A “keep yourself busy with your hair, babe” approach.
But now we DO have jobs, and the vote, and voices, and blogs and rights. At least in the West anyway. So why are we insisting on trying to meet society’s absurd standards on top of all of the worthwhile things we are doing?
Why are the women I know who work in law and finance, trying to concentrate on their difficult jobs while only allowing themselves juice until 6pm? Why are gyms bursting with women doing classes genuinely called “thigh gap?”
And where are all these wonderful, smart women getting all of these stupid ideas?
It starts when we are children; only the most attractive kids are shown on the television shows, pearly white teeth, perfect hair and zero percent body fat. The children who look like they haven’t stepped out of a catalogue, are normally given the specific role of the geek, clown or outcast.
Immediately a bad message is sent to children.
Then for the rest of our lives we have TV, film, magazines and fashion to intoxicate us constantly with subliminal messages that we aren’t good enough. And like the gluttons for punishment that we are, we flock to buy this nonsense, and dare to believe it.
Some of it is subliminal, especially when it comes to berating the appearance of women in the tabloids.
We think they are writing about Jessica Biel getting fatter (because she’s fucking pregnant) but what’s really being said is: “If you, the reader, gain weight and wear tracksuits when you are pregnant, you’re a failure.”
Or when Mila Kunis gained some weight and had the confidence to walk her dog without make up on, and looked less polished than normal. The papers savaged her.
What they were saying was, “don't you, the reader, get caught looking this shit. Or else you should be ashamed of yourself.”
Why do I keep seeing the words 'make-up free' written in headlines about women? Who cares?
Free is the word we are missing here. That’s the key. In the western world, we are free.
We can write, and create, and advise and change, and hire and fire, and earn and inspire. We are free from so many of the shackles holding back other women across the globe. Why are we being imprisoned by insecurity, bred by people who know that unhappy people make better consumers?
Why do female magazine editors feature clothes in their magazines of designers who can’t be bothered to add another couple of inches to their samples to allow celebrities and models to remain a human size and still be able to wear high fashion, therefore setting realistic examples for the readers?
If magazines were to boycott tiny samples, then designers would have no way to showcase their designs, and they would have no choice but to concede. If designers can’t make clothes that look good on something other than a flat or bony canvas, then frankly, we need better designers.
Women need curves to make babies, so humanity can continue. And the average woman buying these clothes, won’t look like the pre-pubescent fat-free 14-year-old modelling them. So this makes the woman feel bad about herself, and probably inhibits the purchase. It’s not even good business.
Of course, it's personal too. Last year, I was bigger, because of some steroids for asthma.
The day the figures were released that I had gained 200,000 listeners on my new radio show - the first time a woman had ever hosted that show in its 60 years on air - the papers only reported that I had gained two dress sizes, and published a lot of pictures of my bottom and back fat.
I was heartbroken. All of my hard work ignored and utterly dismissed because I hadn’t done it at a size 10. I wasn’t fashionable and attractive enough that day to be acknowledged for my achievement. Only the men at my radio station had their ratings released. That I know of, Nick Grimshaw and Greg James’ BMI weren’t mentioned, and their sartorial choices didn’t make it into the articles about their success. Funny that.
Look, I know that taking care of your appearance is actually a lovely, and healthy thing to do. There is no judgement over that. I love to dress up and look nice. I think feeling good is wonderful for one’s mental health. But not within the parameters set by people who don’t even look like that themselves.
Also how can we keep up? First it was heroin chic, then it was skinny with boobs, then it was skinny with booty, now it’s booty with thigh gap, tomorrow it might be that we are told we have to grow a fucking unicorn horn from our foreheads.
You have to respect your body and respect yourselves. Find your point of comfort, and find your own unique beauty, and then, you need to immediately put that to one side and spend your valuable time doing something that changes your life or your world from a deeper place. Get that degree, get that job, be that incredible mother or friend. Write, paint, work, talk, read, empower yourself.
Don’t for a second forget how lucky we are to even have the time, space and freedom to grow. Don’t let the lie sold to you by the media industry, clip your wings. I’ve done it before, it was exhausting and distracting. Not to mention soul destroying.
There is also nothing to be gained from standardised beauty. Seven billion look-a-likes is not an exciting world. And you will never stand out or be remembered for your lack of cellulite, or the size of your pores. But you will for your mind, your heart and the mark you leave upon this world and the people around you.
And Heidi Parker, you owe Jessica Biel an apology. You really owe all women everywhere an apology. You actually even owe one to yourself for letting down the team and not living up to your own potential as a writer and as a woman.
The next time you pick up a magazine that claws at the exterior of a woman and forgets to comment on what she has achieved in her life. Either burn it, or go and wash yourself of the dirt that has just rubbed off on your psyche.
We are worth more and we have better things to do.