LIFESTYLE
07/03/2015 16:18 GMT | Updated 09/03/2015 06:59 GMT

My Life: Jameela Jamil On Body Image, Disability And Why We Need More Diversity In The Media

When it comes to challenging the norm, Jameela Jamil is quite the pro.

As a kid, she suffered "a fair bit of bullying." As a teenager, she was hit by a car and told she may never walk again. And as as adult, she became the first ever solo female presenter of Radio 1's Official Chart.

Now, instead of sitting back and reveling in the fact that's she's totally "made it", the 28-year-old is using her influence to champion equal rights for women and people with disabilities.

She's even agreed to guest edit HuffPost UK Lifestyle for International Women's Day.

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"I've always been passionate about the concept of helping the underdog. It just doesn't make sense to me as to what kind of person would take a huge platform and not use it to do something, to change something, to help people," Jamil tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle.

"So many people are campaigning, fighting and even dying to make a statement in the name of humanity. These people have no voice that can be heard by many. I wish more celebrities would take the initiative to be that voice.

"How many fucking cars, shoes and private planes do you need? If you have time to get your pet rabbit its own Instagram account, you have time to at least tweet about something important."

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More than anything, Jamil wants her fellow celebs to encourage young people to think about the world they are growing up in, and challenge any injustice they see.

She herself did not have an easy childhood.

"I was fat, deaf and Indian, in a school that didn't like fat, deaf Indians," she says.

"I was very awkward, far too tall for my own good and constantly missing school because I was in and out of hospital having operations, including some big ones for my hearing. So I didn't really stand a chance."

Surprisingly, Jamil was completely disinterested in show business and fashion during her formative years.

"I was a total academic and very socially inept around my peers - constantly saying or doing the wrong thing," she says.

"I didn't really have a group of friends 'till I was 19, and I didn't kiss anyone until I was 21.

"It was a bloody nightmare. I am the only woman I know who loves getting older because it's another step away from my god awful teens."

Despite all that, Jamil says her childhood has had a positive impact on her adult life as it was "incredibly character building."

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This ability to take a crappy situation and turn it into something to be proud of is what makes Jamil stand out from other celebrities.

At 17 years old, she was hit by a car and suffered damage to her spine. The accident left her unable to urinate alone for over a year and forced her to "navigate [her] way to 20 on a zimmerframe."

But ever positive, Jamil says her experience of disability taught her to "never take another day for granted."

"It gave me the kick up the arse and the reality check I needed. I had a very tough childhood and adolescence, including a fair bit of bullying at school and then caring for very mentally ill members of my family, and by 17 I had lost any love for life that I could muster up.

"But once I was faced with the reality of losing my liberty or even my life, I woke up and decided to fight. And I don't think that fight will ever die in me again," she says.

And Jamil certainly is fighting. At 28, she has become a spokesperson for disabled people across the country and has even set up her own company Why Not People?, which arranges ordinary gigs for disabled individuals.

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"The pity is unbearable when you have a disability. You don't need it, you don't want it. You just want to get on with your life and shake off the week the way other people your age do," she says.

"You want to join the conversation, be a part of a society you are entitled to join and just enjoy the rite of passage that you deserve."

"But even in this day and age, and in such a developed country, we make little to no room for this huge portion of our public. - 11.8 million people to be exact."

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So how did Jamil go from unpopular teen to a model and one of the country's most popular TV and radio presenters?

She says TV and music "saved [her] sanity" when she was recovering from the accident.

"I genuinely think watching television 24 hours a day is how I learned how to present. Entertainment saved my life during that time, and suddenly I started to take that whole world much more seriously," she says.

Once she was able to walk again, Jamil lost the extra weight she had put on while bed-bound by walking everywhere.

"I'm not a member of a gym. I don't work out. I just walk. I'm very lazy," she jokes. "I'm so unfit I once got a stomach cramp during sex. That's embarrassing isn't it?"

Does she think there are more pressures surrounding body image on young girls today than there was for her growing up?

"I came into my teens around the era of heroin chic - the most disgusting of all disgusting media faux pas - so I think it's been around a while, but the internet has put it on steroids," she says.

"Not to mention the tsunami of gossip magazines drenching us in insecurity and lies. I remember girls at my school eating while standing on weighing scales to make sure they weren't gaining weight, which is absolutely preposterous, but it happened.

"Now body image obsession amongst both men and women is at an all-time high. We are a generation obsessed. I mean, vampire facials and bum injections? Really?"

It doesn't take a genius to figure out the key to tackling body image issues and promoting equality across all boards is seeing a diverse range of people celebrated in the media.

As Jamil puts it, "a lack of diversity feeds discrimination."

"Why am I the only Indian presenter on mainstream youth entertainment in maybe the last 10 years?" she asks.

"It means that people of different races don't have someone they can relate to. Even in small ways, like dark skinned girls wanting to see what make up looks like on a celebrity that isn't porcelain white.

"Even in the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, it's still hard to see accurate depictions of society on screen and in magazines."

While she continues to tirelessly campaign, a recent cancer scare led to Jamil quitting the Radio1 Official Chart show to travel the world and work abroard - something she's always wanted to do.

She seems like a woman who has her feet firmly on the ground, but is she really as together as she seems?

"There is a myth that fame makes your life perfect. If anything, money aside, it rips it to pieces. I think I could count the amount of well adjusted celebrities I've met... on one hand.

"Because these are just ordinary people, who are trying to work out who they are, but they have magnifying glass on them at all times, waiting for them to slip up. And worst of all, they are worshipped and congratulated constantly for doing things that aren't actually that miraculous.

"Celebrities who project these perfect images of their lives are being irresponsible. It's a lie. It's a lie that is bought by billions of people who feel inferior because they buy into the falsehoods.

"This is why I write very honest columns about my struggles and many short comings as a young woman. To disembowl the the smoke and mirrors. To make sure that the people who are kind enough to take any interest in me, know I fuck up too, and that I am right there with them, sweating."

HuffPost UK Lifestyle are running a month-long campaign during March called All Women Everywhere, championingwomen from all walks of life. If you would like to contribute, please email us here.