This post is by Sam Farooqui, one of my favorite ex-Muslims on the planet (and there are dozens of us! dozens!) Sam posts extra-good Facebook content all the time, but this piece in particular was super-extra good. In it, Sam says what I was hoping someone would say because I didn’t know how to say it myself. Check out Sam’s Twitter for bite-sized humor and wisdom.
Jameela Jamil, of The Good Place on NBC, has been vocal about body positivity for a while, and recently, she’s started getting some backlash for some of her statements. So Vox (that fairly young publication that curiously feels like it’s always existed) put out a “people are saying _____, other people are saying _____, here’s some context” article on the subject. I’d been seeing a lot of this fuss about Jamil over the past few days(? weeks?), mostly in the form of people on Twitter posting some vague-ass asides. If you’ve been in some of the pockets of Twitter that I have, you know what I mean.
Seeing that someone (an official publication, no less) finally compiled the actual complaints against her was almost a relief, because it means that those complaints can be properly discussed out from under the tandem shadows of ambiguity and brevity. But because this article simply recounts the basic facts and context of the situation, this article continues to perpetuate views I feel are unfair to Jamil (although it avoids perpetuating the heavy rhetorical tilt that’s been prevalent elsewhere, thank fuck).
The first of these complaints: Jamil is wearing makeup on a post where she urges her audience to “say no to airbrushing”. This is framed as hypocritical, but using makeup and being airbrushed are not at all the same thing past the superficial similarity. In that same vein, I have no idea why her saying airbrushing should be illegal is so objectionable (particularly as it seems much of the objection around this has been characterized as moral in nature). Sure, it’s easy for her to say it as a conventionally attractive woman, but that doesn’t make the feeling under this clearly hyperbolic statement untrue or invalid. Her “airbrushing should be illegal” essay is not like Alicia Keys’ “women should be makeup-free” campaign, specifically because Jamil is talking about a practice that is frequently performed on the images of women without or against their consent and Keys was preaching about women and their personal practices for their own living selves.
It’s also very curious to me that the personal context that she’s presented about her views on airbrushing is being totally ignored when people give voice to their sentiment around her current status as a Conventionally Attractive Woman™. When Jamil speaks about body positivity, she’s speaking as someone who has had eating disorders, and as someone who has experienced fatshaming (including from paparazzi) during a time in her life when she gained 70 lbs as a result of being on steroids to treat a medical condition. She’s not talking out her ass, y’all.
Another complaint that was presented was that Jamil took issue with the Kardashians and Cardi B specifically instead of where she should have laid the blame: the overarching concept of patriarchy. Even though Jamil says she wasn’t criticizing the Kardashians and Cardi B, I believe it would’ve been totally fine if that was what she was doing, because women can be and are agents within patriarchy and the fact that there are external pressures leading them to those actions does not absolve them, just like the sexist pressures faced by white women within white supremacist patriarchy do not absolve them of their racism, just like it’s totally fucking fine to criticize people like Phyllis Schlafly specifically and by name, particularly when they’re rich and famous women who have tons of power and platform with which to expand their individual agency, who are advocating things that will physically harm people. Patriarchy isn’t a concept that exists separately from people — people exist who are willing vehicles for patriarchy, who sometimes are also hurt by patriarchy but nevertheless continue to perform its bidding because it also produces benefits for them in other ways. We should never forget that.
You can’t just say “some women want to do a thing” and pretend that is the end-all/be-all of feminism regardless of the consequences it actually has, and that thereby, criticisms of the actions and beliefs in question are inherently invalid or sexist or not accounting for other intersections. This is what choice feminism is: feminism that doesn’t account for why people make the choices they do, as if the simple fact of the agent being a woman is enough to make it feminism in this framework. Besides that, I think this complaint is instructive in how it exposes a common trend within contemporary social justice — because people at certain intersections of identity survive in ways that are at odds with the ways in which people at other intersections of identity survive, we frequently choose to assume both are the same in their substance and consequence, and end our discussions there. But the way to reconcile contradictions between different intersections isn’t to say the whole debate is moot and not useful to have, but to figure out ways in which that contradiction between the survival (if indeed it is about survival and not just harnessing capital and consumers to make tons of money) of different peoples can be resolved.
I also don’t really see the resemblance between Jennifer Lawrence and Jamil, considering Lawrence leaned away from feminism in her attempt to market herself as relatable to men, whereas Jamil’s attempts lean into feminism and are very obviously directed at and about women. Further, why are actors like Chris Pratt (and a veritable litany of actors besides, not even limited by race, really) allowed to project an everyman Cool Guy image without scrutiny and suspicion, and actresses like Jamil immediately scrutinized and called fake as soon as they make the slightest attempt at it? This is incredibly reminiscent of the phenomenon where people don’t want to believe attractive women can be funny (or relatable), so they resist it through whatever means necessary (including accusing them of being fake).
Maybe you’re upset that Jamil wished for celebrities peddling weight loss laxatives to shit their pants. I still don’t see the problem. I think it’s totally acceptable (and according to my personal brand of poetic justice, laudable) for her to wish that on a celebrity who is peddling products that actually really in real life do that to people who can’t necessarily afford or weather the aftermath of any health issues that may occur as a result. Fuck ‘em.
Maybe you’re annoyed that Jamil’s pushing body positivity while having access to all manner of beauty products and procedures as a rich person that we as poor people don’t. But that also doesn’t make any kind of sense. Sure, she’s rich — but she is also only taking on other rich people who are peddling beauty products and procedures, so I don’t see why we should be defending those rich people (who, again, are doing literal actual physical harm) against Jamil on the basis that Jamil is rich.
All of that being said, I do think she has slut-shamed in the past. However, I also think that that has largely been a matter of the way in which she has expressed her concerns rhetorically and not necessarily a matter of the actual substance of her concerns. It is important to talk about societal factors that lead women to make certain choices when we talk about popular culture, because (and I don’t know why we’re just pretending this isn’t the case in order to act like popular artists only exhibit their most authentic selves always everywhere) artists tend to have entire teams of people working with them to calculate the benefits and drawbacks of exhibiting any kind of image at all.
If nothing else, the way people have been taking issue with Jamil between a couple of these complaints is contradictory. On one hand, people are decrying her statements about airbrushing and Photoshopping and celebrities peddling laxative teas because societal factors lead women to make certain choices and they can’t be blamed for it. And on the other hand, people are decrying her statements about female celebrities being sexualized and sexualizing themselves (specifically where capital interacts with sexualization) because women have agency that is not significantly affected by societal factors and they can sexualize themselves if they want to, and Jamil has no right to raise the point. So which the fuck is it?
I highly suspect that people are taking their gut reactions to Jamil and running with them, figuring out their rationalizations ex post facto. I also highly suspect it has something to do with her being a non-docile South Asian woman. A little while ago, Jamil made the point that when women of color speak out, they’re seen as aggressive, and some people took issue with that, saying that that was just an issue Black women face and not something all women of color face. Their argument was that South Asian women are seen as docile, not aggressive, and accused Jamil of appropriating the struggle of Black women. While I agree it’s not an issue all women of color face, South Asian women absolutely do face this — this is one of our double binds.
When we are quiet, we are seen as servile and passive, willing to suffer through whatever is dealt to us; but when we say so much as one word that isn’t simply acquiescence, we are seen as aggressive beings who are stepping out of our rightful place. When we advocate for ourselves, we are considered unnatural, abdicating our proper positions. South Asian women being seen as docile at large is not a counterargument for the claim that South Asian women are seen as aggressive when they speak out. It is the backdrop that provides the context for the reactions we receive when we are not docile. Framing this dynamic as a binary between servile and aggressive does all women a disservice, in addition to simply not being accurate. We have got to stop seeing non-Black women of color as simple intermediaries between a binaristic black and white, instead of groups with their own dynamics and oppressions. We need to stop seeing the experiences of non-Black people of color as muddied up Whiteness or watered down Blackness.
As for Jameela’s own response to all of this, I think that too leaves something to be desired. Jamil has been backing down on a lot of this, deleting some of the tweets in question, and I wish she’d just stop and defend herself when she clearly has a valid case for much of this, because the internet (and Twitter) is full of people who will shit on you for anything and everything, and it doesn’t inherently mean they’re right. Jamil could use better rhetorical skills for sure, as well as some time examining her views on sex work, but I don’t believe she deserves the vast majority of what she’s been getting.
Thank u, next.