Jameela Jamil is right to keep talking about body image

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Jameela Jamil made another Instagram post about Kim Kardashian-West last Wednesday, a common target of her body positivity activism, and the reception was somewhat mixed. Her post, addressing an image of Kardashian-West in an impossibly tiny-waisted corset, lead to an overwhelmingly positive section. However, Jamil also faced a degree of negative response: “shouldn’t we be discouraging women from deliberately tearing down other women for their bodies?” wrote one commenter, “why do you have to crucify other women to make your point?” wrote another.

This sentiment, which attaches a degree of hypocrisy to the body positivity movement, is a common one, as noted by Jamil herself in a follow-up statement. Jamil acknowledged that “you aren’t a feminist if you criticise other women”, is one of the most common critiques she receives. There is some apparent logic to this statement; after all, how can a movement designed to uplift women to feel good about themselves also act as a shaming force towards other women? However, this viewpoint fundamentally undermines the truly detrimental effects of eating disorder culture. It also underestimates the impact the influencers maintaining these expectations can have on women. 

Influencers have become both victims to, and perpetrators of, the societal expectations surrounding the policing of women’s bodies.

In our capitalist, brand-driven culture, it is important to recognise that two versions of Kim Kardashian-West exist. There is the “harmed and deluded” individual, to whom Jamil extends her sympathy, and acknowledges the “decades of body image issues and obsession” to which she has fallen victim.  Juxtaposing this, there exists ‘Kim Kardashian’ the brand, whose livelihood revolves around perpetrating the very ideals by which she has been damaged.

It is entirely possible to sympathise, as Jamil does, with Kardashian-West as a victim of the cultural forces at play in body image. Nonetheless, it is also important to acknowledge that her actions do not exist in a vacuum. Her cultural status means her unhealthy views of body image are not merely internal but are instead broadcast to a primarily young and female audience of 177 million. Kim Kardashian as a brand exploits the illusory nature of the parasocial relationships enabled by social media to sell everything, from shapewear to appetite suppressant lollipops, one selfie at a time.  It is therefore important that this version of Kim Kardashian is held to account for helping to spread such a potentially damaging societal ideal, even while we empathise with the individual. 

Jamil is therefore correct to highlight that…influencers continue to promote an unhealthy body shaming narrative.

Eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness, with the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric condition. One study suggests that three in four American women experience symptoms of disordered eating in their lifetime. As such, culture, and the cultural icons that maintain it, must be held to account for the body insecurities they promote and perpetuate.

Jameela Jamil utilising her platform to deconstruct the destructive, and at times deadly tropes at play in the attitudes towards body image presented on social media, does not demonstrate an unhealthy culture of body shaming. Nor is this utilisation hypocritical. The same cannot be said, however, for the constant advertisement of -supplements, appetite suppressants, and indeed unbelievably tiny corsets, peddled by Kardashian and the hundreds of other influencers like her. These individuals have become both victims to, and perpetrators of, the societal expectations surrounding the policing of women’s bodies. Jamil is therefore correct to highlight that by building their personal brands around the harmful narrative of culture, such influencers continue to promote an unhealthy body shaming narrative.

Image: Concordia via Flickr.

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