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Hello and welcome to How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, the podcast that celebrates the things that haven't gone right.
This is a podcast about learning from our mistakes and understanding that why we fail ultimately makes us stronger, because learning how to fail in life actually means learning how to succeed better. I'm your host, author and journalist, Elizabeth Day, and every week I'll be asking a new interviewee what they've learned from failure. Jameela Jamil describes herself on her Instagram bio as a feminist in progress, but it has to be said that at the tender age of 34, her achievements are already so notable that the progress part seems to be going pretty well.
Born and raised in north London, Jamil was at first an English teacher before a chance encounter with a TV producer in a pub led to a stint as a presenter on Channel Four's Youth Strand before she went on to become the first solo female host of Radio One's chart show. A 2016 breast cancer scare precipitated a move to Los Angeles, where she landed a role as the narcissistic socialite Tahani in the hit sitcom The Good Place.
For all her success on screen, Jamil is arguably best known for her activism in 2018, disturbed by a photo of the Kardashians on social media that listed what each of the sisters weighed, Jamile launched an online movement called IWA, which rapidly became a global revolution against shame. People were encouraged to submit photos of themselves listing their weight by the things they were grateful for or proud of, rather than by pounds and ounces. Now the community has grown to encompass all aspects of ALLAI shape and radical exclusivity and has its own YouTube channel, which provides a platform for other young activists.
She is also the host of Ioway with Jameela Jamil, one of 20-20 breakout podcasts which has seen her interview everyone from anti-racism expert Ibrahim Kendy to Reese Witherspoon and Demi Lovato. And yet, for all the good work she does, Jamil has come in for her fair share of criticism. Perhaps that's the occupational hazard of being a woman with an unapologetic public voice who does not seem to fear calling out media hypocrisy and double standards. And she claims to require only three hours sleep a night, as she put it in an interview for The Guardian last year.
I would rather start the fights that I start and sometimes get into the trouble that I get into than sit here silently and be complicit.
But she also said, I am a human prone to error.
Jameela Jamil, welcome to How to Fail. Hello. I may be the greatest failure you've ever had on this podcast. Hi, how are you?
Well, you could succeed that. If that were actually true, that would be a massive success.
I'm very good. How are you? I'm all right. I'm all right.
I love that quote that I ended on that you are human prone to error because it is absolutely what this podcast is all about. I know that you're a big advocate of progress, not perfection. Can you explain why? Well, yeah.
I mean, it was funny when I first asked to do this podcast, I just thought, I don't know how I feel about this because I love failure. And I wasn't sure quite which angle you were coming at. Failure from since I have learned and therefore was really keen to come on and chat to you. But I look at failure as something quite noble as meaning that you were willing to be vulnerable enough to try one. Success hasn't been guaranteed.
And so I think to progress is to be human. And I think that the day that we have all of the answers, what is the point of existing anymore? I just don't think perfection is realistic. I think is something that we definitely hold women towards the standards of more so than men. And I think that perfection has not only extended to the way that we look and how our bodies fit into patriarchal stereotypical narratives, but also we are expected to have perfect minds, perfect behavior, perfect abilities to please every single different type of individual all at the same time simultaneously.
And I refuse. And so I think that the most realistic way as a solution based human, that we can all progress incrementally because change, real change, systemic change happens incrementally. It's frustrating, but that's how it is that we need to encourage progress and not strive for unrealistic perfection. We need to definitely call people out when they make mistakes. God knows I do and I'm happy to be called out. But I think that we need to make sure that we keep championing progress and not ridiculing those who aren't at perfection yet, because when us adults are mocking and jeering at those who still have more to learn or those who admit to their vulnerabilities or apologise for a mistake, we have to remember that kids are watching us and those same kids are going to maybe not put their hand up when they're afraid or unsure and ask the important questions that help us remedy our own ignorance.
So that's a very long fucking answer. Sorry.
I mean, I feel like this podcast episode is done. We might as well stop recording now because. Yeah, I and I'll see you later.
But it's very interesting to me to talk about this particular topic in this particular cultural age because so many people get in touch with me, as I'm sure they do with you, describing an overwhelming fear of failure. And the fear comes from what you've just identified, the pressure to be perfect, quote unquote, perfect, but also.
Because as you know only too well, if you put a foot wrong, we live in an age where you can be publicly shamed for making a simple mistake. So how do you counsel people get over that fear of failure?
What I said at the top of this podcast is normally what I say to people, which is just that I find that their willingness to be vulnerable, very valiant, and that I think we have a really fucked up perception of what success looks like. To me, success is just progress and success is happiness and success is growth. I love the risk of failure. I think not only does it make my life so much more interesting, it keeps me on my toes.
It means that I feel always as though I'm engaging and learning more and growing more. But also if it goes really tits up, which often it does for me, as we've all seen, because it's very public and goes very far. It makes for a funny story at the pub with my friends who already think I'm an asshole. So I think that for me personally, I just try to reassure them that to fail and to have growth is to be human.
And it's something that you must really kind of check your ego at the door, if you ever can, when it comes to taking on new pursuits, because there's nothing I find scarier than the words. What if when it comes to a kind of existential crisis, I hate the idea of wondering what could have been had I just swallowed my pride enough to try and really just open myself up to things, not working out the way I wanted it to.
Everything I've ever done, I've been completely unprepared for, underqualified for. And that's just kind of figure out on the job. I didn't know how to act when I started in the good place. I did not host radio when I started on Radio one. I've just winged it and almost hustled my way up. But I've been able to find all these different facets of my personality or these different skills that I do or don't have because I actually was willing to try.
And what a boring and bland life I would have lived had I never found out about the sides to myself. Imagine if I'd never tried, I would never have known. And I think that in particular, again, women are told to stay in our lane. We're given this box that was supposed to fit inside of and we're told very early on, almost at school, who we are, what we're supposed to do, what we're going to do with our lives, how things are going to turn out by thirty seven thousand thirty five.
We've got kids, 40, etc. We kind of prescribed this life. And I think that that's really dangerous because look at how much we change. At twenty one years old, you have no idea who you are. Twenty five year old. You have no idea who you're going to be at thirty. You're still changing even in the last four years, even the last one year. Look how much we have changed as human beings, as individuals. So to deny yourself the periphery of life I think is a fucking shame.
And so I just don't want to do that.
I think you are incredibly courageous in the way you call things out.
And I wonder if that comes at a personal cost to you, because I just want to know from my own personal benefit, how do you cope with criticism?
I think I'm just I mean, I was a very popular at school. So I think the idea of being liked isn't a priority for me. And I think that's very liberating, especially when you're a woman in the public eye, because you're told that that sort of your main objective, not even to be the most talented, not to be the best, not to be the smartest, but to be very, very likeable to absolutely everyone, in spite of their multitude of varied tastes in every single way.
And so because I don't prioritise being liked very much or approved or well understood or even believed, I am able to just take it on the chin and try and take it as a compliment, weirdly, with some maniacal maybe. But I guess what I'm trying to say is that if someone criticizes me, it means implicitly, I hope that they have faith that I'm capable of change. I think when people give up on you and don't bother to criticise you, it's actually much worse.
I think when people are offering you inviting you to change and to do better and be better, then it means that they know that you can handle it, you know, which is why I think it's really dangerous. And we enter this territory of saying that women can't criticize other women that do not disempower us in that way. We need to all be checked. That is the road to evolution. And when you check another woman, you are saying to her, I believe you can do better.
Here is how.
And it's not unfeminine. Criticise. No, exactly. In fact, it's really patronising not to do it.
Yeah, we can take critique from each other, but also fucking way, rather hear it from a woman than a man, if I'm honest. So, you know, if I'm doing something in particular that harms other women, I want to be told by my fellow women just to shut up, fuck off, learn and come back and do better.
What if you're being criticised for something you haven't done wrong? That's really frustrating and that's only really started happening to me in the last year and a half. Listen, I'm not going to start a conspiracy theory, but I am just saying that as soon as I started standing up for Meghan Markle publicly, who I didn't even know, I just felt. So there was an implicit bias against her in the British tabloid media almost as soon as I started doing that, this kind of lens of ferocity and smear campaigns and just shaming me for things I hadn't even done started.
So it's been really, really odd. And that is something that I find very difficult to swallow. It gives me severe anxiety is the one thing I wasn't prepared for. I knew being a public figure meant always being accountable for what I had done. I had no idea how much bullshit is involved in the kind of given this character when you become famous by the media. And for me, I guess it was this like soap box standing on screaming, smashing, bashing, slamming, locking horns with chaotic, egotistical and scheming, manipulative, hysterical, lying Munchhausen, having compulsive prec, if I could sum it all up, you know, and they give each woman a narrative.
And I think what's been the most illuminating to me since this will happen, I think February was the worst of it, where people started telling me what my sexuality was for me. They started telling me that I had faked my illnesses and no one has ever gotten a job by being open about their illnesses. So I don't know what they thought my motivation would be for that. And then also said that I had something to do with the suicide of a famous woman in the UK that had nothing to do with.
So when that all happened, I think what it made me realize, especially when I was doing press after that time and seeing the way that my thoughtful, carefully constructed answers when I was being interviewed by female journalists were being twisted and gnarled and turned into these sort of newly constructed sentences that they'd created out of my entire paragraph to make me sound like as much of a thoughtless, reckless, I guess, vacuous arsehole as possible. I realized that, oh, my God, all my life I've been reading about women and I've believed what I have been told.
I have read their interviews and rolled my eyes at them. Having no idea of any of these words have actually come from a source. I've believed the headlines I have seen strategically placed photographs of them looking like what could be constructed as a smug smile is something we normally only ascribe towards women. I would see the carefully placed photograph next to the extra inflammatory headline and I would digest that, internalize that and decide that that was who she was in this world.
So once it happened to me and once I was in the belly of the beast right inside the machine, watching how they twist and turn your every move, facial expression and word, it made me just so angry with myself for the decades in which I have been complicit in a system that builds women up and then tear them down using smear campaigns and lies. And that just really bummed me out. And they set me out on a path to not make sure that I tell everyone that we are all in the middle of, I guess, the kind of some sort of simulation against women, a collective gaslighting.
I mean, that's what you call it. There's a highlight on your Instagram stories, which I highly recommend everyone goes to. What about media gaslighting and you deconstruct headlines and images used of you, and then you ask us all to ask ourselves which women we find, quote unquote, annoying for no reason. And for me, I've always loved Keira Knightley Unfashionably, but I know she triggers some huge reaction people and that's where it comes from.
It was so interesting for sure. She's a punch line and so is Anne Hathaway. And we've seen the same thing come to Jennifer Lawrence. Everything she says gets twisted and turned because everyone loved her. At first she was so relatable and so funny. And then after a year and a half of overexposure that she had no control over, because that is part of the system of building a woman up, breaking it down after a year and a half of everyone loving her so much.
Suddenly they were like, oh, why? She tried to be so funny and relatable at the time. Why she's a full of herself if we hate her. She faked falling over the same falls that we found so charming here before we now decided were constructed and manipulative. We love the idea that a woman is constructed in some form. And I think Taylor Swift talks about this brilliantly in her documentary, Miss Americanah, where it's like you have to navigate through this world carefully in order to be safe.
And then when you do so, you are accused of being strategic as if it's a bad thing rather than a survival skill.
Love that as well. Let's move on to your first failure, because it relates to so much of what we've just been talking about, which is, as you put it, your failure to be an obedient female celebrity or to be good at Twitter.
What does an obedient female celebrity look like?
I think silent and one who fears and obeys the press and their publicity team, someone very media trained and someone who doesn't get involved in truly any subject that is relevant or controversial, even though they could sway their massive amounts of money and influence and power towards that subject and raise awareness. By the way, I'm not shaming these people. I completely understand. I mean, it's a hard path going against this. And I've always been encouraged to take this road.
I've chosen not to, but. Someone who maintains the obedient sticks and figure the one who dresses the way that they are expected to dress, behave, smiles all the time, even when they are sad, like I think that there are more of those than aren't. I think since post me too. We've had more and more women start to speak up and speak out and rage against the machine. But I definitely feel that my idea of an obedient female celebrity, someone who just stays in her lane, she looks pretty and she shut the fuck up.
And I personally don't think I could do that and I haven't, because I would then feel complicit in the many crimes that this industry does play into in our society and our culture. All of the lies that we tell, gender stereotypes, ableism and the awful things we do around ageism and body dysmorphia that we contribute to.
Have you ever come under pressure to be that kind of obedient female celebrity because you do not make your living in Los Angeles, which has a reputation? She said, putting it putting it mildly, for expecting that female stars to behave a certain way.
Have you ever come under pressure? Always, always.
And I think I came under pressure at the beginning of my career, both when I first started out in the UK and the US and after I've already done it and gone out there and been disobedient, I received pressure just to pull it back or to be warned that, you know, maybe you won't work again or you don't want to go. Well, Rose McGowan, you don't want to seem crazy. You don't want to seem difficult. There's a lot of fear mongering that happens.
And I used to be told all the time in Britain, you know, I don't know why we think Los Angeles is the only place where this is prevalent because it's really bad in the UK. But I would be told all the time to not try to be funny, to be likable to men and to just try to look thin and chic all the time. And that that was my strength, is that I was pretty and I had long legs.
And so that's what I should play to. That was regularly told to me by men in this industry, by producers, by writers, by publicists, even not mine, but others who I then wouldn't decide to work with agents, even. You know, they really just wanted me to be pretty and silent. And it didn't sit right with me because this industry really fucked me up when I was a kid growing up watching what they put out, I really thought this was real life and this is what I was supposed to subscribe to.
And I think a big part of me entering this industry was with the hopes of Trojan horse thing my way kind of through. I never strategically decided to be in this industry. But once I was given the opportunity, one of the only ways I could reconcile being part of it is if I used this position on the inside to just blow it all up and expose what was going on and try and change it, because I think that this industry can be amazing and we put so many amazing things into the world.
And why don't we just do more of that and less of the toxic shit.
Talking about your childhood then, did you ever see yourself on screen or in the pages of magazines? Did you see a representation of the kind of person you were? And did that make you feel alone?
If not, yeah, I didn't really see many South Asians. I still aren't that many and I didn't really see any. I think I arrived briefly. She was in Pride and Prejudice outside of that. No, not on the runways, not on the covers of magazines, and definitely not as protagonists in films only ever as the sort of embarrassing, like highly stereotyped, often played by white people wearing brown up classic comedy Indian. Those were all I saw and we were only allowed on mainstream television if we were ridiculing our own culture.
And so it definitely had an impact on my self-esteem and made me feel as though I should either align myself to whiteness or blackness or just anything but what I'm from. I try to distance myself from my culture because I thought there was something wrong with me, because that's what the messaging is. This is why I still despair at how ablest our industry is, because how most people with visible disabilities feel when they look out across the fashion pages of this industry and on screen and almost never see themselves represented unless they are the biggest tragic sob story.
What's that do to your self-esteem? I can tell you from experience, it really harms you. It makes you feel as though you shouldn't be here. And so I guess these are reasons why I always push for change, even if I fuck up sometimes and stick my oh God, stick my nose, it deliberately make a mess. Does that tell you your heart's in the right place? I know.
I can tell. I can tell. Does that tie into your self stated failure to be good Twitter. Are you one of those people who feels the Twitter rage and needs to get something down and then regrets tweeting, or is it something slightly different constantly? I don't know what the fuck is wrong with me? Why last year during twenty twenty I was like, why the fuck do you think you are good at communicating? A Almost no one is good at communicating anything nuanced and helpful to refined and tricky complex discourse in two hundred and eighty characters.
The fact that I used to try and start massive conversations in 140 characters. Back in the day is horrifying, but the fact that I still think I'm capable of getting any of my thoughts across properly or that I can still get away with having a sense of humor online and that people can just read when I have my tongue in my cheek, when I know that I am a woman, so therefore completely evil and be a very privileged person. So I also kind of evil that inherently I guess that's how it would be perceived.
I can't believe that I didn't just stick to long form and stick to essays and podcasts, being able to have my own podcasts. And the first time I felt like finally people can understand what I mean when I speak, I just cluster fuck it when I try and say things that are far too complex for a tweet on Twitter. So I've learned my lesson.
Hopefully I think I did it again like a week ago and I think that was my last time. I was like, that's it. This is your last time trying to have an important conversation in print in a limited amount of characters, you fucking idiot.
And so I'm trying going to try do your friends, your boyfriend, everything. Please, please don't do that. Like, please just step away from the Twitter.
Oh, I'm sure. But I think everyone knows that I'm so impulsive I'm likely to just get it off my chest and in my head. It's so clear what I want to say, but it would take so much longer to be able to say it properly. But normally it's too late by the time it happens. But I also think everyone who knows me, anyone who knows me, knows my intentions, knows what I mean. So I guess they kind of read these things in my voice and therefore they don't think it's problematic until it turns out to be a cluster fuck.
But one thing I will say, and I know this sounds absurd, maybe, but even when I fuck up, I'm kind of a little bit glad because at least then other people see how I fucked up and now they don't have to fuck up in the same way. A lot of people, they may not admit it, but they have learned from my cluster fucks online to avoid said cluster fuck themselves. So if it's because I always use a massive mess up that I've had to then come back, apologize and show people where I went wrong, I will show my work things out.
Other people are always learning. I don't always have to be this perfect teacher in order for other people to learn with me. And I'm so down to be that character because I never had that person to look up to when I was younger. I never had that fallible woman who would make mistakes, get back up, dust yourself off and try again. And I think we desperately need more of those figures in society because it's suffocating women. This idea that we have to be perfect and upon your first mistake, you have to be ousted even upon your tenth mistake.
Look at the things that we let men get away with. Look at Qalibaf. How many fucking chances is that man going to have a look at? Emile Hirsch strangled a woman gets cast in a massive Hollywood film alongside Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt. Look at Quentin Tarantino. Look at all of these people who have been called out for some heinous shit and are still able to work. And yet look at the things that if a woman smiles the wrong way or if we don't like her haircut, we don't like her Oscar speech.
If we found it disingenuous and planned, we will look to cast them out of our society. The standards are completely different. Women have so much extra homework to do and I just think it's unacceptable. And so I refuse. I'm deciding to live my life like an old white man who's allowed to make mistakes, come back and say, I'm sorry, explain my mistakes and carry on.
Living life as an old white man is excellent. And I want that on a T-shirt. A progressive old white man, the one who doesn't want to just record all of my privilege.
I just want to say that speaking very personally, I remember reading this thing that you once said about how you don't make an effort with your physical appearance to go to work, as in you wouldn't make more of an effort than your boyfriend would make from a point of principle. And it has honestly changed me that because I think so many women and it's been super interesting during Knock-down, actually, but so many women feel that they have to put on makeup just to go out and buy a loaf of bread.
And every time I'm tempted to do that, I think of you saying that.
So I just want to thank you for that and also for the style that you take against airbrushing.
Well, no, look, I appreciate that. And I think where I was coming from was just that. I think it's really bad for my self-esteem to have a bunch of make up artist spend an hour and forty five minutes to work on my face before I can go out on camera or for me to lose an hour of sleep so I can get up extra early to look acceptable for who. Who am I doing this for. I'm not really doing it for me.
And I think lockdown really proved to a lot of us that we are not doing this for us because when given the opportunity, it's been Tracksuit City and it's been no makeup. And I was getting used to our real faces. And I think that glorious and not getting our nails done, the idea that we've said sentences like I must get my nails done as if it's a necessity, as if no one can see me with nails like this, no one cares.
So I think we've all been quite liberated.
But for me, the idea of taking on layers and layers, layers of makeup and contour, all of that feeds into the way that we feel about ourselves. So the. The subliminal messaging there that you are not good enough as you are and it's going to take basically you painting a new face onto your face before you can be accepted. The reason I think it made headlines when I said that is that I'd essentially at the good place, which is the comedy that I'm on, refused to come in earlier than the boys.
I was like, what is this? What are you doing prosthetics on me? If not, you don't need an hour and 45 minutes. Put some eyeliner and lipstick on my face and tongue, a bit of my hair. I will come in at the same time as the boys. Otherwise I will not be able to be as funny as the boys, as quick as the boys, as energetic, or be able to remember my lines as well as them.
This double standard means that we're not sleeping enough. We're not eating enough. We're thinking about exercise too much. We're thinking about our bodies too much. This is all time that we could be spending, healing or working on therapy or working on happiness or getting orgasms. It infuriates me the idea that I'm denied that extra time as if that's normal. We're going to come on to body issues next. But I just wanted to ask you whether your impulse to share your honest opinion and how you feel about double standards publicly is that important for your mental health?
Because so many people, I think, find it really toxic, often without knowing not speaking the truth? I think so, yes, for me. But I'm an ongoing experiment, so that doesn't mean everyone should necessarily do as I do, because clearly I'm a mess. But for me personally, when I was twenty six, I think it was I tried to commit suicide and then I, I failed so that there's a failure I could have used on this podcast.
Failed at death. But thank you for being honest about that. That's incredibly brave.
Well I mean it just it is what it is. But I guess my decision was that if I was going to stick around in this dumpster fire of a hell earth, then I was going to do everything completely differently. And up until that point, I'd been quite a repressed person and I'd found out that my depression was possibly linked to repressed rage. And I think finding that out really just blew my mind of how much that made sense that this numb kind of depression I had.
I didn't have sadness. I wasn't comfort eating and crying into an ice cream like I was not not in no way to belittle that doesn't mean that I'm sounding like I'm trying to diminish that form of sadness or mental health. But that's what I always thought the movie version of depression was, is that I would look sad. But actually I was this high functioning, very numb, cold person. And that's because repressed rage means that you are there's a dishonesty to it.
You're not telling people how angry while you're not even really admitting it to yourself. And I think therein lies the gap between yourself and the person you're pretending to be. And that's where the numbness comes in. Now, I have no degree in literally anything.
So this is just my theory that I've worked out kind of with the therapist. But that's where I think my kind of most of empty was between me and who I pretended to be as hyper tolerant survivor. Yeah. And, you know, the stoicism that I thought was important to portray and was gallant of me. What's the word? No, never mind. Yeah, fine. So valiance together. Gallion Oh, there we go. Gallion I do that all the time.
Oh my God. And I'm a malapropism queen. Another failure. But if I could just make a complete 180, if I could completely change everything and just start saying everything that's on my mind all of the time, a kind of practicing of the micro know it started with just saying, oh, sorry, at Starbucks, this isn't actually what I ordered. Could I have the thing that I ordered, please? And that in itself just felt like such a huge thing to dare to do.
And just slowly but surely, I built up to telling someone who would kiss me in a way that I didn't like, like, oh, I actually prefer kissing like this, not with your tongue in my stomach. And then it kind of moved forward to seeing how I really felt in all interviews and then online and then everywhere in all situations. And so if you know me, you really fucking know me. I'm not holding anything back to my detriment sometimes, but it's just something I'm trying to see if I can work my way out of this prison.
Is being subservient, obedient woman practising the micro.
I feel like I'm getting so many truth bombs. Motorcity is something that I'll never forget. The fate of a woman and practicing the microRNA. Thank you. And Gallion, the brand new word on this.
Well, Oprah Winfrey would call a teachable moment.
If you're your second failure is your failure to be kind to your body.
Tell us about that. Yeah. Oh, I despair. Makes me feel sad even just hearing it. I just spent over twenty years being so mean to and about my body, this body that did so much for me and I took it completely for granted and just hated it because it wasn't being obedient to kind of very strict white patriarchal standards that hate women. And so I feel very, very sad now that I look back on how much time I wasted, how much sex.
So I didn't have because I was starving myself, so I had no sex drive. How much less fun I was, how much less fun I had, how much less brain space for innovation and creativity I had. And you know, what I've done to my organs with all the shit that I've put in my body or haven't put in my body, you know, your body is an engine and you have to nourish it. And I didn't for so long.
And the reason I rage so hard against detox diet products is because I fucking took them all. I took them all. Anything that was advertised by anyone, anywhere, I bought it, I took it. I spent all my hard earned pocket money or work money on it and have kidneys that they work properly. My digestive system doesn't work properly. I don't ever work again. I'm sure I fucked up my bones, OK? I have harmed my fertility.
So much damage that will last forever because of the early years of disrespecting this body that was just trying to get me from A to B and do so much for me.
Do you know that you've harmed your fertility? Yeah.
Yes, I do. I do. And I don't want to go into it because then it becomes another thing that people will talk about on the Internet. But, yes, I definitely have. And we noticed that early on when my parents stopped, when I was about fifteen at the height of my anorexia. And that was the kind of beginning of issues with that part of my body and with my fertility. And so it doesn't mean that I definitely can't have children.
I've just made it much harder for myself, as many people who've had anorexia for a long time have. And one of the most interesting things was turning nineteen and making that decision back then, which is sixteen years ago, almost to stop starving myself. And I thought because I wasn't just existing on like one hundred and eighty calories a day, that I was no longer anorexic, but I totally was. Anorexia comes in all different shapes and sizes and it can happen at four hundred calories a day.
Six hundred calories a day. Eight hundred calories a day. AUTHOR Zero Something that's true, which is a terror of food, which I definitely had. And it's taken me really until the last four years of my life to get rid of it. Body dysmorphia, all these different things I've struggled with, all without realizing because diet culture is so hyper normalized. Every woman being on a diet, every woman complaining about how much exercise are going to have to you to work off their dessert or talking about foods guilty or naughty or treat.
It was also normal to me that I didn't even know I had an eating disorder throughout my 20s with every other woman in my industry and even outside of this industry in my life were just starving themselves perpetually because we all wanted to look like, I guess, Alexa Chung. It's not our fault.
Yeah. Did anyone step in at any point because you described the decision you made at nineteen as a person who generated one, but did you feel anyone helped or could see what was going on?
No, no. And anorexics can tend to, more often than not, be very good at hiding their anorexia, which is how we're able to sustain the I guess it's a disease for such a long time. I think Caitlin Moran came on my podcast and told me that something like only 30 percent of people ever fully recovered from anorexia, which leaves a vast amount of people still in turmoil. And so no, no one stepped in. People would express concern, which I used to take as a compliment because I was so messed up.
And, you know, it was the era just post heroin chic. So I really thought it was an achievement. If people were concerned for how thin I was. Oh, I despair. I despair. I'm so glad that I didn't die in my early thirties so that I was able to at least have a few years of freedom from that thought toilet that is eating this sort of mentality.
How do you feel about your body now? I just sort of don't care. I'm not that fussed about it. I'm not someone who stands there and I fucking love Lizzo and Meghan, the Stallion and all these different amazing women who sit there are really genuinely love. I mean, the and also they're all goddesses. Everyone's a goddess. But the point is, when there are women who really just fucking love their thighs and they love their arses and they love their bodies, I marvel at them.
But I can't personally get there. And to say I could it would be disingenuous of me and I would give anything to feel the way about my body that those people do. And I'm a relatively slender ish person. I'm a size sort of, you know, ten to twelve UK, but I can't stand there in the mirror and look at cellulite and be like, I love it, I appreciate it because it's a part of me. But I just tend to now as a way of pushing past that to just not really negotiate with my body image.
I'm not going to try and love something for me personally that society spends so much time telling me to hate. Instead, I'm just not going to think about it. So I wear most of the time loose clothes or big baggy suits, and I don't really look in a full length mirror more often than maybe once every couple of weeks, unless I'm getting ready for an event and I don't get a lot of time getting ready in front of the mirror.
So I have to look at myself too much. And so in doing so, it has been so fucking liberating to me because that could be a.
Shit, an actual shit on my face, and I would have no idea all day, which sounds like a bad thing, but it's also very liberating because why do I need to know why is it any of my business, what I look like? I don't want to think about it anymore. And in doing so, I have become so much more successful, so much happier. My relationship is happier. My friendships are better. I'm a better person.
I'm still shit at Twitter, so I can't blame that on eating disorder. Unfortunately, I'm just shit at it. But other than that, I have such a full and happy life now because even the hours that we spend thinking about trying to love our bodies or actively loving our bodies were still thinking about them. And I just still think that that's what patriarchy wants. That's what the diet industry wants. That's what the beauty industry wants. It just wants us to be thinking about our looks all the time.
And so any form of giving in to that, I think gives them what they want. And I'm far too rebellious for that. So who knows, maybe one day I'll love it. But for now I just choose to not engage with it. Do compliments help? No, they go down. It's that Georgia O'Keeffe compliments and criticisms or insults go down the same drain. None of it helps. It makes me uncomfortable because of years of dysmorphia. I don't want to think about it.
And I'm become very careful to not compliment other women in particular. If I notice weight loss, I used to be like, oh, you've lost weight as if that was a good thing. And I realized, oh my God, that was so problematic. Because also then if that weight comes back on, they're now thinking that you're going to be noticing it and judging it. So I'm very careful to never comment on that sort of thing. I'll comment on a dress or if someone's clothing or on their hair.
But I'm very, very, very much more aware of the damage we do with compliments sometimes.
And just to be clear, I think they'll be people listening to this who are nodding their heads with every single word that you say. But I also feel like I like to wear leather trousers and put makeup on and go out.
And you're not saying that the two are mutually exclusive? Not at all.
I fucking love makeup and I love women in particular in the trousers really hot, but I'm never telling anyone how to feel about their bodies. I'm not even out there preaching to love yourself. I'm just saying for me personally, as someone who's been so fucked up for such a long time, I choose to just not even try. I'm just like, that's for me is an emotional minefield. I'm out. I just want to get on with my day.
You do you and whatever you do, just try to do it slowly, safely, and not at the advice of a celebrity. Like if you want to gain weight or lose weight or gain more muscle or have less muscle in your body, do whatever you want, but just do it slowly, safely. No quick fix ever works. It only ever harms you. And it's designed for you to fail so that you'll have to keep using it again and again and again.
Don't ever use laxatives and please consult a proper nutritionist, someone with certified skills and a health practitioner to guide you through these massive long term changes in your body. That's the only thing I ever tried to subscribe to. I'm never telling anyone what to look like, what size to be, just to please do everything carefully, safely, and to never take advice from the fucking lying asshole celebrities who I see in person. They don't fucking look like that.
And I know how much surgery they have. And I know all of the tricks they use. I know well their trainers. I know how many nutritionists they have. I know what goes into I know that they're wearing a weave in their advert selling you hair like growth gummies. I see these people. I'm on set with some of these people. I know what really goes into the appearance that they pretend to you comes from a powder. They are talking to you over the Internet that they've never taken once in their life.
They're all full of shit, literally, and because they haven't taken the laxatives, they're selling it. So fil in there. Yeah. So I should point out that. No, no, no.
I should point out that the way and you have been instrumental in making Facebook and Instagram changed their policies around celebrities and influencers, promoting diet and detox products to minors.
And I often think that those sort of achievements are overlooked.
And I wonder if it ever frustrates you.
It does frustrate me, but it doesn't surprise me. Why would we ever choose to pick up a woman when we could instead focus on her micro mistake that didn't actually harm anyone? Why would we ever talk about the thing that she did that saved or helped a generation of kids avoid something that was incredibly damaging, detrimental that we have statistic proof of being damaging and detrimental? Why would we ever congratulate a woman for something she did that was helpful when we could instead just make a headline out of a mistake that she either did make or didn't make that we just made up from, quote unquote, a source?
So it doesn't surprise me. It is annoying, but I guess it goes along with my decision to check my ego at the door. If I was doing any of this for praise or popularity, I would be in the wrong game.
Yeah, one of the things that I find funny that I noticed when I was researching for this interview is how many grateful notes, how many grateful dads you get.
You get a lot of them saying to you, I'm the father of a 13 year old girl, I. Thank you so much. And I imagine you for advice, I feel like you're the guru for dads of teenage girls. I'm big with dads. I don't know what to do. I think I've only got 16 percent of my followers are men. And I swear, it's all dads, terrified dads. They don't fancy me. They just want tips on how to communicate with their daughter.
I love how many of them. Listen to my podcast like a Baghdad following on my podcast and so much feedback from them because, you know, kids aren't educated at school and neither are parents. I don't understand why we still haven't stepped up our education program to make kids media savvy, to make kids understand what goes behind social media, to explain photo editing to them and the dangers of it, to explain eating disorders stuff. But we should also be making that same manual for kids.
This is the first generation where we've had kids this far ahead of their parents, parents that even know what the kids are looking at anymore or what they're learning. This is a nightmare. Schools need to stop fucking going on and on about condoms and carrots and igneous rock and all the other nonsense they teach us that we're almost never going to use. I don't need to learn about Anberlin. I need to learn about consent. I need to learn about Photoshop.
I need to learn about eating disorders. I need to learn about porn. And so to my parents, that's where we need to spend money in the education sector. My opinion is actually preparing people for life.
And while you're at it, teach children about tax and fertility.
That's the other thing that I would add to that evidence page Millsap's finances finances, which leads us seamlessly onto your final failure, which is that you lost all your money at 30. Tell us that story.
Yeah, just so shit with money. So shit money for so many reasons. One, I think, again, school didn't teach me anything. How is this possible that we're given debit cards at sixteen and we're able to open our own bank accounts, but school literally doesn't mention it. We do not have classes where we learn about interest, about credit cards, about credit, about how to eventually be able to get on. I don't know if you want to maybe have a mortgage one day or start a business, you learn none of this stuff.
So I had no idea about saving. I was totally unprepared. And we don't all come from super educated backgrounds. I sure as shit didn't. So my parents didn't know anything about saving either, and we were really poor. So money was something that when you've got some, you spent it on a nice little treat. And I guess I took that as the way that I would then go on to even when I made a lot of money in this industry, I just spent it all of the time.
I didn't know how to save. And also as a woman, I think I felt very uncomfortable being successful and having a lot of money. And so I used to just try and spend it and share as much as possible. And I was incredibly overly generous, like I'd meet a stranger and they would say they needed a knee operation and they were two years on a waiting list on the NHS. So I'd be like, here's six hours and pounds, complete stranger.
That's a nice thing to do. But also I wasn't planning to protect myself. And I think the third layer of it was also just being quite mentally ill and just not really talking enough about how in a chaos can present itself as external chaos, as financial chaos. I was just spending as if I wasn't going to be here very long, and I think it's because I didn't think I was going to be here very long. So it was just a kind of cluster fuck that led me to making all of this money in this industry and just hemorrhaging it.
Also just having an eating disorder, if you're a binge and star person, really fucking expensive because the bingeing part is very costly. Yes.
Wrote to me that you spent so much on food and then you lost a clothing contract. Oh, my God. Well, that's because I spent so much of food that I ended up eating so much that I gained so much weight that I lost a clothing contracts because I was too big for the samples. And I remember just trying to hide from them quite how much I was eating and then getting papped, buying like six cakes at eight o'clock in the morning on my own and then clocking I've been papped and then instead trying to pick up a healthy pair and hoping this will be the photograph that makes it into the room.
But it wasn't it was the cakes and so sort of busted. But yeah, that's fine. And I'm glad I didn't starve myself of any kind of clothing contract or anything else. But yeah, I literally ate my way out of parts of my career.
I'm really glad that you chose this failure because I think so few people and specifically women talk about money or feel that they can. And as you say, most of us aren't equipped with the knowledge when we come out of school. But after you went through this financially difficult patch, how did you recover from it on a practical level?
Like what did you do? Did you get a financial advisor?
Yeah, I got a financial adviser. I was very, very lucky to ever get a job again. At 30 know, moving to America to start a brand new life was a very, very bold thing to do, considering I was going to try my hand at being a writer again. I think I've never done and I didn't want to be on television anymore, but I was able to kind of figure it out, to be able to do work that I knew how to do, which was TV hosting and then eventually accidentally falling into acting.
But once I did have money again this time around, I went and I found. Two people who I trusted, who guided me through learning really about pensions, about tax, about saving, about planning, about budgeting, all these things that I just hadn't learned about. And another thing that I think is really important, specifically when we're talking about women in finance, is that we are 80 percent of the fucking market. We are consumers. We are the main consumers of the gender.
By far and away we consume the most. And we are the ones most targeted by advertising, even if it's the cleaning products or household staff or for beauty staff, because they think every single part of our bodies needs to be fixed because they've convinced us that it's broken. So with women being the most targeted to spend our money, we are the ones who should most be taught how to save it and how to budget it.
And so therefore, I kind of find it a little bit convenient that we aren't schooled about that in our magazines or in our schools. And we are just left open and vulnerable to being manipulated into that. Having that must have bag that it top that must have makeup like this must have new color with prescribed a brand new body type every decade where prescribed a new hairstyle that we have to have or a new way of doing our nails. Men are just not targeted in this way.
I mean not as much. Maybe it's growing now because they've run out of inches on our bodies to commodify. You know, they're now telling us we need our earlobes down and our elbows down and our knees lifted, etc., which is real. So I think it's happening more to men. But with women being this much under attack when it comes to consumerism and capitalism, we're the ones who most need to learn how to defend ourselves financially and protect ourselves financially.
I'd love to talk to you about L.A. because I love L.A. I feel like it's my spirit place. I've really missed it this year because we haven't been able to travel, obviously.
But explain to me why you moved to Los Angeles and what is it about that particular place that has I don't know whether you feel it's been good for you, whether you feel it's been liberating, but what's the impact that that has had on you?
Multiple good impacts. First of all, I'd say that you can't blame your problems on L.A. and that's been really good for me, because I think living in places like London or even spending a lot of time in New York, I was able to blame my inner chaos on the very clear external chaos of living in a city where people are just on top of each other and your money doesn't go very far and your apartment is too small or flat. So you become a bloody Yank, but your flight is too small and some farts in your face on the tube in the morning light by nine a.m., I was already fucked off by tangible things that happened during the day, like the weather is shit and people are banging into me all the time.
And so I was able to blame a lot of my problems on that. And I think it therefore meant it took me a lot longer in life to work out that, oh, I am a mentally ill person. I didn't realize that such a long time. And coming here aren't really sunny and there's loads of space and your money goes further and the food's just better quality because there's more sun. People are really fucking friendly. So I was banging into each other.
You have so much space as a pedestrian. I didn't have anything to really tangibly complain about. So I realized that all this pain that I'm carrying, that's on me. So for me that was very good because I needed to work out sooner rather than later that I was struggling emotionally and psychologically.
But also the industry here is way ahead of the UK industry in that women in their fifties and sixties who are African-American or they are brown women or women from different ethnicities of all kinds of different ages and shapes and sizes have really big jobs over here. That feeling of you expire at thirty doesn't really exist in America. And I think that that's really cool. And I feel as though they love a multi hyphenate, which is what I am, which is what most people are.
Yes, we are all multifaceted and we don't know that. We're not encouraged to find that out, especially when we're women, because patriarchy does not. What women are strong and adaptable and fucking fantastic and special and unique. We are. And so we're told just to pick one thing that you'll maybe be allowed to do and then just sit down and shut up and be grateful and never complain about that situation. And so in America, they love multifaceted people.
It's actually considered strength to be jack of all trades. They're not really looking for a master necessarily. And I think that's pretty good for me because I am a master of fucking nothing. And I you and I am someone who loves to explore different sides of myself. And I've been able to do that here. And it's been congratulated rather than criticize, which it was in the UK. And I urge the UK to grow and diversity and grow in their ability to allow people to be more multifaceted.
Oh, I just agree with every single thing you've just said, which makes for a very boring interviewer, but no, I was a little like a caffeinated Chatty Cathy who's just, like, not let you go. I'm so sorry. I've just met with opinions. Can you imagine I tried to condense all of this into tweets. Can you? Of course. It's a disaster. Of course I'm a fucking disaster. Y y Djamila, why do you have that on my back?
What's up, dude? What's that voice note?
No, no, I don't know. I do. I do. I do like a need a back and forth, especially in chat. It's just when I get fired up about something which normally happens on a podcast, just turn into a roadrunner.
But now I don't like it.
What's up. No, no. I love a WhatsApp chatbot, especially a group chat I live for. That is how I've maintained my Englishness and all my knowledge of what's going on in London via my group chats with my mates.
So you went to L.A. because you wanted to write more? I wanted you.
I just wanted to be a writer in order to be a writer. Yeah. What's next?
Do you think you will end up being more full time activist or more full time writer, or will you just continue being the brilliant multi hyphenate that you are?
I think I'm just going to continue not really having a plan. If I'm honest, I to be a writer. That took a really unexpected turn. As I said earlier, like, I love being open to the periphery. I think that's where all of the magic in my life has happened in the most unexpected places. And so I think I'm just going to carry on trying things. I've taken an action role, which is something new for me. There are definitely headlines exists.
Give me another lie saying I don't think I'd have a direction or even I'd categorically never do action. Then there's something about twenty twenty that just made me think, fucking hell, life is short, I'm excited for that. And then I will carry on my activism until the day that I die. I'm continuing to grow. I way I love the podcast. It's such a fun thing to do. So I carry on with that. And we're building out the YouTube channel and we're working on just more and more content to give more and more people a use of my platform.
I've got this big old platform and clearly I'm not a fucking expert. So people from the beginning of my career was like Pastor Mike, Pastor Mike. And I've been like, I don't have the mike got a fucking dildo that you can pretend is a mike or you can wait till I get it and then I can actually pass it on to people. So I feel like now with three and a half almost million followers and one point three million on my way and we have all this engagement and this podcast, I now have the mike.
I have space. I can force younger people who are more experienced or interesting or charismatic or funny or intelligent than I am into space does with me. I just be like, I won't do this unless you allow this person to come with me. I'm now able to pull those strings and I don't. I throw my weight around in that way. And so now it's all about passing the mic over to those who are more, you know, who are bigger experts than I am.
And I'll keep doing that and then hopefully not dislocate all of my joints trying to do action. I'm so excited as well, because how cool to learn finally how to defend myself. I wish I'd learned all of these things about twenty years ago. So I think that's what I'm doing next. And if I don't die, I'll just carry on with activism. I'll write a book and I'll carry on making documentaries, which is something I did when I was younger that now I'm getting back into because I really just love learning and I love learning with other people.
So that's the main goal forever.
And how has this interview about failure been for you? It has been a success, if that's what you are. I have. I've loved it. I don't know. I'm sure I shall continue to fail, but I do promise I will keep getting back up and trying something new. I said recently in a podcast, I think Angela Scanlon, that movie, I'll leave on there and just become a therapist, I have no idea. But I promise to continue to be open and transparent and show my work things out and say sorry when I'm wrong and just to keep trying to bring everyone along on this transparent journey with me.
Because it's really the main purpose I serve is just no more lies, no more haze, no more bullshit. Let's just be real. Even if we get it wrong, that's at least just be real.
Jameela Jamil, keep feeling as gloriously as you do. And thank you so much for the important activism that you do on behalf of the rest of us.
And thank you also for coming on How to Fail. Oh, thanks for having me.
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