Jameela Jamil says women are being ‘held back' by pressure to look good
“Women are held back as a gender because we are told that we are supposed to spend more time on our appearance. We are supposed to sleep less and eat less and exercise too much”
Don’t make Jameela Jamil angry — you won’t like her when she’s angry. Actually, scratch all that, because fans are already loving the English star’s more sinister side as foe to the She-Hulk in Marvel’s latest small screen outing.
Centred on the character first made famous in a 1980 comic book, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law — which follows the adventures of single, thirty-something attorney-slash-6ft-7in-green-smashing-machine Jennifer Walters — dropped on Disney+ on Thursday.
More famed for her sweet-as-pie roles, Jameela reveals how she loved taking on Bruce Banner’s gamma-powered first cousin (played by Tatiana Maslany) as the villainous Titania in the new series.
“It was really fun,” she tells Magazine+. “Titania is the antithesis of everything that I stand for and all of the things that I fight against. I got to pull from a lot of very funny resources to make this character. She is just such a dick! It was really fun.”
“Titania is kind of a social influencer who happens to have super-strength,” she explains of the baddie, who appeared in the Secret Wars comics as Mary MacPherran, a social outcast bent on revenge after gaining superpowers from Dr Doom.
“I would describe her as annoying, jealous and desperately in need of attention. But yeah, she is extremely annoying and I drew that from myself,” laughs Jameela.
Already a household name as a radio and television presenter in the UK, the accidental actress first found fame Stateside as picture-perfect Tahani Al-Jamil in hit comedy series The Good Place.
Six years on, she now joins the likes of Christian Bale (Gorr the God Butcher in Thor: Love and Thunder), Elizabeth Olsen (The Scarlet Witch in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) and Josh Brolin (Thanos in Avengers: Endgame) in the impressive roster of supervillains populating the Marvel cinematic universe.
And the Londoner, who’s no stranger to Twitter wars, believes it’s the perfect arc for her. “I love villains. I mean, some people online think I’m a villain anyway,” she jokes. “Being a woman is a bit like being Batman, die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.
“I feel like that. All women feel that way, that we are only given so long before we are demonised. It’s nice to just come straight out of the gate as a bad person!”
Self-professed “feminist-in-progress” Jameela founded the body positivity movement I Weigh in 2018 — which now includes her podcast of the same name — to encourage women to measure their self-worth by more than just their waistline.
Just like She-Hulk, however, as a strong woman in the age of social media, she has found herself going toe-to-toe with plenty of adversaries, from online trolls to professional crank Piers Morgan.
So the 36-year-old is hoping her latest starring role in the female-led show will also embolden young women to embrace imperfection as their very own superpower.
“Definitely,” she agrees. “I grew up with such glossy role models. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t even know about people making mistakes or growing. I never saw anyone grow in public. It was all just a glossy veneer of bullshit. It made me feel so isolated in all of my experiences.
“I have suffered with mental health issues for 20 years or so, and so have my family members. I thought there was something so wrong with us. I didn’t know because I didn’t have any transparent role models who told the truth. So, for better or for worse, I am determined to be as transparent as I can.
“Sometimes that leads to some questionable moments, publicly, but it also means that I am willing to be the anti-celebrity and just be vulnerable, human and flawed.”
In that spirit of openness, Jameela previously joked that she accepted “every ounce of shade” thrown at the first glimpse of her humidity-hit character last month, but promised that her dishevelled look was simply the result of “a 14-hour stunt day in Atlanta heat”.
But it’s not just Titania’s voluptuous hair that has generated buzz, as the former BBC Radio 1 DJ explains how she physically transformed into the curvy villainess.
“I ate pizza and doughnuts, and lifted weights,” tells Jameela, who did 90pc of her own stunts for the nine-part series created by Jessica Gao. “It made me feel strong and powerful for the first time in my life. I got to learn how to use my body in this whole new way.
“I have always been so gangly, pathetic and Mr Bean-esque but this really did make me feel strong and powerful. I feel transformed. The way I stand has changed. My confidence has changed and the way that I feel about my body has changed.”
She even credited playing the kick-ass character with helping to finally overcome the body dysmorphia she’s been battling since her teens. “I’ve been working on eating disorder recovery my whole life and I feel like, for the first time ever, I might have actually cracked it because of playing Titania. She sees being big and strong as beautiful and powerful.”
It’s a mantra the activist — who next appears in romcom spin-off Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlinstreaming on Peacock in November — aims to carry with her through an industry which, she adds, “always encourages the opposite.”
“Women are held back as a gender because we are told that we are supposed to spend more time on our appearance. We are supposed to sleep less and eat less and exercise too much,” says Jameela.
“We have been taught for so long not to take up any space but Titania wants to take up as much space in a room as she possibly can. I think that is really inspiring and a much-needed message.
“The industry is something I think is fun to participate in, but I moonlight as a performer. My real goal is to shed light on all of the things that I didn’t understand when I was an 11 or 12-year-old, looking through magazines, and thinking what I was seeing was real.
“I like the idea of pulling back the curtain and telling everyone all of the secrets.”
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