Jameela Jamil Wants You To Throw All Your Self Expectations Out the Window

Jameela Jamil doesn’t know this—but approximately 15 minutes before our interview I was spiraling. Maybe it was a deadline, potentially a White House update, or any number of fairly innocuous forces that can throw us off-kilter in 2020. But, luckily for me, Jamil is well-versed in the mental health space and down to address the insanity of this moment.

“I feel I came into this year being like, ‘Okay, I’m going to get all this shit done. I’m going to be a boss bitch,'” she admits over the phone. “Instead, I’ve just been trying to not be a dead bitch.” Jamil stops, lets out a slight laugh, “I’m sorry, when I say dead bitch, I don’t mean literally dead. What I mean is that I was planning on just working myself half to death. Now, I feel like my values have just changed. I don’t want to work myself into the ground anymore.”

At the start of the year, Jamil’s Emmy-nominated breakout series The Good Place ended after four seasons. Then, she signed on as a judge for HBO Max’s Legendary, a competition show about voguing and ballroom culture. That was followed by controversy over her selection for the role, headlines about her public history of health struggles, and rumors about a mid-quarantine hangout with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

All of the noise made a socially-distanced 2020 beneficial, Jamil says, in reconnecting with herself and her inner circle. “I realized I was missing so much because I just kind of within this rat race that we’re all in,” she says. “I think women and women of color, in particular, we’re told that we have a sprint, not a marathon.” On October 10, Jamil will be the keynote speaker for Maybelline New York’s Brave Together Mental Health Virtual Meet-Up. Partnered with I Weigh and Lower East Side Girls Club, the initiative aims to destigmatize mental health conversations, facilitate research, and provide resources for those struggling.

Jamil, founder of I Weigh, opens up to ELLE about her own mental health, being a former internet troll, and the “freedom that all women deserve” to be themselves.

The collaboration between Maybelline, Girls Club of New York, and I Weigh for a mental health panel seems like a match made in heaven. What inspired you to get involved?

I’m obsessed with talking about mental health. That’s why I started I Weigh. I have a whole podcast about it, but anyone willing to speak to me about mental health, I will do it. I think it’s really important for young women to be encouraged to talk about their mental health. It’s the most important subject in the world.

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Why do you think it’s so vital that people are open about their mental health struggles?

If we can’t talk about it, we can’t deal with it. We can’t see it even. Then we cover it up and we keep it to ourselves and it’s able to continue consuming us. (Author) Matt Haig said that “Depression is fake news.” So if you don’t come out and talk about it, you have no way to be able to see what is true and what is false. It tells you that your life will never get better, that you don’t deserve love, and that you don’t deserve to be happy. But you do. So I think it’s really important to not give it that power to reign free over you.

How has your own mental health journey progressed over the years, particularly as you’ve become more of a public figure?

I have a supportive, wonderful boyfriend and friends and we all live together in what’s basically a giant frat house. So I’m really lucky in that I feel fairly stable, considering how intense this industry, especially for an outspoken woman, can be.

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Jamil and boyfriend James Blake.

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When I was 22, I became famous in England and I had a much harder time because I was putting on a happy face and pretending to be someone that I wasn’t. So, therefore, it made me feel very detached from myself. Whereas this time around, I am who I am at least. If you like me or don’t like me, it’s the real me. So that makes me feel closer to myself. I think that’s really helped and made this feel less like I’m trying to live up to anyone’s expectation. I’m just being completely authentic. I think that’s a freedom that all women deserve.

Why do you think it’s even more important for women of color, a population that’s historically had limited access to mental healthcare, to get these resources?

Because life is harder for them—in particular Black women, by the way. I wish all women of color around the world were given free therapy. I genuinely think it’s the thing that we most need, most deserve, because the world is harder for us to move through. I think this is probably true of all marginalized people. It’s definitely something that would help us navigate a world that unfairly discriminates against us, and then gaslights us about our own experience.

You’ve been so open about the toll it can take to be cancelled. How do you recover from negative comments or press?

Listen, when it’s constructive criticism I listen. And when it’s just people trolling, I remember that I used to be an internet troll. I was a right asshole on the internet and it was because I was miserable. I was unhappy and I had no access to care. I had no way of understanding my own feelings and tried to take it out on strangers on the internet.

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Jamil and the cast of The Good Place.

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Because I remember how that felt, I now take it with a pinch of salt when I can see that someone’s in pain. They’re probably just lashing out at others because they can’t actually confront the people who are harming them in their real life. I guess it makes people feel a temporary sense of power for two seconds and it’s fleeting. And I remember that it was fleeting. Sometimes I can be a little bit salty back and I try not to, but generally I just don’t take it too personally now. I don’t really read the comments. It’s not really my business. Sometimes people are just processing their own shit on your timeline. It’s important to remember that the internet’s become a mess because everyone feels terrible right now.

How do you balance engaging with people and drowning out the noise on social media?

It’s been funny that the media always reports as if I’m in backlash when I’m really not. I have very few backlashes ever. I have 90% a really loving, wonderful, supportive community who just are really nice to me and nice to each other. I Weigh has so little trolling on it—you have quite a few vulnerable, marginalized people on that site. I find that it’s just a constant flow of resources, me being open, me trying to make sure that the conversation of mental health doesn’t ever feel embarrassing. Because I’m so unembarrassed talking about mine, people open up to me in my DMs. People come and tell me their biggest secrets, because they feel I’ve made it not embarrassing to open up.

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A lot of people are relieved for 2020 to be over. What lesson will you take from this year into 2021?

Just to be gentle with myself. Like, I don’t have expectations. I thought it was really fucking weird the way that everyone was like, ‘Right. Okay. I’ve gotta get the best body I’ve ever had or I have to become amazing at tennis or sewing.’ I’m not coming out of this year with abs or a new skill. I’m coming out of this with less social skills, more social anxiety, just like messier hair. I’m really proud of myself for surviving. I think we should all just be really proud of ourselves for making it through in one piece, considering what kind of social, political, climate change, race, hell nightmare we’ve been in. So to come out of this even in one piece, or even in four pieces is so great. It’s really important to just take a step back and remember that we’re just human beings and we are tender and we are delicate and our mental health is fragile.

I didn’t take a day off for three years. It’s insane, I worked every weekend. I was touring all over the country and giving talks and writing and working and activism at the same time as acting 18 hours a day. I was completely frazzled and burned out—and for what? Like, “What is our value system?” This kind of get the bag culture that I think infected so many of us meant that we missed out on our lives. And this year, finally spending actual time with my boyfriend and having a dog together and speaking to my friends and my brother, I realized I was missing so much because I just kind of within this rat race that we’re all in. I think women and women of color in particular, we’re told that we have a sprint, not a marathon. Even though I knew better, it still got hold of me. I think it’s realizing that actually the key to longevity is pacing yourself and looking after yourself.

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Mental health is a lifelong journey. But what’s something someone can do today as a first step to working on themselves?

Listen to your inner monologue. The number one thing I did, the most unbelievable change, was listening to my inner monologue. How am I talking to myself? Am I telling myself that I have to be a certain weight to be worthy of love or respect or a great job? Am I telling myself that I’m not smart? That I don’t deserve respect? That I don’t deserve equality? Am I bullying myself? If I am, that has to be the first place you stop. You have to clean up your own house first.

I would also recommend listening to podcasts, reading books to help you find words for how you’re feeling. Because sometimes, especially when you’re young, you don’t even really understand it all the time. It’s something that everyone is struggling with, and there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s no different than having a sore throat, having something in your mind that isn’t working properly. You should treat it the same way.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Register For The Brave Together Mental Health Virtual Meet-Up

In partnership with Crisis Text Line, Maybelline has launched a text line with mental health resources and access to free, confidential counseling. Text “TOGETHER” to 741741.

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