Image: Jameela Jamil and Matt McGorry, from Earwolf
I really struggled to pinpoint what I wanted to talk about for this last submission. There are so many social justice issues that I feel passionate about, I had difficulty narrowing it down to just one. So instead, I decided to do a nod to a couple of activists that I admire, as per May’s suggestion, and to recommend a podcast episode where they have an open and inspiring conversation with each other. Jameela Jamil and Matt McGorry are both known mostly as actors, Jamil for The Good Place, and McGorry for Orange is the New Black and How to Get Away with Murder. But outside of Hollywood, they each do very important work, both privately and publicly, as activists and allies.
Jamil hosts a podcast called I Weigh with Jameela Jamil, which I believe began as a social media movement, in which she encouraged her followers to post natural, untouched images of themselves, and to ‘weigh’ themselves by what they are grateful for or what they consider beautiful and valuable about themselves as people. On her podcast, she welcomes a variety of diverse guests, from actress Debra Messing to Dr. Deepak Chopra to trans activist and model Munroe Bergdorf, to speak about all sorts of issues, both personal, social, and global. Lots of her work happens through her social media platforms, which she uses to encourage body positivity, to speak against societal norms of bodies and body image, as well as to bash heteronormative standards and the patriarchy. At the time of this particular I Weigh episode, she mentions doing work with the government to pass a bill to prevent harmful chemicals being put in diet and weight-loss products. Overall, she uses her position as a famous person, a celebrity, to raise awareness and start conversations, as well as to do bigger-picture, more hands-on work. She performs actions of both macro and micro activisms, and has already brought about big changes in her young life.
McGorry used to be a body-builder before his acting career took off, and has always struggled with body image issues as a result. In this podcast episode, he speaks openly about his issues with eating disorders, body image, being in the public eye as he gained weight, and more. He and Jamil also discuss his work as a white, cisgender man, becoming aware of his privilege and doing the work with himself to become a better ally. He speaks about how books have changed his life, and how reading has taught him an unimaginable amount. He mentions how, similar to Jamil, he uses his platform as a celebrity to talk about the issues he is learning about and working through. I knew he did this, but after listening to this episode I went to his Instagram profile, and found countless pictures of him holding up a book, followed by multiple pictures of the pages he has highlighted and marked up, the notes he has written, with a long caption outlining what this book taught him. It’s an amazing way to spread the word, to share his journey with the world and to inspire others to join him. Just from looking for these pictures on his online presence, I know that he reads books about feminism, white privilege, white fragility (including the book of this title by Robin Diangelo), mass incarceration and racism within the prison system, among many other important, pressing, current topics. He uses his platform as a celebrity not to flaunt his privileged life, but to bring his followers into his work of becoming a better, more educated ally.
I think that Jamil and McGorry are pretty unique, as celebrities go. I find myself very often thinking about how celebrities, no matter their identity or place in the world, could be doing so much more with their money and their position of fame. These are two individuals who actually do just that - they use their fame and their voices to start conversations, to raise awareness, to do micro and macro acts of activisms, to point out social issues, and to encourage their followers to do that work themselves. In this podcast episode, Jamil points out the importance of simply talking to people, bringing awareness to an issue, and specifically says that this is an important form of activism. Another thing I want to point out about these two activists, and about this conversation between them in particular, is that they do this work while in the public eye. They have a very open conversation about the difficulty of taking a stand and doing activism work in the age of social media and wide-spread media coverage, and how difficult it is to be an activist, an ally, and an advocate as a famous person. They point out such issues as virtue signalling and unnecessary praise and awe, for simply speaking out on an issue, which are social responses than you and I would not necessarily encounter for the same actions. They basically agree that while it has its benefits, doing activism work as a celebrity can be challenging.
In general, I recommend listening to I Weigh. It is empowering, frank, educational, uplifting, and always an easy listen. No matter who she is chatting with, Jamil is always a kind and engaging host who brings about fascinating conversations. But this episode was one that struck me as particularly interesting - two very different perspectives of two famous actors, both of whom use their uplifted voices and privilege of fame to try to educate others, and themselves, and perform various activisms along the way.
I Weigh with Jameela Jamil