In May, my colleague Megan Reynolds wrote a smart piece unpacking a particular phenomenon within the wellness scam: Celebrities like the Kardashians selling fad diets, waist trainers and the like to women on social media through paid promotions labeled #ads. From this relatively new trend of weight-loss sponcon came the growth of a company called Flat Tummy Co., an appetite suppressant brand that manages to bypass Instagram’s weight loss and health product guidelines through the use of these celebrities—in lay terms, they’re able to bankroll what would be considered dangerous advertisements by paying social media influencers on Instagram, rather than the platform itself. Among the dissenters who’ve since made it a point to criticize companies like Flat Tummy Co. and the Insta-celebs who shill for them, The Good Place actor Jameela Jamila has been most vocal. She has been calling them out for months.
Last Wednesday, August 29, Jamil appeared on Channel 4’s Ways to Change the World podcast to further discuss her beliefs on the dangers of these ads and the celebrities who profit from them. A clip from the 50-minute conversation began making the rounds on Twitter, during which Jamil accuses the Kardashians of behaving as “double agents” for “the patriarchy.” She explains to host Krishnan Guru-Murthy:
“The double agent for the patriarchy is basically just a woman who perhaps unknowingly is still putting the patriarchal narrative out into the world, is still benefiting off, profiting off and selling a patriarchal narrative to other women. But it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You know, just because you look like a woman we trust you and we think you’re on our side, but you are selling us something that really doesn’t make us feel good. You’re selling us an ideal, a body shape, a problem with our wrinkles, a problem with aging, a problem with gravity, a problem with any kind of body fat.
You’re selling us self-consciousness. The same poison that made you clearly develop some sort of body dysmorphia or facial dysmorphia, you are now pouring back into the world. You’re recycling hatred. And I find that really dangerous and I think it’s unacceptable and I don’t care if you’re a woman. I think constructive criticism is needed for us, anyone, ever, to evolve. For our gender to evolve we need some sort of constructive criticism. As long as we do it in a somewhat careful way.”
After Guru-Murthy questions the seductive and persuasive power of money, Jamil jumps back into it:
“...So many things in the world have happened motivated by greed. And I just don’t think that’s an acceptable excuse anymore. How much money do you need? Really, how much money do you need? How much money do any of these huge influencers who are worth millions or billions sometimes, why are they still promoting appetite suppressant lollipops to young girls? And it’s not a fight against obesity. They have young, already slim girls in their adverts for Flat Tummy Co...
...The money is built on the blood and tears of young women who believe in them, who follow them, who look up to them like the big sister they never had. It’s so upsetting. It feels like such a betrayal against women. And I will not be a part of it and I will not stop calling it out when I see it.”
Unsurprisingly, the clip went viral and discourse followed—those in support of Jamil’s argument, those who believe she’s placing too much blame on the Kardashians and not on ingrained patriarchal sexism as a cultural force, and those (dumbasses) who believe that the patriarchy doesn’t exist in the first place.
But in the week that followed the podcast, most of the conversation focused on the Kardashian portion of the conversation, leading Jamil to tweet, “I did also say a million other things in the 1 hour podcast for channel 4 and in my 2000 word pieces I write, and long interviews I do for the media... but everyone just obsessively latches on to the kardashian comment in which I said they may be UNKNOWING double agents”:
Pitting women against one another is a common tactic—in a later tweet, Jamil argues that “Brown girls always get the violent terminology” to drive traffic, and it certainly confirms much of what Jamil harkened against in her interview. That, too, is an apparent through-line in much of the criticism leveled against her. A waist-trainer brand called So Sweaty reached out to the actor on Tuesday, September 4, tweeting “We love your work & we think you’re great but in all fairness you look pretty happy being a size “ZERO”! For the rest of us women with real curves the Waist Slimmer makes all the difference #comebackwhenyouvegotcurves.” Jamil immediately responded, accusing the brand of body shaming (because they were?) and took of a screenshot of the exchange before So Sweaty could delete it. And, of course, they did.
As of now, Kim Kardashian (or any one of the Kardashian clan) has yet to respond publicly. Neither has So Sweaty. Jamil continues to conduct interviews about body positivity, and the social media engine continues to run.