Dietary supplements, body image, and Hollywood (featuring Jameela Jamil)

Dietary supplements, body image, and Hollywood (featuring Jameela Jamil)


NADIA CRADDOCK: Hello. And welcome to our Facebook
Live on dietary supplements, body image, and Hollywood. My name’s Nadia Craddock. And I’m a body image
researcher and PhD candidate at the Center for
Appearance Research, which is based at the University of
the West of England in Bristol. I’ve flown over from
the UK here to Boston to be here at Harvard
T.H. Chan School of Public Health
for what I think is going to be an
extraordinary half an hour with two trailblazing guests. With me in the
studio is professor Bryn Austin director of Harvard
STRIPED, the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention
of Eating Disorders. Bryn is truly leading
the way in terms of eating disorder prevention
by translating public health research and knowledge
into policy change to create real world impact. And then live in
our webcam, and I can’t believe I’m
saying this out loud, we have actor and
activist Jameela Jamal. Jameela stars in
NBC’s award-winning show The Good Place. She had founder of I Weigh,
the growing community online celebrating
their worth and value beyond their appearance. She’s the best friend
we all want to have. And importantly for
today’s discussion, Jameela has catapulted
some of the issues that we’re going to cover
today on detox teas, on Photoshop, on the
responsibility of celebrities, and in doing so, I believe,
is really driving real world change. I could say so much more
about the two of them. But I think we really need
to get to hearing from what they have to say. So welcome, Bryn and Jameela. Thank you both so
much for being here. BRYN AUSTIN: Thank you, Nadia. NADIA CRADDOCK: Great. Bryn, I want to start with you. The whole conversation
was prompted by recent attention on
detox teas and celebrities promoting them on Instagram. So tell, me what are detox teas? And what’s the big deal? Why should we care about
them from a public health perspective? BRYN AUSTIN: And
thank you, Nadia, for that excellent
question to start us off. And thank you for
flying across the pond to be with us here today. And thank you,
Jameela, for joining us and all of your activism. And on this issue of
detox teas, first, I just want to say, detox teas
are premised on fiction. Teas do not detox. What we’re worried about
with these products is that we have livers. We have kidneys. They will do the detoxing for
us in our bodies naturally. We don’t need to use
detox teas for this. However, they often can
say contain laxatives. That’s where we get
worried, laxatives like senna typically
in these kinds of teas. And that can be very dangerous
to be taking laxatives day in, day out, weeks,
months at a time. That’s where we get particularly
worried about these issues. With abusing
laxatives in that way, many people just
think, oh, it’s tea. What’s to worry about? It’s safe. But in fact, when they
have laxatives in them, they can create
electrolyte imbalances which can lead to all
kinds of health problems, including cardiac
arrest and death. When a consumer picks
up a detox tee box, they think, oh, yeah, this
is fine, this is safe. But in fact, nothing could
be further from the truth. NADIA CRADDOCK: Great, great. And Jameela, I know you’ve
got an opinion about this. And I’d love to
hear what you think. And I’m also curious
to what prompted you to kind of put yourself
out there and speak about detox teas. JAMEELA JAMIL: I have had an
eating disorder since I was 13. I don’t now. I really only stopped
a number of years ago living in that spiral. And I was the teenager who used
to buy the teas and the drinks and the diet pills
recommended by the celebrities that I used to look up to. And as a result, my thyroid,
my digestive system, my kidney, my liver, and my metabolism
and damaged ever since. They’ve never really recovered. And so I have now,
because of The Good Place, this incredible platform
and more eyes on me than I’ve ever had before. And so just with
this slight rise of hypernormalizing
celebrities selling the dodgy
non-FDA-approved substance over the internet and that being
accepted as a cultural norm, I felt like it was my
duty to jam my experience to stop other teenagers from
going the way that I did. These things are really,
really, really damaging. And they can also promote IBS. I’m not a doctor. But I do know that they have
an impact on your peristalsis. They can create a lazy bowel. And that’s kind of the
trap you get caught in with these substances, because
they make you go to the toilet. They are a diuretic
or a laxative. And then your body stops
being able to go to the toilet naturally, so therefore
you have to buy more of this unsafe
product in order to keep being able
to empty your body. So it’s just really,
really detrimental. Really, I spent a lot of
money, I spent a lot of time, and I really damaged my health
because of these substances and because of really, really
irresponsible, stupid, greedy celebrities. NADIA CRADDOCK:
Right, thank you. And this is personal
to you as well. It’s something that you
feel strongly about. And I really appreciate
you advocacy in this area. So Bryn, back to you. Detox teas fall into this larger
realm of dietary supplements. And I know you and your
team here at Harvard have done extensive work
looking at these products, with a particular focus on
weight loss and muscle building supplements. So tell me, what do we
know about these products? Are they effective? Are they safe? How are they regulated? And what are you and your
team at Harvard STRIPED doing to address the risks
posed by them to young people? BRYN AUSTIN: Yeah, those
are exactly the questions we need to be asking. Detox teas are
part of the larger market of dietary supplements. Dietary supplements, just
in the US, is a $40 billion industry annually. The weight loss part of the
dietary supplement industry is over $2 billion a
year in revenue in the US for the weight loss
supplements part of the market. But what few consumers know
is that none of these products are prescreened for safety
or efficacy by the government before they end up
on store shelves. What that means is that
it’s a free for all in terms of what
kind of supplements will get on shelves. Consumers don’t know this. And the system is really
set up as an honor system. The government says to
manufacturers, please make sure the products are
safe, and we’ll trust you. And so then the question is, how
is this honor system working. And unfortunately for consumers,
it is not working very well. And we know, especially in
the weight loss category of dietary supplements, the
Food and Drug Administration, the US federal FDA has called
out that part of the industry again and again and again
for lacing their products with dangerous chemicals,
with banned pharmaceuticals like fen-phen, which is
pulled from the market, because it already is so
dangerous, with steroids, with other kinds of
toxic ingredients. These are found again and again
in the weight loss supplements. And this is what we have on
the shelves in ordinary stores. The only time the FDA
can intervene, really, in a substantial way
and meaningful way is after there is a cluster
of injuries, of deaths, and they can pin it
on a specific product. So after telling
you all of that, the question really is, why
do we sell these products to children. How can we know all
of this and still allow this to be
sold to children? I mean, picture
this, any 12-year-old can walk it to their corner
pharmacy, grocery store, even a health food store
and fill a suitcase with these dangerous products. Why do we allow that to happen? It’s something that we
really need to change. And that’s why, with
my program STRIPED we’re working with
representative Kay Khan of Massachusetts
in the state legislature here to ban the sale of
these products to children. We’re working with councilor
Mark Levine of the New York City Council similarly to ban
the sale of these products to children, people younger
than 18 in New York. And that’s why we’re
working with Senator Richard Blumenthal in Congress to
go back to the Federal Trade Commission and say, we’ve
got deceptive products. We need you to
better police what’s ending up on store shelves. NADIA CRADDOCK: Yeah,
that’s really great. And I think it’s so
important to hear that there are lawmakers who
are taking this issue seriously. So real credit to them. Jameela, your approach
on challenging this issue is really urging your peers,
your fellow celebrities to take responsibility
and stop promoting these products on Instagram. Can you say more about
your take on that and what you believe the
responsibility of celebrities is when it comes to detox teas
and these kind of products? JAMEELA JAMIL: Well,
celebrities, in a way– it’s a quite dramatic thing
to say, but I stand by it. Celebrity’s kind of replaced
the concept of the deity. That’s the new religion. People religiously
follow these people. And they want to dress like. Them they get surgery
to look like them. They want to consume
everything they consume. They look up to these
celebrities as role models, as the [INAUDIBLE]. And you cannot cash in on
that and not be responsible for your behavior,
you absolutely cannot. It’s really, really
imperative that you just– what was I going to say? Sorry, I got thrown off. You cannot profit off that. You cannot say, dress like me,
eat like me, drink like me, but don’t live as I do, because
it has a profound impact on young people. And the worst part
of all of this is that they underestimate
young people so much by trying to insinuate that
the look that they have managed to achieve with
cosmetic surgery, with personal trainers,
with nutritionists and personal chefs, and
all these different things. All of that they attribute to
this dodgy powder that they’re selling over the internet that
they themselves don’t consume, that they never even
show themselves drinking. They sometimes even
Photoshop the product into their promotional picture. They are explicitly
lying and saying that that’s how they
achieved that aesthetic, when I know for a fact– I’m in Hollywood. I’m seeing all the procedures
that everyone’s having done. I’m seeing the
way that they live and the way that they
starve themselves and workout with
personal trainers eight, nine hours a day
sometimes, the more extreme supermodels, et cetera. And so it’s such a
direct and offensive lie. And I’m just here to
whistleblow on what I know is nonsense, because
young people believe what they’re told. They’re impressionable. I was one of those people. I’m not a stupid person. I’m an intelligent
person, but I was also 13 and didn’t know any better. NADIA CRADDOCK: Yeah, yeah. And as you said, it is a lie. And I think for me, when
I’ve been thinking about some of these issues, sometimes
I’m thinking about, oh, what about Mr. Skinny Tea,
what’s his responsibility? What’s the responsibility
of Instagram? But I think because there’s
so much responsibility, and it’s all diffused and people
deflect, then nothing happens. And it kind of allows these
product to continue to thrive. So I think everyone needs
to take their responsibility within it and especially if
you have a huge platform. And I think when it comes to
celebrities and influencers who have a huge platform,
there’s huge power there. So I think with power
comes responsibility. So I think that’s
really important. JAMEELA JAMIL: There’s a
deep sense of misogyny, because these are almost all
targeted specifically at women. Loads of the packaging is pink. I know that Flat Tummy Tea
specifically focuses on girls. The billboard that they
have in Times Square said, “Girls, tell
them to suck it,” which is also a
weirdly sexualized tone for an advert like that. But it’s all pictures of
young, already slim women. And all of the influencers
they target are women. I’m not saying that there’s
no male body shaming going on in the world, but this detox
industry and dietary industry and slimming industry
is definitely zoning in on females. And so to partake
in that culture and in eating disorder
rhetoric as a celebrity makes me really, really
depressed by my peers. NADIA CRADDOCK: Yeah,
yeah, completely. And it’s just holding girls
and women back so much. So I just think it’s so
important that we are really challenging these at different
from, policy to social change. So I want to transition to talk
about media representation, digital manipulation,
Photoshop, and body image. Jameela, you’ve been very
explicit in talking about how, with magazines, that you don’t
want to be edited at all. You don’t want to
be Photoshopped. And something that
you’ve said previously that’s really stuck with me
is that how seeing images of yourself that’s
been manipulated, that’s been changed, altered,
air quotes, “enhanced” has affected you. And I think that
really struck me. And I wonder if you could
say a bit about that and why you think that, again,
is another thing that we should be thinking about. JAMEELA JAMIL: I think
airbrushing is just generally quite a dangerous
thing, because you are forced to then confront your own
genuine reflection in a mirror after seeing a digitally
enhanced image that no one can really look like. And airbrushing is different
to makeup in the fact that with makeup,
you can obviously see that makeup is
on someone’s face, whereas the whole
point of airbrushing is to make it look as
though that is really what they look like. It’s incredibly toxic. And the way that
Photoshop has been used on me without my
permission or without me being even consulted is that
people make my skin lighter. They make my ethnic
features look more European. And so there’s a racially
offensive undertone to that. But also it’s just so
offensive how they slim my body and how they smooth out my
cellulite and my stretch marks and the impact that
has on other women who have no idea that the image
has been altered of all of us. They now airbrush
even women over 50 on the cover of magazines
to look like they’re just an emoji, really. They have no definition
on their face whatsoever. We shoot men in high definition. And we allow men
to have a tummy. But with women, we
have to Photoshop them to look like they are ever 14. And so I have found that to
be not only damaging for me personally, not only
offensive to me, personally, both as a human being and
also as a woman of color, but also it has been detrimental
for other young people who’ve seen those images of
people like me edited, because it them opens girls
up to that impossible standard that we ourselves
are not achieving. NADIA CRADDOCK: Yeah,
yeah, completely. And I think as also
a woman of color, I think these issues aren’t
limited to weight and shape. They are all about
our skin tone. I think there’s all
of this work to make you more palatable to
more like a white gaze. And I think that also
is so damaging in how people belong and feel that
they fit into the world. So I think that’s
really important. Bryn, I wonder if you could
say a bit more about media representation and why this is
relevant from a public health issue and what STRIPED,
again, are doing in this area. BRYN AUSTIN: Yeah, absolutely. And just as Jameela
was explaining here, these images can be so damaging. We have years and years of
really solid research showing when girls and young women,
really people of all genders, but as she was saying,
absolutely targeting girls and young women with
these constant images that are unrealistic,
unattainable standards of beauty around skin
tone, as you pointed out, size and shape and age too with
wrinkles, this takes a toll. This takes a toll on mental
health, on well-being. It increases the risk
of eating disorders. It really ratchets up
body dissatisfaction. And a prime culprit here is the
cynical digital manipulation or Photoshopping of
images in advertising that companies do to
make women of color look lighter, to make women look
thinner, taller, or younger. All of that ultimately
takes its toll. Now, there are some
companies that are starting to do the right thing. We have CVS. We have Aerie and some others
that are starting to pledge, we’re not going to do that
kind of digital manipulation. We know it’s harmful. We’re not going to do that. But it is not
happening fast enough. We need to be encouraging
industry to move faster. We’ve got to get this
out of advertising. And that’s why STRIPED,
why we’re working, again, with Representative Kay
Kahn in Massachusetts with a new bill, first of
its kind in the nation, to provide incentives for
companies that agree to not digitally manipulate images
in these harmful ways around skin tone, around size,
around shape and age, wrinkles. Companies in Massachusetts,
if this bill passes into law, will get a tax incentive
if they do the right thing. And we think that using
this carrot approach is what’s going to help move
industry forward faster. NADIA CRADDOCK: Jameela
was saying something. I could hear. JAMEELA JAMIL: No, sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt. I was just really rude. But just to say that if you
would like any support of that, I would love to be involved. BRYN AUSTIN: Great, thank you. We’d love to have you
involved, Jameela. JAMEELA JAMIL:
Because I would love to help push that into
proper legislation, because it’s something that
I feel very, very, very passionate about and, again,
something that really hurt me as a teenager, especially
because of its relation not only to fatphobia but
also to erasure and colorism. BRYN AUSTIN: Great, thank you. NADIA CRADDOCK: Yeah,
that’s really brilliant. Oh, there’s so many
things I want to ask. But Jameela, in
interest of time, I want to speak about I Weigh. So I know you set up in response
to a post by the Kardashians. But I wonder if
you could reflect on how the movement’s
grown, what it means to you. And what do you see next? You’ve got this incredible
community of people celebrating themselves and their value. And I just wonder if he
could reflect on that. JAMEELA JAMIL: Well,
I Weigh is just a rebellion against
the fact that we still, even to this very
day, manage to value women only by how little space
we take up in the world, not just women but people. But again, it is
just predominantly target at women, the
way that we shame people about aging and size. And it has grown into– we almost have 750,000
followers now on Instagram. This is not with a
social media team. This is just me
and my friend Megan together, just
organically putting out whatever we have coming
in from our community. It’s properly a community. It’s definitely a
team-based effort. Whenever I manage to
make a lot of noise about something,
like the diet teas or when I managed to get Avon
to end a partnership with a very toxic company that
I didn’t think that their advertising
was very responsible and all my noise around
Photoshop, all of that has managed to make
the news because of the noise created by that
entire community of people. So we are continuing to grow
that community, because it is very, very powerful, having
so many people behind you, screaming with you. I’m going to turn into a
website and a safe space for activism and curated
contact for people who would like to learn
about other ethnicities or marginalized groups. And it will also be a lifestyle
website that makes you smarter and happier, not
thinner and younger. Those are the things it
encourages you to do. And we want to practice radical
inclusion and absolutely no digital enhancement
and just prove that you can succeed without
manipulating and shaming people. I don’t see a problem
with selling products that people need. But I think if you have to
explicitly shame someone into consuming a
product, then you are selling a dodgy product. You should go in a
bin and die there. NADIA CRADDOCK:
Yeah, yeah, great. And I really like that
phrase that you used, radical inclusion. I think that works really well. I really like it. So I think we have time for just
one or two audience questions that people have sent
in ahead of time. And I think maybe I’ll
put one to each of you. So Bryn, if we can just
do this very succinctly. So we get lots of
questions from parents and how to raise children
free from body image concerns, eating
concerns, really wanting to know how
to protect their kids. So is there any advice
from the research in terms of what we need to do? BRYN AUSTIN: Absolutely. And I’ll keep this succinct. There’s a lot that
could be said. Do not talk about diets at home. Do not disparage your body or
anyone else’s body in front of your kids really anywhere. Don’t do that. Instead, model
for your kids that embracing of your body
and all it does for you. That’s what’s going to help
your kids develop confidence in their own bodies. Now, with the media
environment, we know there’s so much out there. We’ve talked about so
much that needs to change. Get involved in cleaning
up our media environment, just like we’re doing with
the bill in Massachusetts. Also, the Boston
Children’s Hospital Center for Media and Child Health has
wonderful tips for parents. Go there, check it out, tips
for how to talk to your kids about media, how to
engage with them, understand what their experience
is, how they feel about it, and help them develop
media literacy skills. We really need media
literacy training in schools as mandated curriculum
across the country. And parents can be
doing that at home. Check out Center for Media
Child Health, Boston Children’s Hospital for parents. It’s really spot on. NADIA CRADDOCK: OK, brilliant. And then there’s another
audience question that I think is
for you, Jameela. So you’ve been really active in
this space, maybe particularly over the past year. And I wonder what your biggest
learning or takeaway has been in engaging in this work. JAMEELA JAMIL:
Sorry, I lost you. What was the question? NADIA CRADDOCK: Sorry. OK, I will say that again. So you’ve been very active in
this space over the last year in particular. What’s been your biggest
learning or takeaway in terms of being an activist
and advocate in this space? JAMEELA JAMIL: I think
I’m amazed by the greed and fear of my peers and how
much they privately tell me how much they support
and admire their work, but very few of them actually
speak out alongside me. And they continue to
Photoshop their photographs and have surgery
without declaring it and sell products
that are toxic. So I think that was one
thing that made me incredibly depressed about this industry. And I hope that that changes. And I hope that the
fact that my career has gone kind of from strength
to strength in the last year is proof that you
can be outspoken. You can do the right thing. You can turn down
the toxic deals. And you can be on the
right side of history and still be successful
and celebrated. I hope that I can, in
some way, encourage people to not be so
afraid of speaking out, because I think that
is a large part of it is that women don’t
want to be seen as problematic or
difficult or hypocritical. And they themselves
are afraid of letting go of their own habit of selling
a lie to their followers. The other thing I’ve
learned is that I’m going to make mistakes. We will make mistakes. A lot of us are problematic
and ignorant sometimes, or we have a problematic
and ignorant past. And we have to be willing
to just keep moving in the direction of progress. And I’ve kind of put down
my pride with activism, because when I make
mistakes, which sometimes I feel I make them on a
very, very public platform, I have a lot of
feedback from that. And I’ve just learned to
see that as something I should be grateful
for and something that I should learn from. And so I think that’s something
that we all have to get into. We are in a culture
where now people feel terrified to admit that
they don’t know something and to put their hand
up and ask a question or to join in in activism,
because they themselves feel like they have a
skeleton in my closet that they will be
called out for. And we need to end that
culture of shaming people who genuinely want to do better. We need to just kind of
call in a little bit more than we just call out. I’m fine with
calling people out. I do it all the time. But I think our council culture
is something that I find toxic. NADIA CRADDOCK:
Yeah, and I think I want to say on
a personal note, I think I really value
and appreciate and am grateful for you to
kind of go through that and learn out loud, because
there’s so many people watching and learning by
viewing that whole experience. And it’s a lot on
you, but I think it’s benefiting so
many people out there. And I think it’s benefiting
the research community also, because we’re not immune
to getting things wrong and making mistakes. And I think that’s
really important. So I think what I would
like to see is activists and researches
working together more, because I think then
we can learn together. But I think we all
have the same goal. So then how can we
then work together and create real
change, because I think that’s everyone’s end goal. So I think that’s
really important. And I’m grateful for you and
your advocacy in that space. So last thing, I would
really love a call to action from both of you
for our audience, for our viewers at home. What’s something that they can
do in the immediate right now? BRYN AUSTIN: All
right, well, picking up on where Jameela was saying
about even if you’re afraid, still step up, say something. The weight loss dietary
supplements, detox teas, we do not have to sell these
to children if we step up. If you’re in New York City, you
can work with Councilor Levine. If you’re in
Massachusetts, you can work with Representative Kahn. You can get in
touch with STRIPED or do it in your own community. Let’s get these products out of
stores, not sold to children. That would make a big
step forward in advocacy. And then there’s so
much more we could do. But we’ve got to
start somewhere. We got to get
these products out. And we don’t sell
cigarettes to children. Why sell them diet pills? NADIA CRADDOCK: Yeah,
yeah, completely. And Jameela, what’s your call
to our audience, to our viewers? How can they help? JAMEELA JAMIL: It’s
imperative that we remember, because I do believe that
other culture was forgotten that we control the market. The market doesn’t control us. You can make a company
literally bankrupt by withdrawing your support
financially and also just even in the form of
likes and follows. Unfollow toxic celebrities. Unfollow toxic
magazines, products, anything that you find is
promoting this eating disorder rhetoric or a rhetoric that is
damaging people around the way that they look and selling
them dangerous products. Unfollow them. Do not spend your money
on these companies, because these companies are
literally killing people. We are at the highest rate
of teenage eating disorders in history, the highest rate
of teenage plastic surgery requests, teenage suicide,
and teenage self-harm. And so we have statistics that
prove that we are in a mess. And we all have the power
to control the market. The market will
follow us if they sense that we are looking
for more mental health. What’s the word
I’m trying to say? If we’re looking
for people to be more careful around
our mental health, then I think that
they will follow suit. You’ve seen even, because of
the uprising of #MeToo and body positivity and all this is that
is creeping into advertising. They do listen to us. We’ve just been taught that
we are to follow whatever it is that they tell us to. And so we can fight back. And you can really fight
back with your money. NADIA CRADDOCK: Brilliant. That’s a great method. So we are out of time. So this has been
the most incredible informative conversation. Thank you so much, Jameela
Jamil and Professor Bryn Austin for sharing your thoughts today
and for all the incredible work that you both do to dismantle
this toxic culture that affects us all and conditions
us all to hate our bodies. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can create change. To our viewers at home– I guess you’re at home– thank you so much
for joining us. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. We will have a full
link to the video on the screen in the links. And then we’ll also
put a bunch of links so you can find out more
about some of the things that were mentioned here today. OK, I’ve been Nadia Craddock. Thank you so much. JAMEELA JAMIL: Thank you.

2 Replies to “Dietary supplements, body image, and Hollywood (featuring Jameela Jamil)

  1. Look at the build of any hunter gatherer society that still exist… They are all skinny. That means that is how humans are supposed to look. This whole "hollywood creates unrealistic body images" is so insane. Being overweight is far more unhealthy than smoking but for some reason it's okay to look down on smokers and if you even even hint that there is something fundamentally wrong with the current trend towards obesity then you are a biggot, a sizeist, etc.

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