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The Unwind is Yahoo Life's well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.
Though The Good Place brought her U.S. fame, Jameela Jamil has also made a name for herself thanks to her advocacy on topics like body image, mental health and disability. She's currently promoting a new six-part podcast series from P&G Studios, Equal Too, which she hopes will challenge perceptions of those who have a disability to create a more inclusive world. Jamil is also host of the podcast, I WEIGH, which actually started as a social media post and grew into a mental health movement.
On I WEIGH, Jamil, 35, challenges societal norms through conversations with thought leaders, entertainers, influencers and friends about their own experiences and stories with their mental health. Over the past year, her guests have ranged from Reese Witherspoon to Deepak Chopra to Gloria Steinem, as well as doctors and experts in various fields.
Yahoo Life caught up with the actor and activist from her home in Los Angeles (which she shares with musician James Blake), as she snuggled with her dog and chatted about how she prioritizes mental health and why representation is so important.
You’ve hosted a LOT of big names on your I Weigh podcast. Who is your dream podcast guest?
Oh gosh! I really, really want to interview Will Smith! He has the most fascinating life and perspective and he’s this omnipresent figure in all of our lives, all around the globe. I wonder what that was like [when he was] so young; [now] he’s a big, wise babe.
Agreed. Which makes me think Jada would be a fascinating guest too...
I’m obsessed with Jada! I got to go on Red Table Talk and felt like I peaked! I was ready to retire after that [laughs].There is nothing more flattering — even getting invited to the Golden Globes didn't feel as exciting. Nothing was more exciting than getting to talk to Jada [laughs]...
They were so hysterical: a powerful group of women, all so open about their vulnerabilities and loving and supportive. They are really down to share their journey so that others can learn their lessons. Will was there too — I got a selfie with Will — but I was so blown away by the three multigenerational women [Jada, Willow and Gammy]. How dare they be that amazing and gorgeous?! Ridiculous! I would risk it all to be adopted by that family! Will Smith is my dad [laughs].
What does representation look like to you?
I grew up a young South Asian kid and very sick; I felt invisible because there was no representation. I could never be the hero of my own story. People with disabilities are always shown as the tragedy to create a story arc for the non-disabled hero. You’re never a protagonist with dignity — you’re almost too painful to look at, an inconvenience, often painted as bitter, often played by a non-disabled actor. We’ve given the disabled community no space to be portrayed as living the regular lives they do! It’s time we start showing them in the light that is true to them, and let them write their own stories and lead their own charge in the world.
We can't keep erasing such a ginormous portion of the population, and we’re denying ourselves of extraordinary people with extraordinary perspectives. The people who I've learned the most from (and I’m not deifying them!) are my friends who have disabilities because they come at the world from an unimaginable angle. There’s so much we can learn from the people who kept their cool last year: the disabled people who have been living like this for years.
People are often uncomfortable with the topic of disability and don't know where to begin. Is that what Equal Too aims to do?
The conversation around disability has been made so awkward; honestly, people don't know where to start. This podcast is a funny and welcoming starting point for people who are ready to enter this conversation and start showing up as allies. Another thing I love about this podcast is that 60 percent of the people who make it identify as disabled. Media massively influences culture and we need more people behind the camera, in front of the camera, in politics and business — we’re not going to see change until we see people who don't feel uncomfortable with this conversation.
What’s your day-to-day approach to mental health?
I prioritize it above everything else and be completely unapologetic about it. Nothing is as important to me than my mental health; nobody is worth more of my time and energy, nobody is valued above my own peace. It is unapologetically my life goal and my ultimate definition of my personal success to be happy.
What brings you joy?
Blueberry muffins and coffee in the morning with my boyfriend and my dog. That brings me joy — when my phone is still off and for 20 minutes, you get to just enjoy love and laughter and YouTube and cuddles. That is the most peace I could ever ask for. I’m very protective over that morning time and do not sacrifice it for anything. James [Blake] is obscenely sweet and makes time in the morning for me too, despite working late nights in the studio. I rarely mention him but that's my happy place. That — or going to Target [laughs].
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
The advice I give to myself, if I could be so bold, which is: Anything you’d consider too awful to say to someone that you love and respect, you’re not allowed to say to yourself. A lot of the worst things said to us are said by ourselves. I think we have a duty to protect ourselves from our own inner bully. If you wouldn't tolerate anyone saying this to your best friend or a person you love, you’re sure as hell not allowed to say it to yourself.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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