‘I Weigh’ , the ‘positive impact’ social media movement started by Jameela Jamil, just turned one, and to celebrate both its anniversary and the inclusivity that it continues to champion, the I Weigh team has collaborated with Instagram to produce an interview series, and if the first episode is anything to go by, it’s set to get people talking across the board. Grammy and Oscar award-winning singer-songwriter Sam Smith got things started last week in the most open and honest of ways, later declaring that “this interview completely changed my life.” Here’s why what he had to say was so significant and what we can learn from his frank discussion with Jameela…
“I want to fight against my issues and not be a victim of them.”
Sam told Jameela that he’s struggled with body image issues ever since he can remember (he’s 26), but he decided to finally tackle the root cause of his unhappiness when the I Weigh Instagram account launched last year. He began actively exploring ways to talk about his body dysmorphia and lifelong battle with his weight and sought help in the form of therapy. He had a lot to unpick, namely because he’d buried many of his problems in the pursuit of being “manly”...
“Toxic masculinity prevents many men from opening up about weight issues.”
Sam hasn’t so far found that many men, or well known men, speak out on the subject of weight, shame or body image, and he suspects that the toxic masculinity that he and many of us have been exposed to since childhood is at the crux of this silence. He describes that the pressure to “man-up” has been instilled in him ever since his was younger, made all the more intense because a surplus of oestrogen meant that Sam carried more fat on his chest. Sam relates one particularly traumatic incident when his chest was grabbed in the school playground, with bullying was a daily occurance from the age of 11 onwards.
“I had liposuction at the age of 12”
Sam had liposuction to spot-remove the fat in his chest area at a young age, but this didn’t stop either the bullying or his struggle with body image. He lost weight at 16 and the bullying stopped, which corresponded with an ongoing pattern of yo-yoing weight throughout his life and resultant associations of weight loss and happiness…
“I wanted to look skinny for my second album”
Sam related a period of intensely working out and being very health-conscious while on tour coupled with a desire to “get skinny” for his second album, yet during time off afterwards he gained a lot of weight, picked up smoking and was “abusive” to his body:
“I made money and then spent all of my money on food.”
He was also fat-shamed by the press at the time, a treatment that Jameela is more than familiar with, reflecting that the media can can create a narrative that totally revolves around body weight. When she was heavier, only photos of her looking sad (or in mid-air) were published, even though she was having a brilliant year both professionally and personally. When she was slimmer photographers would wait for her to smile and pose and use that imagery to present her as happy and make that the story, even though she was often suffering when she was lighter.
Sam conveyed that he found the press attention triggering, as most of us would, and that, while fame brings privilege, if he had the chance to change the past he wouldn’t pursue it again because it’s robbed him of an aspect of his life in that people don’t treat him the same.
“My weight has been much more problematic than coming out was.”
Sam came out as gay early on in life at the age of ten and emphasises that his problems with weight and body dysmorphia have caused him far more distress than issues related to sexuality:
“My weight has been the basis of all of my sadness. It has gotten very dark.”
He points out that, for a long time, social media had a destructive impact - he followed lots of accounts presenting “perfect” body ideals and he used to feel depressed after looking at his phone. Since the launch of I Weigh and other body positive Instagrammers, however, he’s curated his feed to make his daily scrolling more empowering and uplifting, which is a lesson for us all really.
“I’m not male or female, I float somewhere in between.”
Sam reckons that most of us exist on a gender and sexuality spectrum - he describes himself as nonbinary and this freeing, flexible approach has also now translated to how he evaluates his body.
He previously resented his more “feminine” traits and “worked out and lost weight because that’s what men do”. Growing to appreciate his female side has resulted in greater body acceptance:
“I had breasts when I was 11 years old. I have a very feminine body. When I move, when I have sex with men, it’s very feminine. I put on weight in the same places as women do but I’m not a man or a woman, I’m just me.”
Which brings us to...
“We treasure babies' bodies, so why not our own?”
Sam points out that we don’t judge or assess babies’ bodies in the way that we do adults’ - we love them unconditionally. We were created with love and should reflect that love back on ourselves, although that’s not always easy, granted...
“Work on self-love every single day”
Self-love is the goal, but Sam acknowledges that it’s not easy IRL. He underlines that it’s a “practice and something to work at all day, everyday.” Forgiving yourself is key as is coming to terms with the fact that it’s okay to trip up and be “flawed”. There shouldn’t be a perceived weakness in being sensitive or emotional. He’s cultivated a “f*ck it” mindset because hiding himself, or his apparent mistakes, became too exhausting, especially considering his fame. He’s determined to be “himself until the end”, describing on Instagram that speaking candidly with Jamil was a self-esteem gamechanger:
“I know this sounds dramatic but this interview completely changed my life. Being able to talk so openly about my body issues and feeling so safe while doing it was truly liberating. I am so thankful to Jameela and her team for this opportunity and being so respectful and kind to me. It took a lot for me to do this and I was so nervous, so please be kind. I really hope this can make someone else who feels like me, a little less lonely and a little less alien.”
I Weigh isn’t just changing the classically judgy Instagram scene for the better - the second phase looks to provide even more information, support and inclusive, open discussion to both expand the reach and delve deeper into cultural and societal issues that contribute to how we value ourselves and each other. Of this first interview with Sam, Jameela reflects that it’s her most meaningful face to face with a star yet:
“In ten years of interviewing celebrities, I’ve never had someone be so open, so brave, and so dedicated to the wellbeing of their fans. I cannot believe the access Sam gave us to his inner demons and how beautifully he breaks the stigma of so many issues facing young people today. Having a male role model stand up to talk about these things and join us in our revolution against shame is so valuable.”
Warch the full interview below, and up next in the I Weigh interview series is the musician Lizzo and author and mental health advocate Matt Haig , so expect more raw, honest perspective, debate, personal stories and no doubt some lols along the way too. Because, as anyone who follows Jamella or I Weigh will know, there’s humour in even in the darkest of places.
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