When Jameela Jamil wants to be your friend, she straight-up asks you. After moving from London to Los Angeles four years ago, where she knew no one besides her boyfriend, Jamil found herself at square one in the friend department — and it took actively putting herself out there to create a community of friends on whom she could depend in her new city.
Studies show than nearly half of Americans report feeling lonely — which isn't exactly reflected in the glossy feeds of the interminable #girlsweekend content we scroll through on the daily — and Jamil wants to normalize the conversation around the very real challenges of loneliness and friend-making in adulthood. Which is why she's teaming up with Bumble BFF on its #AskingForAFriend campaign — to empower women to build out their networks of friends and feel supported in doing so. Ahead, we chatted with the actress and activist about social anxiety, her body positive and radically inclusive Instagram account I Weigh, and of course, her work wife Ted Danson.
Refinery29: What advice would you give to someone in a new city looking to make friends?
Jameela Jamil: I think our generation is too scared of rejection, and I think we need to learn that rejection isn’t the end of the world or such a bad thing. It's okay for someone to say no to you, whether that's about love or sex or friendship. We've just got to start putting ourselves out there, because we always underestimate how much other people feel the same way as we do. And so many times when I've asked someone if they'd like to hang out with me or go for a drink or be friends, they've often responded by saying that they were too afraid to ask but they were glad that I did. And I wouldn't have had that if I hadn't gone out on a limb and risked the embarrassment of them saying no when I moved to Los Angeles four years ago where I didn't know anyone. I came over here really only knowing my boyfriend. Being able to find girlfriends here took effort and meant that I had to really put myself out there. And I'm so glad that I did, because they're some of the best friends I've ever made. It's so important to learn how to make gestures of wanting friendship.
I think maybe because of Hollywood we think we're supposed to be friends with the people we went to college with and those are our friends for the rest of our lives — that we'll meet all the friends we're going to have when we're young. That’s so untrue. I've met some of the best friends I've ever had later in life — maybe even in the last year, into my 30s. I'm always in need of acquiring new friends. You can never have too much fo a sense of community. And I'm not close to my family, so I've made a family out of my friends.
Have you had success making friends online?
I've had success making friends on the I Weigh community Instagram, where there's a real sense of solidarity and community and reassurance. Even though we’re all from different parts of the world, even just communicating over messages and developing such care for others has been so nourishing for me and made me realize that I'm not alone. Loneliness is so detrimental, not just to our mental health but to our physical health as well. We need friends in order to stimulate our happy hormones and to reduce stress and to have someone to offload onto and someone to have a sense of community with. Without those things, we end up getting very, very stressed and then end up getting sick because of the stress. I think the thing that's most important is for us to destigmatize is the idea of admitting that you’re lonely.
It's so important that we admit to these things — and I think probably a little part of it has to do with the fact that social media gives us a false sense of community sometimes. Not to say that you can't have real community on social media, because you can, but I think sometimes it makes us think we’re up to date with friends' lives when we aren't. You see their highlight reel and you think you know what they're going through, when you actually don't because no one's putting their whole self out on public social forums.
Why did you choose to work with Bumble on this campaign?
It really spoke to me. I was someone who didn't have loads of friends when I was younger — in fact, really almost any friends until I was about 19 — so I felt very socially inept and socially anxious when I got into my 20s. So having to learn how to make friends was the most fruitful thing I've ever done, and I've really lived the impact that it makes on your life to have friends around you. And I like that Bumble encourages women to take initiative in doing what they need in order to be happy. Be that finding love, friendship, or business. And I'm someone who genuinely likes to formally ask people if they'd like to be friends with me.
So many long-lasting adult friendships are cultivated in the workplace. Do you have a work wife?
I think Ted Danson is my work wife. He's someone who I've learned so much from, both as an actor but also as a friend. He’s taught me so much about how to care and how to show you care, and I'm just so glad I got to meet him and lucky he opened his door to me and took me in as a sort of newbie and showed me the ropes of this industry.
What about the illusion of the friend group? Are those real? How do you create one in adulthood?
Friend groups just aren't as much of a thing as you get older. Impossible. Like, people's schedules fill up. You feel like you're supposed to have a Sex and the City clique. It's like, did those women not have jobs? How were they able to meet up every day for brunch? I can't coordinate my grown fucking adult friends every day — we're lucky if we all get together once a month. I believe in individual friendships. You hope they'll get along with your other friends, but it doesn't matter if they do or not. You have different facets to your personality, and it's important to have different friends that meet those different parts of your mind. I really love one-on-one time. And I personally get social anxiety in groups of more than, like, five people.
What did you feel was missing in the conversation around social media, and why did you decide to start I Weigh?
I joined social media a couple of years ago and had no idea that we talk about women's weight all the time. Or put up pictures of famous women on social media and then write their weights across their bodies. The only number you would ever write across a man is how much money he’s worth — you would never even care how much he weighed. And I started to see this more and more often. So I just posted on Twitter and Instagram what I weigh, which is my financial independence, my activism, the health struggles that I've overcome, my anxiety, my boyfriend, my best friend, everything that makes me up. I weigh the sum of all my parts.
And I posted that, not expecting anyone to say anything or respond, and thousands of women responded within a day. And I realized after a couple of weeks that this wasn't slowing down, so I started an Instagram account in order to have somewhere to put all of these glorious photographs of what women weigh and all of their life experiences. And a year and a half later, we’re over 750,000 as a network and growing. And by the end of this year we’ll hopefully be an online multimedia platform website that is radically inclusive and makes sure that those people who never felt included before feel like they've got somewhere to go. What I Weigh stands for is just making sure that no one feels left out.
As a public figure with a large online following who has long championed body positivity and authenticity, especially on social media, do you feel a responsibility to call things out that go against your beliefs?
I was a really messed up teenager — in part because of my upbringing, but also because of the world around me. And society and media and how bad the role models were that I looked up to in the magazines and on the television. So if I'm going to be given the privilege of this position and this platform, I'm determined to use it responsibly to undo all of the damage that made me so messed up and robbed me of my happiness for decades of my life. I don't do it out of a sense of responsibility — I do it out of sense of what is right. I just don't want anyone to ever be as unhappy as I was when I was a teenager, and that's what drives me. And I am dedicated to spending the rest of my life making sure that I call out the evils because I have the power to make change.