Growing up, I didn’t have anyone like me in society and mass media that I could look up to. I was taller and curvier than all of my friends, and I’m Caucasian and Chinese. That’s why I got into modeling: to put myself out there even if I didn’t fit typical beauty standards—skinny, blonde hair, blue eyes, fair complexion—and to inspire whoever sees me to feel more comfortable in their body.
Truthfully, though, I never thought modeling would be in the cards for me. That’s why, when the opportunity presented itself, I knew I had to go for it. I wanted to represent those who look and feel like I do and show that women are worthy at any size and genetic makeup.
And over time, I’ve realized that our bodies are limitless. Four years ago, I decided to run my first marathon even though I used to think it was impossible because I’d never seen a marathon runner who looked like me. When I started, I could barely run a mile without breathing heavily and feeling pain. Ever since I was a child, I had been told I was unathletic because of my size, and for a while, I believed that. Throughout the marathon training process, my self-confidence wavered—I worried that I would not be able to follow through, to carry out my commitment to completion.
Video: Jameela Jamil on body positivity
And yet, this doubt was also my fire to finish. I wanted to prove to all the naysayers that I was athletic even though, to them, I didn't look the part. With an 18-week training plan and a lot of courage, I completed all 26.2 miles on race day.
I crossed the finish line in disbelief. The only thing on my mind was: We women are limitless. I shed years of negative comments about my body and weight, finally understanding that with patience, knowledge, hard work, and training, I could get to the finish line of any goal.
I would not have been able to do that if I didn’t have the confidence to try something new and uncomfortable. I gained that confidence in college, when I discovered the power of the naked body. I was an art major, and I took a drawing class where we sketched a nude person sitting in front of us. I learned that when drawing a naked body, artists see the person in shapes, such as spheres and circles and soft curvatures. This changed my mindset about bodies—including my own.
Each body that came in was different and beautiful. I forgot that fat and rolls have a negative connotation in our society, and instead, I saw them as creative and unique.
Now, my mantra is "This body is worthy." When you’re naked, peeling back the layers to display a side of yourself not everyone is privy to, you are your most powerful, authentic self—even if you’re also at your most vulnerable.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Women’s Health.
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